Creative efforts: Entrepreneurs respond to downturn by launching new venture

Creative efforts: Entrepreneurs respond to downturn by launching new venture
Lindsey Robinson, owner and designer of Low Barrel Creations, displays some of the products fabricated by the Grand Junction company. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
Lindsey Robinson, owner and designer of Low Barrel Creations,
displays some of the products fabricated by the Grand Junction company. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

      Faced with a downturn in the energy industry their Grand Junction machine shop serves, Lindsey Robinson said she and her husband, Aaron, had a decision to make. They could reduce staffing until sales rebounded or try to keep employees busy fabricating different products.

The Robinsons pursued the second option and, in doing so, launched a new venture manufacturing a unique line of decorations and furniture.

Lindsey Robinson equates the situation to the old proverb about what to do when life give you lemons. The resulting lemonade, she says, has been sweet. “When you have the ability to build your own products, you get creative.”

Those products include everything from wall decor and wine racks to firewood carts and lamps. That’s not to mention benches and customized signs.

The diverse inventory has something in common, though, in that all the products are made of steel and reclaimed lumber and constructed in Grand Junction, she says.

In addition, the products all are marketed and sold under the Low Barrel Creations brand, a name the Robinsons came up with in the aftermath of the low prices for a barrel of oil that have slowed exploration and production activity.

While Low Barrel Creations is only about four months old, Robinson already has launched a Web site and sells products online and through retail locations in Colorado and Wyoming. She’s also putting together a catalog and hopes to soon sell products through additional locations.

Necessity long has been a mother of invention for the Robinsons and Industrial Screen & Maintenance, the family business her grandfather, Robert Pete Miner, launched in Casper, Wyo., in 1969. He started out manufacturing screens for the uranium mining industry, a product the company still produces.

But following a bust in uranium mining activity, Miner branched out into other products and services, Robinson says. “He did anything to make a buck.”

Miner subsequently developed hundreds of products, many of them as a result of  coming up with solutions to problems his customers faced, Robinson says. In addition to fabricating various metal products, Industrial Screen & Maintenance also builds custom molds to manufacture products out of urethane.

Robinson says her father, Daniel Miner, now oversees the operation in Casper.

Industrial Screen & Maintenance opened a small operation in Grand Junction to better serve a customer. The operation expanded and in 2007 moved into a 20,000 square-foot building. Aaron Robinson oversees the facility as operations manager, while Lindsey Robinson serves as sales and marketing director.

With its computerized machining equipment, the Grand Junction operation offers a wide range of products and services for the energy industry, Lindsey Robinson says. “We’ve done just about anything and everything for the oil business.”

When oil exploration and production boomed as a result of high commodity prices and advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, so did business for Industrial Screen & Maintenance, Robinson says. Increased sales helped to pay off equipment and the building.

But when oil prices slumped, so did business, Robinson says. She estimates sales dropped by about 70 percent.

Rather than reduce the staff of 20 that works at the Grand Junction operation, the Robinsons decided to broaden their product line beyond the mining and energy industries.

Robinson says she was inspired in part by her efforts to decorate a new home with fixtures and furnishings that offer an industrial rustic style, but at affordable prices. Rather than purchase fixtures and furniture, she designed them herself and had the machinists at the shop fabricate them. She drew on her education at the Art Center Design College in New Mexico.

Robinson says she decided if she liked the decor and furniture, chances were good others would, too. And she went to work designing a range of products and putting the machinists to work fabricating them.

She designed a variety of wine holders featuring 1-inch-wide straps of steel bent into spirals to hold the bottles. The spirals then are attached to various bases to create either single-bottle holders or towers or even blooms of bottles.

She also designed firewood carts featuring heavy duty steel frames, caster wheels with urethane coatings and decorative steel panels featuring elk, moose and other wildlife. The carts are both useful and artistic, she says.

Low Barrel Creations also offers a variety of wall decorations as well as custom signs for everything from property entrances to chicken coops to pet leash holders. Robinson also has designed and fabricated lamps and entryway benches.

The products feature different patinas on the steel components and various types of reclaimed lumber, including old barn wood and beetle kill pine.

Robinson says she can quickly turn concepts into products, sometimes in as little as a day, because of the skilled employees who work at the shop. “They’re amazing at what they do.”

In addition to its Web site, Low Barrel Creations sells products at Fisher’s Liquor Barn in Grand Junction, the Blue Pig Gallery in Palisade, Bloom Gift Shop in Ouray and Haven Gallery in Casper.

Robinson says she hopes to soon add other retail locations to the list. She also expects to promote her products at the Denver International Wine Festival in October.

For more information about Low Barrel Creations, call 589-0846 or visit the Web site at www.lowbarrelcreations.com.