April 21, 2014
Texas is known for two or three commodities, namely cattle, oil, and barbecue, but the state has plenty of manufacturing, too. It’s a good environment for a fabricator and an entrepreneur with the imagination to come up with new products and build prototypes, regardless of the industry or market. Devin Gerland, found of JackRabbit Manufacturing, is one such entrepreneur.
Longhorn cattle, cowboys, pickup trucks, barbecue, country and western music, the two-step—these are the unmistakable symbols of Texas, and for good reason. Texas has the largest number of farms and the most acreage of any state. Its most valuable agricultural commodity is cattle. The Big Three estimate that 17 to 20 percent of all full-sized pickup trucks are sold in Texas.
The reality is different from the image. The state has a diversity that comes from being home to 26 million people, many of whom are involved in all sorts of other industries, notably energy and manufacturing.
It’s a fertile environment for a fabricator and entrepreneur, especially one who walks the walk and talks the talk, one like Devin Gerland. His grandparents farmed 75 acres near Carmine, Texas, and his father, a high school agriculture teacher, kept 100 or so head of cattle, so Gerland is steeped in the hard work and self-reliance that go along with farming and ranching. Although he chose a different path and earned a degree in agricultural engineering, Gerland has roots on the family farm.
In his first job out of college he was designing and manufacturing the pumps and agitator systems used for hydraulic fracturing. He learned about heavy plate fabrication and welding, but it was Gerland’s position that prepared him for a life in business.
“I dealt with vendors and customers, commissioned new installations, and did some of the purchasing,” he said. “It was my first job, and I’d cut a purchase order for $150,000 for an engine,” he said, referring to a 2,250-horsepower monster used to drive a fracking unit. “Who gets to do that at 21 years old?” he said.
During a later stint working for a defense contractor, Gerland saw firsthand how a good idea can bear fruit. The company developed a seat for turret gunners, a seat that provided both comfort and restraint in the case of a rollover. These days every U.S. Marine Corps vehicle with a turret is equipped with this seat.
In business for himself for a little over two years, Gerland has made some components for fracking units and other oilfield projects, and does any other fabrication work that comes through the front door. Beyond that, he has been innovating along the way. He hasn’t knocked one out of the park yet, but he has had a couple of base hits.
One of his products is a bracket for stowing a jack. Most automobile jacks are small and store easily, but Hi-Lift® jacks, commonly used by drivers of Jeep®s, pickup trucks, and other utility vehicles, are much bigger and don’t seem to fit anywhere (see Figure 1). One day Gerland asked himself if he could come up with a good way to stow the jack, and he devised a bracket that fastens the jack to the trailer hitch receiver. The company name, JackRabbit Manufacturing, came from this invention.
On the lighter side, Gerland capitalized on the jalapeño popper fad by designing a stainless steel plate for grilling them at home.
He also has done quite a bit of work in manufacturing signs and decorative metal art for businesses. After getting the hang of that, Gerland thought he’d pay homage to his alma mater, Texas A&M University, by fabricating from steel one of the school’s most recognizable symbols, the Aggie ring crest. He had no idea how to proceed (legally), so he contacted the university and asked about it.
“You learn new things when you enter new markets,” Gerland said, making an extreme understatement. Anyone with a new product to sell and the means to produce it is welcome to make a pitch to any school, but the approval process can be a lengthy grind on par with a high-level math course.
Despite the red tape, Gerland soldiered on, and now is licensed to make the product. Gerland sees a lot of potential in this market, and rolled out a second business, Collegiate Metal Art, to focus on this product line.
Although JackRabbit had a steady stream of oilfield fracking projects throughout 2012, the local market is saturated, so these days Gerland is diversifying. He gets a little business from some OEMs in the agriculture industry, and he has built a couple of prototype implements of his own design for the same market. Understandably, he divulges little about them, but if the market responds with the “Why-didn’t-I-think-of-that?” reaction that every entrepreneur wants to hear, the products will secure JackRabbit’s revenue stream well into the future.
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