Every day, more than 40,000 B2B purchase decision makers visit Thomasnet.com to source products and services and find a new supplier.
Those purchase decision makers include two engineers from Wisconsin, who recently discovered Jonco Industries, Inc, a full-service industrial supplier. Together, they created an awesome Made In America product — The Beer Cap Map — which has been a huge hit for craft beer lovers and road trippers throughout the country.
We spoke with the men behind the maps to find out how Beer Cap Maps went from an idea to a thriving business thanks to a great partner in Jonco and a little help from Thomasnet.com.
A Hobby Becomes A Hit With Customers
Jesse Darley, an engineer from Madison Wisconsin, and his 6-year-old son, Jasper, attended lots of family barbecues and picnics. But Jasper didn’t just come for the food – he also came to collect bottle caps from neighbors and family members.
As Jasper’s collection began to grow, he needed more than just a Ziploc® bag to keep all of his caps together. Naturally, he turned to his dad.
Looking to make his son happy and create something truly unique, Jesse crafted a wooden wall mount in the shape of their home state of Wisconsin to display his son’s collection. He shared pictures of the map on social media, and people loved it. One of those people was Jesse’s co-worker, Steve Latham, who asked for his own map in the shape of Missouri as a gift for an upcoming holiday party.
The gift was a hit, and Steve knew Jesse had a special product with a lot of potential. The two decided to partner together to start selling the maps. Less than one week later, they made their first sale.
It wouldn’t be their last, however. They were right in the middle of the holidays, and demand for the new map was outpacing their ability to produce them.
Revving Up To Meet The Rush
Jesse and Steve are both mechanical engineers with master’s degrees, so they knew exactly how to make their new maps. However, they couldn’t make enough to cover their orders, which were coming in faster than they expected.
“We were cutting, finishing and shipping these maps ourselves, which was a ton of work,” Steve remembered. “We spent a lot of evenings and weekends making sure people got their Christmas gifts.”
After the holiday rush was over, Jesse and Steve both agreed that their long nights had to come to an end. It was time for their small team of two to find the right supplier who could help their budding business grow.
They set out to find a laser cutting and finishing provider. However, while they were able to find plenty of precision laser cutters that handled metal and other materials, they had trouble finding a supplier that could also finish their product and potentially ship them as well. Eventually, Steve logged on to Thomasnet.com, where he came across Jonco’s supplier profile.
“We saw that they were a quick drive away from us, and they had all the equipment we needed and it was presented really well on the Thomasnet.com site,” said Jesse. “They quickly floated to the top of our potential supplier list. It was another fast decision on our end.”
Not Just A Supplier; A Strategic Partner
After the final contracts were signed between Beer Cap Maps and Jonco, something more than a typical buyer-supplier relationship began to form between the companies.
Jonco became a one-stop shop for Beer Cap Maps. Not only could Jonco cut and finish their wooden maps, they were also able to ship their products all over the country.
“Jonco really stepped up to the plate and offered to be responsible for sending the orders and that was huge,” said Steve. “Their team was packing the maps, getting them to the right people and handling the returns, and that has been a massive help to the entire system. Having them take on the shipments is probably the only reason why we’re still around.”
Not only was Jonco able to take on more responsibilities as a one-stop shop for Beer Cap Maps, they were also able to help prototype new products for the company.
“The whole Jonco team was part of our design team at Beer Cap Maps,” Jesse noted. “Whether they help us through brainstorms or introduce us to new materials and processes, they make the expansion into new products a whole lot easier.”
Going In The Right Direction
Since the two businesses are only a quick drive away, the Beer Cap Maps team frequently stops by the Jonco office for in-person business meetings. One of these meetings led to the inspiration for another new product.
“We were in the process of developing a map that is smaller and more affordable, but we didn’t want to create a cheap product,” Jesse said. “We were walking around the Jonco shop looking at the other things they’ve been working on and we saw a product on a stand sitting on someone’s desk. That’s when we began chatting with the Jonco team about the smaller and more affordable product we’ve been trying to create.”
“We started to brainstorm and sketch some ideas with the Jonco team and cut up a few prototypes,” said Steve. “We went through a couple of iterations and we had our first new product that afternoon.”
Their finished product became a desktop map with a stand and the product began shipping a week later.
“That’s part of the beauty of working with a supplier that is so local,” Jesse noted. “We were able to create something so quickly by collaborating in person, and we even drove home with our own prototypes that afternoon.”
It’s safe to say that Beer Cap Maps and Jonco have more than just a good business relationship; they have a partnership.
“Jonco and their team don’t shy away from anything,” Jesse notes. “They want to keep pushing and pushing. They are our biggest cheerleaders.”
“Another great thing that Jonco does for us is build a little inventory during the busy season and not charge us for that inventory,” Steve states. “It helps a small business like us to not have to worry as much about a cash flow or big capital investment and inventory. It allows us to create these products without having to find huge outside investments or sleepless nights worrying about where we’re going to come up with cash. The VP of Jonco, Mike Ryan, was able to absorb those costs knowing that he’s investing in a business that will most likely succeed.”
“We just love the way Jonco is reinvented manufacturing and making stuff quickly compared to a manufacturing line that you just crank a million products,” Steve said. “Jonco can make 100 products in an afternoon and move those folks over to a new shipment. It makes coming up with new products easier, and I think it helps his business collaborate and move forward in this new economy.”
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