Dean and Marcia Sonquist - December 2018 Entrepreneur of the Month
The NIACC John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and the North Iowa Area SBDC are proud to announce Dean and Marcia Sonquist of Plas-Tech Tooling as the Entrepreneurs of the Month for December 2018.
Plas-Tech Tooling was founded in 1993 by Dean and Marcia Sonquist of Garner, Iowa. Dean graduated from the Tool & Die program at the Des Moines Area Community College. After working in a few shops for several years, Dean decided he wanted to build his own business. Plas-Tech Tooling began as a side project located in a two car garage, with Dean working evenings and weekends while also working a full time job. Dean and Marcia navigated the early difficulties juggling a full time job and a new business. Eventually, Dean and Marcia had to make the decision: stay small or take the leap and make Plas-Tech Tooling into a full time business? Dean and Marcia took that leap, and Plas-Tech Tooling is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Before starting Plas-Tech Tooling, Dean contacted the North Iowa Area SBDC for help creating a business plan to bring to the banks. “With the business plan, the bank believed and trusted us when we went to them,” Dean explained. Dean and Marcia have worked with the North Iowa Area SBDC and the NIACC Pappajohn Center over the years as Plas-Tech has grown and evolved.
Plas-Tech Tooling is a job shop, specializing in building to the custom specifications of a part that a business needs copied or created. Their services include injection molding, injection mold building, production machining, reverse engineering, and product design – but Dean likes to say that their number one service is customer service. Dean prides himself on the customer service Plas-Tech provides. He works with the customer through every step of the process – an especially valuable asset for startups and entrepreneurs. Plas-Tech Tooling can provide a quick turnaround for a prototype or an unexpectedly needed replacement part. If something goes wrong, making it right is his top priority.
Developing strong partnerships is an important step for any successful entrepreneur. Dean and Marcia have worked with Jill Kramer, Executive Director of the Hancock County Economic Development Corp.; the Hancock County EDC has helped Dean and Marcia reach out, tell Plas-Tech’s story, and develop business leads. Plas-Tech Tooling has a close working relationship with North Iowa Area Community College. Jody East, Director of Sales & Programming for Continuing Education at NIACC, has been instrumental in helping Plas-Tech apply for grants for training on everything from forklifts to software. Plas-Tech also works with The Iowa State University Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS), which has proven to be a great resource for the scientific side of the business, providing identification services for plastic composition, metal composition, and metal strength, etc.
Dean and Marcia recognize the important role entrepreneurs play in rural communities. Jill Kramer says, “Not only have Dean and Marcia developed a business here in Garner, they’re deeply connected with the community and giving back.” Dean says, “The community has been good to us, so we like to be good back.” Plas-Tech has donated equipment to the Garner High School industrial program as part of their efforts to help local students see the opportunities for working and living well in their communities. As rural populations decline, community partners are invested in finding new ways to “shrink smart”. Dean and Marcia are among the entrepreneurs working to help schools connect students to good jobs through career exposure and upskilling.
One of Plas-Tech’s most valuable partnerships has been with the North Iowa Area Community College. Of Plas-Tech’s current employees, 10 are NIACC graduates and 7 of those graduates have completed the NIACC Tool & Die program. “They get a lot of hands on training, a lot of technical with the new latest and greatest equipment. They’re actually seeing and touching what’s out there in the world. NIACC has helped us with the training side of our business.” Some employees have worked part time at Plas-Tech to make sure this was the right career path for them before deciding to enter the NIACC Tool & Die Program. “Our employees are the most valuable asset we could ever have,” Dean says. “They give us the competitive advantage.”
Dean and Marcia’s advice for entrepreneurs starting or growing a business emphasizes having the right people on your team. “You’re not in it by yourself – a good bank, CPA, insurance company, they’re all important,” Marcia says. Dean added, “Be willing to put time in the trenches. You understand exactly what your employees go through if you’re willing to go through it also. You’re not going to reap the rewards without the sweat equity.”