The Art of the Journey

Odyssey Electronics

Most marketers are familiar with the thrill of the chase. Businesses covet those early honeymoon days of wooing new clientele into big contracts, and then the hard work starts. For Dave Martin, vice president of sales and marketing, Livonia, Michigan-based Odyssey Electronics is not a business that likes to go on dates.
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This team is in the trade with an eye on creating metaphorical marriages – long-term manufacturing partnerships that stand the test of time. It is no surprise then that after twenty-nine years, its very first customer is still as loyal as ever and so are eight out of the first ten other clients that signed up in its early days.

The wise approach of developing long-term relationships is based on the fact that the company does not offer any products of its own, leaving its success entirely up to its clients’ ability to market their ranges and grow. For this reason, Odyssey Electronics’ clients are guaranteed of its steadfast support at all times. Its number one ability is the manufacturing of industrial electronic assemblies used in a multitude of applications. These include hospital ‘smart carts’ to distribute medicine or hold operating tools. The company’s products can also be found in Automotive assembly plants, Audio/Video products, Telematic products, Industrial Instruments/Controls, and more.

Parts typically go through non-contact inspection machines built by a few of the company’s clients. The devices measure parts both in two- and three-dimensions. This means top-speed, accurate inspections that do not slow down product lines. Its parts also include printed circuit board assemblies. For clients that need these assemblies built into subassemblies to form components of larger products, Odyssey has the full skills to achieve this. In fact, the company is so well-equipped that it offers full box builds – turnkey product building that leaves the customer with only the design and marketing to do.

Needless to say, in a world where electronics are often part of life and death situations, safety comes first, and Odyssey Electronics is registered with the International Standards Organization under ISO9001:2015, which focuses on quality management systems and consistency. It has also attained ISO13485:2016, which affects quality management systems for medical devices. Around seventy employees keep its two neighboring facilities of about 26,000 square feet running like clockwork, with the majority of people concentrated in its manufacturing department.

As Michigan is its home base, a lot of its business is historically rooted here, but with the advent of online marketing, new clients are streaming in from all over as the company went from regional to national in the past few years. “When we started in 1989, the internet wasn’t an option. Now, people find us online, and we have clients as far afield as Washington and Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and beyond,” says Dave.

Odyssey Electronics’ clever internet marketing strategy includes a search engine optimization team – an invaluable asset that can give innumerable superpowers to any company in touch with the times. Why source from further afield when you perhaps have a similar manufacturer in your own area? The company also has a strong social media presence utilizing Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

For Dave, it starts with its internet presence. “Once customers have made contact and considered our quality, they usually present us with a challenge. When they receive our competitive quote and see our capabilities and how qualified a supplier we are, it’s hard for them to refuse. We love it when potential clients visit us because that often clinches the deal. We are so much more than what we can show on a website,” says Dave. “Once we get you, we’re really good at keeping you. That is my team’s function. We are nothing without our customers. It is almost like a religion around here,” he says.

Just as in Homer’s classical Greek poem of the same name, the road that led to Odyssey Electronics was an adventurous one. Given Dave’s history in sheet metal fabrication, his business partner and Company President Ernie Flamont decided to start his own company and asked Dave to join him on the journey. As Dave had much experience in custom metal fabrication as well as clients who used electronic circuits in their products, the match was made, and he agreed to join. Once the company had earned its customers’ respect, it also started quoting on assembly, and the rest is history.

While electronics were already huge in the late nineties, outsourcing became a much bigger trend during the new millennium thanks to the increasingly sophisticated levels of equipment and understanding of component placement in manufacturing and assembling electronic circuit boards. “Electronics are in nearly everything these days. Even hotel rooms don’t use keys anymore like they did when I was a kid. There are hundreds of microchips in your car alone, not to mention in phones and other everyday things. It is everywhere. It is this need for electronics that has allowed us to grow,” says Dave.

The company’s unorthodox formula for longevity catches one a little by surprise, at first. When Dave and Ernie started out together, the made a sincere promise to each other never to be ‘that person,’ like some of the folks they had worked for in their time. Because they knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of unpleasant treatment, the two partners undertook to be the employers they wished they had.

