You might be hard-pressed to find a business that looks back as fondly on the COVID pandemic as the Burnsville-based Elastech Solutions/Caliber Inc.

“We had the biggest growth in the history of the company during the heart of COVID. People all went home and decided to play with their toys,” says Jon Leikvold, chief operating officer at Elastech Solutions, maker of custom-molded rubber parts for products like Yeti coolers.

Another company called Caliber, which manufactures parts and accessories for the power sports industry, exists under the same financial and management umbrella as Elastech Solutions. Together the pair have achieved substantial growth, roughly 20% annually except for the COVID year when sales skyrocketed.

“People took their stimulus money and bought a lot of our products,” Leikvold says. “It was quite an amazing and interesting process to get it all out the door.”

Left to right: Don Whalen, director of operations; Tony DeLanghe, assistant general manager; and Jon Leikvold, general manager.

While the near-snowless winter this year caused sales to dip slightly, the COVID boom year allowed Elastech Solutions/Caliber to analyze its processes and conclude changes were needed if the company, which currently has close to 70 employees, was going to continue to prosper.

That’s when they called Enterprise Minnesota and business growth consultant James Thomas to help them achieve their ISO certification, including their entire operation: manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing.

Leikvold says the process zeroed in on the company’s written procedures, which were “loose at best.” He says 2023 will go down as a year of change. Going through the ISO process, he says, kind of “ripped our department apart,” but in a way that was good; some things, after all, needed to be ripped apart.

“It forced us to look at ourselves hard,” he says. “For us, 2023 was definitely a fundamental change year.”

The ISO process for Elastech Solutions/Caliber already has produced concrete results. For one thing, it nudged the company to remove some things they knew were holding the company back, such as the ERP system. When they ditched Excel and QuickBooks, they purchased Epicor software, considered one of the top manufacturing ERP systems.

The process also prompted them to add two management positions — chief financial officer and director of operations — which they hope will ultimately make the company more efficient and instill a culture that embraces the findings of the ISO audit.

The ISO process required the company first to document and improve its processes, and then use audits to maintain them.

“We had to be careful not to write up procedures that we don’t believe in, or that we haven’t fixed yet,” Leikvold says. “That structured us to look through our entire process from top to bottom. The audit uncovered lots of warts and ugly things and forced us to look at them as a company.”

Next up on their ISO journey is examining the production parts approval process. Leikvold says he has pushed back a bit on some of the ISO recommendations. Instead of a better inspection process, he says he’d rather put resources and energy into inspecting the process and ensuring they’re doing things right — and defect-free — the first time.

“I don’t want to have an inspector checking parts or even the employees checking parts. Let’s make sure the process is running smoothly,” he insists.

Elastech Solutions/Caliber purchases Chinese-made parts. He says the Chinese solution is simple but inferior: Instead of ensuring that all parts are high quality, they’ll merely hire many more people to make many more parts and, by the sheer volume of parts produced, more of them will be decent.

He says he’d rather train workers to get machines set up properly the first time, quickly recognize and reconcile variances, and make adjustments as needed.

“I want to make my parts inspection proof,” he says.

One aspect of the Caliber side of the business that can’t be solved with an ISO audit or certification is the lack of snow last winter — and the continued downward trend of people purchasing snowmobiles.

In 1970, according to the website, sled sales topped out at 600,000. By 2023, that number has plummeted 500% to 124,8000. Whether it’s the weather or the myriad time-killing options available today, it doesn’t seem likely snowmobile sales are going to climb anytime soon. That’s why Caliber is pivoting to other revenue streams, and manufacturing products for the marine power sports industry and the auto industry.

And when dealing with the auto industry, an ISO 9001 certification isn’t a feature or perk; it’s a necessity. By going through this process, Caliber was able to land Penda, an aftermarket automotive company.

“This [ISO] allows us to sell now, through them, into Ford, GM, and those types of clients,” says Ernie DeLanghe, CEO/owner of Elastech Solutions. “We’re a lot more confident that we can actually execute on that work consistently.”

DeLanghe says the year of change, as challenging as it may have been, should position Elastech Solutions/Caliber for sustained profitability and growth.

“The foundation we’ve set up is going to help us achieve that growth,” he says. “We’ll continue chasing growth in new markets, building trusting relationships, and keeping the train rolling.”

Return to the Summer 2024 issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine. 

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