A Fresh Start for Freeman Manufacturing

This story provided by Generate Sturgis: BizCon

Brothers Steven and Andy Craig were looking for a business opportunity in the Midwest, close to home, and somewhere they could create value. They found Freeman Manufacturing in Sturgis: a company with a lot of history and with products in a growing market, but that was in many ways behind the times and in need of a turnaround.

Both brothers had worked with large companies that provided them with a diverse experience to aid in their venture. Steven got his start in General Electric's Management Development Division, which provided him with a holistic education in manufacturing and business areas like marketing, human resources, management, and more. Brother Andy worked for Chrysler in an internal sales division and management training program. This wide range of experience and exposure to some of business and industry's best practices was a powerful education, and the brothers both wanted to put it to good use in a company of their own.

After looking for several years for the right opportunity, they found it in Freeman Manufacturing in 2015. According to Steven, they saw in the company a "grand opportunity and potential." Freeman Manufacturing is a long-time orthotics and prosthetics manufacturer and distributor producing mainly back, but also knee, elbow, wrist and other support devices. They serve a wide range of customers in the medical industry, including hospitals, clinics, physical therapists, and surgeon's offices. Their work is primarily with soft brace products, with much of the manufacturing in cutting and sewing.

At the time the business was sold to the Craig brothers, it was in need of a refresh; it had an older workforce, older products, and an older management style. They "plugged along and had always done things the way they've done them, [it] left us with a great opportunity to improve them, with so many ways to bring them into the 21 st century and create value" according to Steven.

Over the last 15 months of ownership, Freeman has seen some big changes and big improvements. The company, which for years had outsourced work to a plant in Puerto Rico, brought the work back to Michigan. "We saw there was significant value to bringing the operation back to Michigan, to implement some new technology" says Steven. "We purchased new automated sewing equipment, new automated cutting equipment…we brought back about 50 sewing machines, and hired 6 or 7 people who have stayed full time, set up a production line, learned how to run all the equipment."

The learning process has been big challenge for a company that had not seen a lot of change in management structure or operations in 40 years, but also for the new owners who are learning a whole industry on the fly, from terminology to regulation to medical insurance procedures. While it has been a challenge for all involved, it has also been an exciting learning process that is just starting to pay dividends.

For the new Freeman Manufacturing, the focus is on the future. The medical device market is growing. "People are not getting any younger…a lot more people have needs medically, that are in pain, requiring surgery. We are doing more surgery now than ever and a lot of the Freeman products are utilized either pre- or post-surgery" says Steven.

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