To this very day, Odyssey Electronics defines its customers in terms of external and internal groups. Internal customers are the company’s employees, and external customers are its clients. “We need both these groups to succeed, and we’ve worked very hard every day for twenty-nine years to honor our original intent to take really good care of both those groups of people. It is a great balancing act if you can get both sides of that right. We made a promise to ourselves, and we’ve kept that promise,” says Dave. While talk may be easy, this team’s proven track record backs up its promise.

When it comes to taking care of its customers, Odyssey Electronics does not go the extra mile; it goes the whole hog. Not only does it still have its first client, but its first employee only retired a few years ago, and many of its current team members have been with the company for well over twenty years.

A big employee incentive is the company’s policy of allowing new employees one week of vacation per trimester in their first year with the company. Its pro-family policy is a rare and prized characteristic that defines this thought-leading company in a big way. In a world full of options where easy come often also means easy go, people simply do not stay unless they are truly happy and being treated well. For this company’s three partners, treating everyone right is the mainstay of the business.

“Customers can see when you value your team, and that makes them want to stick with you,” says Dave. And this is shown by the ample recognition showered on the company by its appreciative clients.

The company’s sense of responsibility stretches far beyond itself. It has had the great honor and pleasure of working with nonprofit organization STEP (Services to Enhance Potential) which places cognitively impaired adults in a healthy work environment. The company employed groups of between three and ten individuals and enjoyed a very satisfying relationship that lasted for ten years until the industry became so mechanized that only a minimal amount of manual labor is now required. Odyssey Electronics looks back at this deeply meaningful time in its history with much pride and gratitude to these wonderful employees who helped make it a great place.

The company also has a special relationship with the national Opioid Awareness campaign. The Martin family tragically lost their beautiful daughter Angie to the problem that is sweeping the country. Angel Wings for Angie is an awareness and benefit concert in honor of this beloved girl whose untimely passing left a scar in the hearts of many. A number of employees even donate privately to this campaign. Support amongst colleagues is imperative to the company’s long-term success, and the team also supports the benefit fund for fellow employees who have lost close family members to suicide.

Odyssey’s caring spreads far and wide, and while it supports the Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts with equal gusto, Girl Scout cookies are a regular at tea time. The owners especially enjoy handing out big bonuses at Christmas time. “No owner has ever taken a bonus before our employees have received theirs. Some years they received bonuses, and we didn’t. That doesn’t matter to us. Ernie, Mark, and I have never, ever put ourselves first. We want our people to be happy,” says Dave.

As in all business, troughs follow peaks, but with much grace, hard work, and determination, its loyal customers have seen it through some pretty stormy times. As Dave points out, the recession of 2008 and 2009 affected Michigan for more than two years. “The area’s economic downturn lasted from 2006 to 2011. We’re extremely proud that we managed to keep the boat afloat during that period,” he says.

And the company did not just keep it floating, either. It generated between $20 million and $25 million in the last year alone, and its goal is to double that over the next five to seven years. Its capabilities are impressive, and it has grown from two machines to over fifty, including six circuit mount lines, four of which are highly-automated and two for batch production of lower industrial volumes. The company is fully-equipped to handle prototyping – on which it typically breaks even – pre-production building, and production building, all in one place.

The fact that it is the sole supplier of electronics assembly to over half of its clients speaks volumes about the trust invested in Odyssey Electronics. Dave extends a sincere invitation to prospective clients to drop by the Odyssey facility unannounced any time. “You won’t know the difference until you do business with us. We’ll spoil you with transparent communication, customer service, competitive, detailed and clear pricing, and quality. Our breadth of customized service delivery will amaze you,” he says.

Moving forward, Odyssey Electronics plans to harness one of its greatest assets: its flexibility and creativity. Treating people like you want to be treated is key for this winning company. It also looks forward to being part of more pioneering projects like partnering and building the fleet management device now demanded by all insurance companies. Odyssey Electronics built the first revisions with its partner in Guangzhou in China’s free trade zone in an adventure from which it will no doubt benefit for many years to come.

Working Smarter

A key goal of any successful manufacturing operation is a continual drive toward improving the efficiency of the manufacturing process. Traditionally, this has been accomplished through the adoption of lean production principles, waste reduction using the Six Sigma approach, and similar productivity solutions. These systems have been widely incorporated throughout the manufacturing industry and have significantly improved product quality, production speeds, and perhaps most importantly, the safety of those working in manufacturing plants.

Past Issues

October 15, 2019, 7:25 AM EDT