Our Dream Big series introduces you to savvy entrepreneurs who have built their businesses from an idea to an innovation. We’re chatting with them about how they started their businesses, the steps they’ve taken to make them grow, and essential advice to future business owners.
Growing up, Brent Donner didn’t know he’d be a business owner. He gravitated towards mechanics as a savvy math student with an excellent memory. Brent stuck with it, but his path turned unexpectedly into laser fabrication. Laser fabrication uses machines to vaporize metal and carve machine parts. It aligned perfectly with his talents, and through apprenticeships and self-taught experiences, he quickly became known across the country as a leading expert. The Fabricator, an industry magazine, said Brent “…gained a following… for accomplishing what few others can…”
Today, he owns DLC Manufacturing, which he founded in 2007. Brent and his team run eight laser fabricators making parts for companies like Bobcat. He travels around the country consulting other laser fabricators about optimizing their businesses.
DLC is preparing to expand its business with a $5 million renovation. Still, Brent always remembers the people who supported the company – his old bosses, the first investors, and of course, his staff. He’s eager to open his books and share his knowledge with five secrets to growth with business owners across industries.
1. Be A Lifelong Learner
Brent started working in mechanics as a teenager, fixing up cars with his uncle. His love of problem-solving and numbers furthered his career working in laser fabrication. It’s a vast industry, but Brent feels energized by learning new developments in technology.
“I just love doing what I’m doing,” he proudly says. “I love coming to work every day, and there are times I don’t even want to go home.”
Business owners are passionate about what they do and be driven by how they serve their customers. And every business changes, even year to year. Brent advises other business owners to maintain a learning mindset. You’ll grow your expertise, stay on top of your competition, build better business strategies, and find new ways to love your work.
2. Foster a Supportive Environment for Your Employees
At his first job, Brent learned from the older guys that worked on his fabrication team. When he started hiring team members, he wanted to extend that legacy and build work opportunities for people in his community.
“I will never hire anybody in this place that has any experience in this industry. You can mold shape them your way, but you give them everything you have in your head.,” Brent explains. “You don’t just give them 50%. You give them a hundred percent. And most people are holding that information back. That’s why their teams never get good.”
Brent also prioritizes benefits for his employees, like flexible vacation days, hands-off supervision, and plans for each employee to earn a six-figure salary.
“Every company I’ve worked for, there’s usually two people for one person on the floor. No, we have two people in our office, five on the floor. I was a number,” he remembers about his first full-time job in fabrication. “But now, I don’t watch what my staff does. I see it in the monthly numbers every month.”
Brent advises business owners to think about ways to nurture growth and gratitude for each employee, whether outsourced or hired employees. It’s essential to share your knowledge, trust your team for your company’s development, and reward them for their hard work.
3. Embrace Business Diversification
DLC stands for Donner Laser Consulting, which Brent worked under as a consultant. It was a roaring success. Five years after he founded DLC, he began buying laser fabricators to expand the business to manufacturing. It was a wise and critical move in the first ten years of his business. In strong years, both sides of his company would bring income for expansion. And in rough years, Brent’s consulting income would support the manufacturing side.
Today, both manufacturing and consulting contribute to DLC’s success. For any business owner, Brent recommends expanding your services to strengthen your revenue streams, especially in the first steps of starting your business.
4. Forge Connections with Your Community
DLC proudly operates in New Ulm, Minnesota, and the team loves engaging with the community. Brent has led tours and conversations with local high school students in shop classes about fabrication and manufacturing. DLC also sponsors local teams and the staff volunteers with area organizations.
There are endless benefits to building connections with your community, from creating fulfilling experiences to building collaborative networks. But for DLC, and other businesses that connect with their city, giving back is a thank-you for the support they give to their business.
5. Cultivate Meaningful Business Partnerships
Four years ago, when Brent was in the middle of expanding their facilities, they hit a wall with their financial partners. Brent began looking for a new bank that would empower DLC to make the best decisions for their growth and a collaborator for financial advising. Through Brent’s network, Bank Midwest emerged as a partner to foster DLC’s growth. Since Brent switched, DLC’s manufacturing and consulting business has exploded. They’re working on expanding again in the next few years.
“It’s crazy the freedom that the bank has given us,” Brent exclaims. “That’s why I’m with Bank Midwest and why I stay with Bank Midwest.”
Whether you’re looking for a new lawyer, accountant, bank, or marketing advisor, finding a partner who understands who you are and your business and stands as a reliable, highly-skilled partner in your enterprise is essential. And most importantly, if something isn’t perfect with that partner, it’s time to make a change.
Learn more about Brent’s companies:
Looking for more advice for growing your dream business? Want to hear more about the story of DLC? Listen to Dream, Plan, Live: the Bank Midwest podcast for more tips from the business experts in your community and at Bank Midwest.