Building a Watch Company - The Man in the Ceiling + Deals on DMG Machines

Building a Watch Company - The Man in the Ceiling + Deals on DMG Machines


Creating and growing a business inevitably comes with unique challenges. In running the only American-made watch manufacturing company, we've faced numerous roadblocks, including issues regarding permits and supplies. 

But with new challenges come new opportunities to think innovatively, and some setbacks and delays have eventually benefited the Vortic Watch Company. 

No one would argue that starting a company is easy, and that's why we, R.T. Custer & Tyler Wolfe, give insights into what it takes to start and maintain a watch company. We pride ourselves in being the only 100% US-made watch brand, but getting here certainly wasn't easy. 

We're excited to show you some of the challenges we've recently faced with moving into our new building.

In this article, we talk about details regarding permits, code compliance, DMG machines, our new rooms, and more! 

Permit Approval and Exciting New Constructions

When building and managing a business, you need to remember that you're likely to run into roadblocks and delays, especially if your company plans to construct new features for your building. 

The Vortic Watch Company experienced significant delays in improving our building because it took us six months to obtain the necessary permits. The main reason for the delay was that we changed certain areas of our building from business status to factory status, which required new safety regulations.

The fire department required code compliance for the factory area:

"The major thing that held up our permit was the fire department. … We did not do proper code compliance prior to filing for the permit. … That just really sucked. That put us behind by three or four months. It was a lot of money that we didn't already have in the budget, and — you're not gonna believe this — the fire department is not willing to compromise." - Tyler Wolfe

Unsurprisingly, the fire department was unwilling to budge when it came to factory safety, so we needed to create a new firewall to become code compliant:

"[They were like], 'What if the building's on fire?' and we're like, 'I don't know. What do you want us to do? Build a wall down the center of the building?' They're like, 'Actually, yes. That's exactly what we want you to do.' And so now we're building a giant firewall down the center of the building." - RT Custer

We care about safety, and we're obviously going to comply with the fire department's requirements, but the new construction set us back financially. 

The firewall requirement is obligatory for buildings over 5,000 square feet that don't use fire sprinklers:

"If your [building is] under 10,000 square [feet] — which … we're about 8,600 total square feet — you don't have to wet sprinkle, but if you're not gonna sprinkle, you need to split the building into 5,000-square-feet-or-less sections separated by a firewall." - Tyler Wolfe 

 Fortunately, this new construction also serves a practical purpose for our business — it will separate the manufacturing section of the building from the admin office space. 

Vortic Laser in the Shop

In addition to adding a firewall, we're also working on other new constructions. When we shot this episode, we actually had someone working in our ceiling — hence the episode's title — and a crew working on constructing a fence outside. 

The crew is using the same fence materials as we have in our patio space up front. We're incredibly excited about our nice patio space, and we intend to grill out when the weather isn't below freezing.  

Our New Machines for Manufacturing

Tyler's been in the process of hunting down new machines, and — as we mentioned in the last episode — he tracked down some exceptional used DMG machines to produce our watch cases:

"We bought two used DMG machines. One five-axis DMU 50 and one Swiss turning center Sprint 20/8 Linear. This is our first time buying used machines, … and for what the machines are and the price tag, it is awesome. And once they're set up and running, they are gonna be super cool. They're already optioned out. They're proven machines. They're set up. They're ready to go." - Tyler Wolfe

DMU Machine in the Vortic Shop

Although we're excited about these DMG machines, getting them up and running will likely be challenging. Previously, we've only used new Haas machines, which are easy to operate right out of the box. The DMGs will likely require more effort to set up, but they're also a higher tier of machinery than Haas machines:

"[With Haas], setup is included, [and] we're familiar with the machines. … These used machines we bought are from a different company. We're kind of trying to enter a new tier of machine tool quality, so everything's [unfamiliar to us], and I've never bought a used machine before. … We're now responsible for every single little cost, and there's no warranty for everything." - Tyler Wolfe

We're thrilled to begin using these higher-quality machines, but we need to cover pricey expenses such as shipping, unpacking, and installation. In the end, we're definitely saving a ton of money by buying used, though. We paid $150,000 for each machine, but new versions of DMG machines are $500,000. 

