Lewis-Clark State College senior Harris Lackey wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea, but turning some thoughts in the back of his mind into a possible reality is certainly paying off.
Like in $9,500 last month at the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge held in Boise.
Lackey combined what he’s learned in Diesel Technology and Business classes at the college to come up with a business plan for building custom flatbeds for trucks. His comprehensive plan earned him second place in the Agriculture and Agriculture Tech competition at the Challenge, which is open to all college students in the state. The second-place award earned him $7,000 and then he received another $2,500 for winning the Jump Start Award after impressing the judges.
“This is a very big deal,” said Jill Thomas-Jorgenson, a business professor at LCSC who told Lackey about the Challenge. “It is very competitive with over 200 teams composed of 1-4 people. That shows how hard he worked and how successful he was.”
Lackey is a senior from LaGrande, Ore., area who plans to obtain his bachelor’s degree in Diesel Technology in December. When he started the program, his goal was to work as a diesel mechanic, a profession he loves. He knew he also may want to run his own business one day, which is why he takes business classes.
“I wanted to get both sides of it,” he says. “If you are going to run any sort of operation, yeah knowing how to create the product is one thing, but you have to know how to operate the business. I’ve worked at a couple of companies where I have had very poor management and I’ve seen how it has tremendously hurt the business.”
It was in one of Thomas-Jorgenson’s classes where Lackey learned about the Challenge.
“I thought OK, I have a couple of ideas that I could enter into this competition so I started to put together a business idea,” Lackey said. “With her help I was able to come up with something that was really awesome.”
Lackey said he has always thought about building custom flatbeds for farmers, ranchers and loggers because he saw there was a need for it, whether working out on his parents’ farm or in local diesel shops. He says the need exists because people want room in their trucks for certain types of tool boxes and equipment to transport tools, veterinary supplies, hardware, and other uses.
With his business plan, Lackey builds custom flatbeds tailored to what the customer wants. He would meet with a potential customer, find out what the uses and needs for the flatbed would be, and he then would do a design drawing to show the customer. He said after tweaks, he would fabricate the flatbed, have it painted, and then install it. He said the entire process would take approximately two weeks.
The idea won him the LCSC Entrepreneur Challenge, which qualified him for the state competition and earned him $1,000. He began to work with others on the LCSC campus, including Debbie Goodwin from the Business Division, Fred Chilson, the Dean for Professional Studies, and Judy Schumacher of the Region II Small Business Development Center, to strengthen his plan.
At state, Lackey says he had to give a general presentation on the first day along with setting up a table-top display for both judges and the public to look at and ask questions.
“We had quite a few questions thrown at us,” Lackey says. “Some of the people could be potential customers to our products. The awesome thing was that I got a couple of business cards from potential customers saying that they knew someone who could use one, or knew someone in the concrete or construction business that this would be great for.
“That’s the cool things about this, just the range of the product. I initially designed it for just agriculture, farming and ranching, but since then I keep hearing people say how it would work for this or that, which is pretty cool.”
The second day of the Challenge, Lackey had to go before three panels consisting of 4-5 judges and make a four-minute pitch and then answer up to six minutes of questions with each panel. His division paid two places, but the judges were so impressed with Lackey’s idea and pitch, they awarded him an extra $2,500.
“I have seen and used current flatbeds on the market at work and I have seen first-hand some of the issues they bring,” Lackey says. “That’s why I had this idea, so I can start building them myself with the right equipment. Currently, I don’t have all the equipment, but with the money I won, I should be able to start an operation.”
Lackey says he eventually would like to move back to the La Grande area, where his parents are farmers and raise sheep, alfalfa, and hay. There is a shop that he has the opportunity to use for his business, located in La Grande, he says.
“When I came to college, I just wanted to become a diesel mechanic, get my feet on the ground and make some money,” Lackey says. “And that’s probably what I will initially do for the first 5-6 years. Get my feet on the ground, get some experience in the real world, get some money established, and then I will probably go into something like this (designing/building the custom flatbeds).”
The competition is another reason why Lackey says LCSC has been a good fit for him. He says when he was looking for a diesel program coming out of Union High in Union, Ore. (his parents farm is about seven miles from both Union and La Grande), he wanted to find a college where he could get a bachelor’s degree in diesel technology. However, there wasn’t much to choose from in Oregon or Washington, so his choices came down to LCSC or Montana State-Northern.
“I really like it here,’’ he says. “I really like the size. I went to a high school that had 100 kids total and I had like maybe 12 in my graduating class so to be able to come to a college where there is 15 to 20 kids in a class is really nice compared to other schools that have 200-300 kids in a class.”
Lackey said earning a bachelor’s degree is important to him because it creates a huge advantage over most people in the diesel field, who usually obtain only an associate’s degree.
Lackey works as a diesel mechanic during the school year and in the summers. Last summer, he worked in Seattle at PACCAR, which designs, manufactures and provides customer support for Kenworth, Peterbilt, and DAF trucks. He says he was in the area where they were working on porotypes for test trucks. This summer, he plans to work with Farm Supply Distributors, where he currently has a part-time job.
“That’s where I get most of my ideas from,” Lackey says. “Just the day to day operations. The mechanic there (Farm Supply Distributors) has a flatbed on his truck, but he has to always strap down his tool boxes and it’s such a pain. My idea would be a great solution for someone like him or anyone else in the industry.”