Olson Custom Designs
Since 2018, Olson Custom Designs has occupied a 24,000-square-foot shop in Indianapolis, with 23 CNC machines.

Building a CNC Workshop Contender

Feb. 8, 2024
Olson Custom Designs is a start-up success story, but much more than that: it’s proof that determination and sound business principals are a foundation for growth.

Building success from humble beginnings is a quintessential American story, and it’s a familiar one to two brothers and their precision-machining business, Olson Custom Designs. Maintaining adaptability, imposing high standards, drawing support from their family, and their own sheer determination have propelled Mitch and Brian Olson from scrappy upstarts to major players in a range of critical manufacturing markets.

In 2014, the brothers decided to leave their individual careers to start their own precision CNC machining business, setting up their own contract manufacturing shop in Indianapolis. Originally, OCD was a two-man operation, but today it employs a team of 60 working across three shifts. In 2018, OCD relocated from a 5,000-square-foot rented space into the 24,000-square-foot shop it now occupies, with 23 CNC machines. As they approach 10 full years of operation, the brothers look back on their business’s lean, early years, the exciting growth to date, and what lies ahead.

Getting behind the wheel

In their youth, the Olson brothers were avid hobbyists who built and raced sprint cars, high-powered open-wheel racers that run on short tracks. “We got to the point where we were just kind of getting burnt out, and we’d gotten hurt a few times,” Brian Olson recalled. At that point the brothers pivoted into an adjacent activity, designing and fabricating custom components for racecars. It seemed like a logical transition.

“Where I was working, I was around some CNC equipment, and it looked like something that I was interested in, something I could figure out.

“Of course, being in the Indy area, we thought it (racing) was something we could still be involved in, making racecar parts, because obviously that’s what we had a lot of passion for,” Brian said. “So, we just took the leap. We drove around different areas, looking for shops to rent and talking to some of my contacts, seeing if we could pick up some work if we bought some machines.

“We ordered a couple of machines and away we went,” he recalled.

Unfortunately, many of those early racing connections didn’t pan out and soon the Olsons were hitting the pavement, knocking on doors to build relationships and make sales the old-fashioned way.

“Like every new business, as an entrepreneur you have to wear every hat. From accounting to the boots on the floor, to sales and invoicing,” Brian said. “So, you’re spread thin and it’s a strain on your family life in all the aspects that most people can’t fathom or imagine.”

So, what saw them through the turbulent early phases of the business? Mitch credited the valuable guidance that the brothers took from their father, as well as their flexibility for managing the business, as well as steady determination to see jobs through to completion, no matter what it takes.

“Our Dad uses a phrase all the time – ‘When the ball is thrown in your court, you’d better be able to run with it.’ I feel like we’ve always done a pretty good job of executing when the ball’s thrown in our court,” Mitch said. “Between Brian’s engineering-minded brain and our ‘never give up’ attitude, we’re always able to succeed, whether that means working all weekend to get a job out the door or coming up with the right process … From the customer’s standpoint, we’ve always done what we’ve promised. You would think that’d be a common thing in business today, but it’s really not.

“People over-promise and under-deliver every day and we’ve never really taken that approach,” he emphasized.

In addition to the brothers’ flexibility and work ethic, a transparent, no-nonsense approach has been a real asset for OCD from the start.

“We try to be as available as we can for our customers,” Brian said. “An open door. If we run into trouble for whatever reason that puts us behind, we don’t wait to let customers know. I think that’s a big key in building a partnership with our customers.”

Although the racing business was an area of focus for OCD early on, the has branched off into more dynamic growth sectors, such as aerospace, defense, and medical device manufacturing. And OCD has made important inroads with clients working in the semiconductor, microprocessor, and electric vehicle spaces.

“First quarter of 2024 we’re looking to receive our ISO 13485 certification so we can do in-the-body medical parts,” Brian added. “As we grow, we try to be as diverse as we can be, and not so reliant on any one customer. So, we always have our foot on the gas when it comes to prospecting, growth, and finding new partners to grow with.”

Team effort, start to finish

Now, just before their company’s 10th anniversary, the Olson brothers look back on their progress and see not a straight line from A to B, but a winding path with several major milestones. For example, hiring their first employee in 2016 got the ball rolling on the healthy, talented, and reliable staff they have now. Additionally, moving from a rented space to their own facility in 2018 was another important leap for OCD.

“Sometimes it feels longer (than 10 years), other times I look back and think, ‘Man, that went quick.’ It’s been a pretty wild ride these last few years,” Brian said.

The brothers also count themselves fortunate to have had the mentorship and influence of family in those early days. Their father and uncle, having built a successful decades-long career in contracting, underground utilities, excavation, and more, set the foundation upon which OCD now prospers.

“Our father and uncle were business partners – 40 years and still going. They really laid down a good blueprint not only for how to grow businesses but how to structure them as you start growing, how to invest in capital and make the move, who to hire, and when to hire the right guy,” Mitch detailed. “I think with their guidance and their history of do’s and don’ts throughout their career, we were able to perfect that. We’re incredibly grateful to have that knowledge and vision that they set, and that we carried over into another industry.”

As easy as it might be to see OCD’s success and label the Olsons “self-made men,” the brothers don’t see it that way. They acknowledge that all their tenacity and adaptability wouldn’t have taken them far without the support of their families, peers, and business partners.

“We really shy away from the word ‘self-made.’ Because we’re not,” Mitch said. “We’ve had so many good mentors in our lives and bringing on a partial owner and general manager (current VP of Operations Chris Jaynes) was extremely beneficial, and there’s no possible way we could have grown to the success we have now without his influence and guidance.”

“(Jaynes) was our second employee, who we brought on in 2017, so he was very instrumental in our growth from then on,” Brian added.

With nearly 10 years and much progress behind them, the Olsons are looking forward to more opportunities to diversify OCD, more chances to build a lasting legacy of their own, and more challenges for their hand-picked team to tackle.

“We’ve hired some phenomenal talent, not only on the shop floor but in the management positions as well. Our job is to put the right people in the right place, and then give them the right tools to succeed,” Mitch said.

“That’s where we’ve been successful,” he continued, “but when it comes down to actually having to get on the field and play, they’re the ones that execute on a day-to-day basis, keep the customers happy, and drive new sales. Everybody is passionate about the brand and it’s a team-oriented atmosphere here.”

Gabe Fleck is the Business Development Manager at Olson Custom Designs.

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