In addition to using these high-quality DMG machines, we may switch all of our machines to DMGs over the next few years. Haas is a great entry-level brand, but DMG offers better quality. For now, we're looking forward to setting up and using these two DMG machines.

Haas Machine in Vortic Workshop

New Rooms and HVAC Installation

Before moving our machines into the manufacturing area, we need to construct new rooms and install our HVAC units. We'll begin by constructing the firewall per the fire department's requirements, and then we'll get to work on installing HVACs over the shop building. 

"We're building a big rack essentially for all the different HVAC [units] that we're adding. We're adding separate HVAC [units] for the clean room, for the studio, and for this shop space. So there's a bunch of equipment that we're putting up there." - Tyler Wolfe

We've shifted our plans during the HVAC installation process. We originally planned to rip out some of our rafters and shingles to install the HVAC, but our general contractor went to a fabricator and came up with a cheaper and better solution for installation.

RT pointed out that this is one of the many examples of how the building's delays have actually been beneficial:

"It's almost a blessing in disguise that we had so many delays because I think the project has come a long way. … We've come up with some really creative ways to problem solve, and then, theoretically, the cost of everything has gone down. Drywall three months ago was twice what it is today. … Hopefully we'll end up saving some money after all this time." - RT Custer

After installing the HVAC units, we'll build a compressor closet. The closet serves two primary purposes: It quiets the amount of noise produced by our two compressors and redirects the compressors' heat. During the summer months, we'll redirect the heat out of the building, and in cold weather, we'll use the heat to warm the manufacturing room. 

Although there's still a lot we need to do to get the building ready to make watches, we're thrilled with our recent progress. While figuring out the permit situation, it felt like we were sitting on our hands, so we're excited to make progress on the building.

Buddy in the Vortic Shop

Using Differing Materials and Offering New Editions

Like countless businesses in 2022, the Vortic Watch Company has struggled with maintaining sufficient inventory. Sadly, our crystal supplier went out of business due to COVID-19, and as a result, we ran out of crystals. 

"The crystal factory told us they're shut down because of COVID, so all of a sudden we had to scramble for a bunch of ideas on how we were gonna not stop building watches." - RT Custer

Although the situation was stressful, we solved this problem by getting different crystal sizes, and we'll make changes to our cases to accommodate the new crystals. That's one great aspect of creating your own products — you have control over their design and the flexibility to make any necessary changes.

Machine Part Matching Small Watch Pieces 

Finally, we're excited to announce the return of our antique Railroad Edition watches. We haven't crafted a Railroad Edition watch in over a year, so we're thrilled to announce their return. 

Additionally, we're starting to roll out 16-size watches. For the last year and a half, around 95% of our watches have been the 12-size, so we're excited to finally have the 16-size back in stock. Soon, we'll feature the different watch sizes on our website

We are thrilled to finally start showcasing these watches because we've been hard at work getting them together for over a year now. 

Watch Episode Seven to Learn More from Custer & Wolfe

When building a company, you're bound to run into setbacks. We've faced a number of challenges in the past few years, but the trick is to pivot and work hard to overcome obstacles. We faced an expensive six-month delay due to permit issues, but now we're getting past that setback. 

If you want to learn more about what it takes to create and grow a company, watch Custer & Wolfe on YouTube!

And don't forget to be on the lookout for more of our one-of-a-kind watches, including our American Artisan Series, Military Edition, and Railroad Edition. Additionally, if you have an antique watch, we can repurpose it as a wearable wristwatch!

To keep up with everything involving Vortic, subscribe to our Custer & Wolfe YouTube Channel. There, we'll continue sharing insights into the watch production process and what it takes to run an American-made business. 

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