Conversations with...Colonial Circuits' President Mark Osborn
Wednesday, September 17, 2014 | Dan Beaulieu, D.B. Management Group
It’s always a pleasure to talk with Mark Osborn, president of Colonial Circuits in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is the ultimate family man: Married with five children, four grandchildren, and one more on the way. Osborn is very active in his church and in local politics--he once held public office and is still very active in his community. He often tells me he believes “every American has a voice and should use it to better this nation.”
Osborn started in the PCB business as a part-time board sander during the summer of 1968, which is when he “caught the printed circuit bug.” The shop was Trans/Circuits in Falls Church, Virginia. After two years in the military, he returned to the company and was afforded the opportunity to work in purchasing, production control, and, eventually, sales.
In 1980 he left his sales position to found Colonial Circuits with borrowed money from a long-time friend and assistance from a silent partner. He started the company with three employees working out of a 1,000 square-foot warehouse in Alexandria, Virginia. Six months later, the group moved to a 4,500 square-foot warehouse in Fredericksburg and quickly ramped up to 15 employees. In 1985, Osborn purchased a 10,000 square-foot building that is now the core of his existing 35,000 square-foot facility, which has gone through three expansions.
Colonial Circuits is one of the industry’s leading providers of military and aerospace PCBs and is one of the best run companies in North America. Osborn continues to be one of the most active shop owners in the PCB community.
Dan Beaulieu: Mark, it's always a pleasure to speak with you and find out what's going on with the fine folks at Colonial Circuits. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today...I know you’ve been pretty busy lately.
Mark Osborn: No problem, Dan. It’s always good to talk to you as well.
Beaulieu: So, what's kept you so busy lately?
Osborn: In this market, every day is a challenge, but this business is still fun and I find it personally rewarding--especially when I find out several the programs we support are for our soldiers. With these newer technologies we are attempting, and at which we're succeeding, it makes me continue to enjoy the ride. I do want to mention that we recently got our IPC-1071 intellectual property protection. We are the first shop in the country to qualify for thatand it's something we're very proud of.
Beaulieu: To be sure our readers understand, can you explain IPC-1071?
Osborn: Sure, IPC 1071, Intellectual Property Protection - Manufacturing and IT Processes and Procedures, was developed as a high-level roadmap for best industry practices for PCB manufacturers. The intellectual property (IP) standard covers physical and information security, employee data access, computer networks, supply chain management, destruction of scrap material, and other important security issues. Under the QML certification program, Colonial Circuits met the requirements for Level 3 status, an advanced level for military, government, and commercial IP and we are now listed as an IPC-trusted source.
Beaulieu: It sounds like ITAR on steroids. Why did you think it was important for you to attain this?
Osborn: Just look around and see what’s happened in the world. We've seen counterfeiting and hacking of customer information this past Christmas at Target, at the NSA, and now, most recently, at Home Depot. Where will it stop? We are doing everything possible to protect our customers with the advanced Level 3 status. I feel very strongly about this. I firmly believe that when a potential customer sees that Colonial Circuits has taken the initiative to protect data and sensitive information, we will be inched ahead of our competition when it comes time to decide who gets an order.
Beaulieu: I really hope you’re right. It’s time some of our customers stop playing fast and loose with national security.
Osborn: Amen to that!
Beaulieu: I understand there's something else to congratulate you about--tell me about Vermont Circuits.
Osborn: Well, it's good news for us, but sad news as well. James Lin and Cheryl Bedard, the owners of Vermont Circuits, contacted me a few weeks back and asked if I would be interested in discussing the possible transition of their customers to Colonial because of their decision to close the business. Naturally, my first reaction was total shock, given that Vermont had a great reputation in the market and I did not want to see another viable U.S. facility go by the wayside. Over the past 25 years, Vermont Circuits has built and serviced a very loyal customer base.
Once Jim and Cheryl established a timeline to cease operations, they started exploring options on how to exit the business with the least amount of discomfort for their customers. You have to admire that in a board fabricator. Given that Colonial held most of the same certifications and has always made customer service a priority, they deemed us a potential suitor, which I was very honored to do.
Beaulieu: So you're assuming what we call their "book of business" then?
Osborn: Not really, I wouldn't put it that way. Vermont’s customer base has been notified of the closing and Colonial has been suggested as the replacement source for their current and future circuit board needs. Our capabilities are very much in sync with Vermont’s, so this should work out well for their customers and for us as well. Vermont is working closely with us, communicating the transfer of proprietary process information on specialty product. Together we are doing everything we can to make this transition as painless as possible for the customers. We even hired two of their sales engineers, David King and David Sheffer, and they are now part of the Colonial team. We plan to announce a few more hires in the near future as well.
Beaulieu: What do you think of the North American market today?
Osborn: Well, it's surely not growing in dollars and the new opportunities created are usually due to someone else’s stumble. What is of equal concern to me is the ultimate fate of our diminishing supplier base.
Beaulieu: I agree. The companies in the more populated areas, like California and even the Midwest, are not doing too badly, but it's getting more and more difficult for shops like yours who are not in those areas. What will take to make our industry better?
Osborn: We need to talk more with our customers and stress the need to become partners rather than just the lowest bidder. PCBs are not a commodity, but a custom-crafted product. Additionally, we need to talk up American manufacturing and why it's important to our country's future. What’s wrong with the saying “Made in USA?” We print it on all of our packing slips and invoices as a reminder to our customers. We are proud and they should pat themselves on the back for buying American-made products.
Beaulieu: I could not have said it better myself. What makes Colonial Circuits an outstanding company?
Osborn: One simple rule: We put our customers first and, while not always perfect, we strive for continuous improvement each and every day. Colonial is a trusted source and should be seriously considered.
Beaulieu: Thanks again, Mark, for spending this time with me today.
Osborn: Much appreciation to you, Dan, for your work in our industry. Keep it up.
Beaulieu: Thank you.
For more information about Colonial Circuits, visit www.colonialcircuits.com.