Approximately ten years ago, Nick Worrell sold his nutritional supplement business to a larger company. His products were available in GNCs, other nutritional retailers and in 23 countries. After a great career in that industry, Worrell had a choice to make — fall back into familiar territory or step outside of his comfort zone. After learning about laser scanning technology and the many applications, he chose the latter.
"I had a friend of the family that does a somewhat similar type of scanning," Worrell said. "They’ll scan to capture, for example, a small part of a car, produce a beautiful 3D image of the piece and then 3D print it. It was fascinating to me. He told me about new scanners that can capture an entire city street. He went on about how it's possible to capture city block after city block. It's a very 'sexy' technology that's visually stunning. I'd been involved with startups before and, based on my experience, I know that, regardless of the business, knowing your customer is at the core of anything you do. After doing some research, understanding the customer base, their needs and price points, I felt good about getting into this business."
In August 2012, Worrell launched Atlantic Laser Scanning Services. He started with one machine and, to supplement his income, also sold the machines for one of the manufacturer's distributors. As Worrell shared, the original focus of the company was much different than it is today.
"I originally thought we'd be doing more service work," he said. "I envisioned us using the machines to collect data for engineering firms or visual effects studios. Early on, we started doing work around accident reconstruction. Let's say for example, someone got shocked by a low hanging electrical wire. Engineering firms would work with attorneys to get measurements of the wire. We'd be the ones to collect the data and then the engineering firms would use the data to back up the attorney's case. Eventually, the engineering firms grew concerned that we'd slide in and work directly with the attorneys, bypassing them. That's around the time when someone asked about renting the machine instead of having us collect the data. That's the direction we went in. Since then, it's worked out pretty well."
Today, Atlantic Laser Scanning Services supplies high-end pieces of measuring equipment to engineering firms, businesses that work with movie production companies and anyone who can't afford to actually purchase the equipment. For these businesses, it makes more sense to rent.
"Many businesses can't justify the $60,000 cost to buy this equipment and only use it a handful of times," Worrell said. "By renting, we provide a way for smaller businesses to compete with larger ones. They can rent for a day, a week or several months at a time. We provide a reasonable rental rate along with free training. Our YouTube videos explain how to use the equipment, how to collect the data and also include screen shots of the computer to show what to do with the data. Once we made the instructions easy to follow and the training free, business quickly picked up."
Despite the well-executed pivot and subsequent success, Worrell, like most entrepreneurs branching out to a new industry, experienced his fair share of early challenges. For one, the machines are expensive. When they break down and need repaired, it's costly and it takes time. Managing these expenses, along with cash flow, was challenging the first two years in business. Overtime, Worrell developed a good relationship with his bank that allowed for easier access to a credit line. As time went on, they were able to handle downturns and broken equipment and still pay their bills.
Looking ahead, Worrell, who thoroughly enjoys helping small businesses compete against larger firms, is committed to maintaining his current course. "Growing up with parents that had their own small business, I get it," he said. "It's very rewarding to help the structural engineer or the accident reconstruction engineer that works out of his house. They don't have deep pockets. We help to level the playing field. In terms of the business, we'll continue to upgrade our equipment and maintain our 'balancing act' of having enough equipment on-hand and enough in the field."
What advice does Worrell have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "I feel strongly that you have to be in a business that you understand and know," he said. "If it’s something you enjoy doing, start there. Entrepreneurship takes a combination of tenacity, stubbornness and stupidity to be successful. It's important to know that obstacles come along. You have to be willing to look past the challenges and believe things will work out. Know your customers and your industry and you'll find a way to make it work. I'm also a big believer in doing business with other businesses. I like to see them be successful. Once they know you have their best interests in mind, you'll have an easier time maintaining that relationship. In my experience, it really comes down to doing a great job, keeping your books straight and being open to any opportunities that come your way."