Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

How a broken four-wheeler led to the launch of a Florida’s PBM Specialties.

One day in 2010, a Florida grandfather taught his grandchildren how not to break the Piggy Bank. Instead, he showed the six young children how to make money by making things.

It was Doug Coberley’s lesson of manufacturing.

Nearly three years later, that shared wisdom led to the incorporation of PBM Specialties, a niche manufacturing start-up located in Kissimmee, Fla.

Coberley is a successful Florida businessman who owns a lucrative cellular tower contracting company. He is a pioneer in the cellular tower industry, having invented and perfected a low-heat welding process that prevents the towers from combustion.

But he’s also a consummate family man, and Coberley often hosted his six grandchildren at his home and five-acre property in Kissimmee. The kids, ranging in age from six to 12, would spend their days with “Papa,” riding motor bikes and four-wheelers.

Back on that day in 2010, one of the four-wheel vehicles broke down — and the grandkids asked Coberley for money to either fix it or buy a new recreational vehicle.

While Coberley could have paid for a new four-wheeler, he instead decided to seize an opportunity to teach his grandchildren about the American work ethic. He told the kids they would have to start a company to provide revenue for a new off-road vehicle.

The kids, affectionately known as “Papa’s Band of Munchkins,” were at a loss as what to do. So, Coberley guided them through the manufacturing process.

After the company’s 2013 launch, Coberley and his family invested another two years in research and development. PBM (Papa’s Band of Munchkins) Specialties Inc. began bringing its variety of products to the market in 2015. “Papa” and the grandkids’ early line of cutout decorations has progressed into innovative products such as awards, lamps, and plaques.

Jon Arguello, the CEO of PBM Specialties, said he is proud of the way the company came to fruition.

“A lot of the manufacturing tables we have were built by those kids,” Arguello said. “These kids have learned to weld, they learned to use power tools and be careful and actually run a shop and build and sweat. So that is the genesis of our company and its history we are very proud of that. These kids one day will come back to this company with a brain full of education. The grandkids are the ones that actually started it.”

One of Coberley’s intentions was to teach his grandchildren that you could still build a profitable manufacturing facility in the United States. To that end, PBM Specialties sources its materials throughout the U.S., including the machinery essential to manufacturing its products. The Computer Numerical Control (CNC) router, the high-powered engraving and cutting lasers and all of the component materials are Made in America.

“We get a lot of positive comments from people after they hold an item, such as an award. It is because of the American components we have in there. We know that if we sourced overseas products, we wouldn’t get the number of comments on our quality that we do now.” Jon Arguello, CEO of PBM Specialties

PBM Specialties’ products have been on the market for about 18 months. The family spent nearly two years finalizing the design and securing patents for its products and services, which include unique lighting, promotional awards, recognition products, signage, premium custom work for inventors, students and other innovative clients.

“We also print 3D and we open up our shop to inventors and people who are looking for this type of tooling, whether it be the CNC, laser cutter or 3D printing,” Arguello said. “We help people prototype their products as a way of bringing people in and expanding our relationship with the community. We are actually going to begin having one weekend a month where the shop is open to anyone that wants to come and experiment with their own products.”

And while PBM Specialties is trying to grow its own unique business, it is at the same time assisting inventors and future manufacturers. PBM Specialties best sellers include lamps, plaques and awards, but it also manufactures premium, interior signage for apartment buildings and high-end office buildings. Most of its current customers are from Central Florida, but the company is rapidly expanding.

“We are now shipping awards to all over the country, but it’s most likely Army units when a soldier is retiring or moving from one state to another,” Arguello said. “We have become very popular with the military making these specific awards for soldiers.

“Our pitch is: Why buy something from overseas when you can have it made to your specifications here in America at a cost that is reasonable with quality that can’t be matched? I think one thing they really like about our awards, which has really separated us in the marketplace, has been the fact that we make a big deal about where it was made. So we put a commissioning plate on every fancy award that we make that describes how we built it, that it was built with love and pride on our machinery here in our factory in Kissimmee, Florida and it’s made specifically for organizations that truly appreciate their honorees.

“That’s what I think separates American manufacturing from anywhere else in the world, especially somewhere like China where it’s really about producing the maximum amount at a much lower quality.”

PBM Specialties’ client list includes Florida’s Fastest Growing 100 Companies, the Golden 100 Companies, Women Who Mean Business, the local Home Depot and the Orlando City Soccer Club.

“We are the official provider for the Orlando Business Journal events and we also work with the Jacksonville Business Journal,” Arguello said. “We do work for Fortune 500 companies when they want a special award. If they want an award from China that has the little guy on top that breaks off or whatever, they go somewhere else. But if you want a premium award, people come to us.”

PBM Specialties LightBoxes and display lamps come with remote controls and use the latest technology to pulse, dim or interact with sound. They are interchangeable and can easily be set from one theme to the next in about one minute without any tools. Your base light can be your favorite sports team logo one day and easily changed to a seasonal scene such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

The LightBoxes are similar to the popular “Star Wars” lamps that feature characters from the series of movies of the Star Wars franchise (now owned by Disney). Because of the top-quality of the PBM Specialties LightBoxes, Arguello would like to manufacture a specialty item for Disney World which is only a bit farther than a laser beam away from Kissimmee.

“We are seeking licensing for Star Wars and a contract with Disney World,” Arguello said. “We are trying to make it so that whenever any Disney movie comes out, Disney World would sell the lamps in one of their stores as specialty items. They would sell the theme so you would get the figurines on top and use whatever you like.”

If a unique idea arises, PBM Specialties will manufacture the product for its own clientele or an inventor who needs top-quality expertise. It produces products ranging from a premium sports light — which is similar to a bar light or a man-cave decoration — to a custom-made business card holder. And it manufacturers items made of many different materials. Acrylic, wood, aluminum, glass, steel and a variety of metals are typically the main ingredients in its products.

“We get a lot of positive comments from people after they hold an item, such as an award,” said Arguello. “It is because of the American components we have in there. We know that if we sourced overseas products, we wouldn’t get the number of comments on our quality that we do now.”

When a new, small business opens, the typical top-priority struggles are keeping the business open, making payroll, creating sales and growing your sales. In its first year of operation, PBM Specialties increased its sales nearly 200 percent. For the first quarter of fiscal year 2016, sales have already grown an additional 200 percent. If this upward trend continues, Arguello expects the company to be doing quite well during the next 12 months.

“We maintain the focus on quality, service and American manufacturing,” Arguello added. “We are trying to use an old-school business model. The grandkids really began that by themselves and that’s the next generation of American manufacturers. We have this company open to prove that American manufacturing can still be successful.”