4720 N. 27th St., Milwaukee
Industry: Contract manufacturing
When a potential customer approaches Stratus Industries with a project, chances are Tom Daugherty and his team will say “yes,” especially if it is a unique, different or just generally cool product to work on.
Stratus Industries, along with Gear Grove and Cleaning Supply Generics, the other business entities that operate out of the 30,000-square-foot space at 4720 N. 27th St. in Milwaukee, has a diverse line of products and services. The three companies all have slightly different ownership groups, but they are able to share resources and skills.
Stratus offers contract manufacturing, kitting and fulfillment, as well as its own brands of products. The company started in 2012 with Undercover Lights, a line of easy-to-install LED lighting options intended for use on truck beds, trailers, truck boxes, boats, sheds and safes.
The company also makes Gar-Box, a cigar humidor made from reclaimed 50 caliber ammunition boxes. Daugherty, Stratus Industries president, said the product was a pet project with a friend and it offers a good reason to go to fun events like cigar festivals.
If LED lights and humidors were not a diverse enough set of product offerings, Stratus also has a line of work wipes. Branded as KickAss Work Wipes, they are designed to be tough yet gentle on skin.
The lighting products still make up a large portion of the business, but Daugherty said the company has pushed more and more into contract manufacturing, packaging and fulfillment.
Stratus’ capabilities include wood manufacturing, laser engraving and etching, CNC machining and some metal fabrication. Many of the projects have been customers with a unique need to have something built or needing a solution to a particular problem.
“The first jobs came randomly and then it’s become something we’ve pushed and grown into,” he said.
Many of Stratus’ projects come with their own story. Wood from urban trees sits on the shop floor waiting for a new use, an I-beam from a former foundry is destined to be a base for a shuffleboard table and logs from an 1890s cabin on Big Cedar Lake will eventually be repurposed as furniture.
Having a wide range of products and offerings comes with its own problems.
“We are very diverse in what we do,” Daugherty said, adding that while he likes to say “yes” to a lot of interesting projects, the challenge is figuring out the right projects to take on.
“We definitely can’t do it all at once,” he said.
While trying to figure out how to prioritize different elements of the business, Daugherty is also planning to grow. Stratus currently has 16 employees and plans to add more in the coming months. Daugherty said it is challenging to find quality employees, but he feels lucky to have the current team. The company also has increased production and capabilities by adding a second CNC machine.
To accommodate the increase in business, Daugherty said the company is reworking the layout of its equipment with an eye on easier production. Many of Stratus’ tables for production also have wheels, allowing for flexibility in how the space is used.
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