One of Canada’s leading acoustic guitar manufacturers, Garrison Guitars specializes in high-end acoustic instruments. It has developed and patented the Griffiths Active Bracing System, an innovative way to construct a guitar’s inner structure. Now, instead of using more than 30 individually machined and installed pieces of wood, the company uses one glass fiber, injection-molded piece. This leading-edge technology not only gives Garrison’s guitars enhanced structural stability and increased volume, it has enabled the company to reduce manufacturing time for the bracing system from several hours to 45 seconds. Garrison now exports its guitars all over the world.
Incredibly, this innovative technology was sketched out on an airline napkin. In 1995, founder Chris Griffiths decided he wanted to start his own guitar factory when he realized that demand greatly exceeded supply for entry-level guitars. He hired an engineering consultant to join him while visiting factories all over North America to better understand the manufacturing process. On the long flight from California to Newfoundland, Griffiths realized that the guitar bracing system could be designed in one piece and began sketching his idea on a napkin. "At one point I just started seeing something from a different angle," Griffiths says. "I borrowed a pen from the stewardess and begin sketching the idea on the napkin while discussing it with the engineer."
Griffiths found himself with a million-dollar idea but without the technical know-how to follow through. So, in 1997 he entered the Genesis Centre, whose affiliation with Memorial University of Newfoundland gained Griffiths access to the university’s Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC). But he soon realized he needed help with far more than the technological aspects of his idea: "I had taken the idea as far as I could take it," Griffiths says. "There were things needed that I couldn’t provide, like financial projections and a business plan. It was so overwhelming." This is where the incubator staff stepped in.
Genesis Centre was able to assist in several ways, including helping with business development, providing office space, matching Griffiths with a mentor and introducing him to venture capitalists. Ultimately, though, that the success came from Griffiths, says Keelin O’Leary, Genesis Centre manager. "The entrepreneur really makes or breaks the whole company and [Garrison] was built from what Chris had," O’Leary says. "Chris has a very personal approach. He’s somebody that everyone likes to work with and is able to get everyone interested."
Garrison Guitars is no stranger to success or recognition. It has won several awards, including the 2001 Canadian Innovation Award for Process Efficiency in Lean Manufacturing, several Planet Entrepreneurship Awards and a President’s Award for Entrepreneurship. The company started with only Griffiths, graduated in 2001 with 8 employees and now has 56. Its revenue growth has followed suit. With only $11,169 in revenues at graduation, Garrison has projected fiscal year 2002 revenues at about $3.59 million.
Griffiths has also continued to give back to his community and the incubator. He logged more than 700 volunteer hours last year with numerous organizations and charities, attends the Genesis monthly networking luncheon (presenting occasionally), and says he regularly recommends Genesis to aspiring entrepreneurs. O’Leary says that the greatest contribution the company has given the incubator is its recognition. "This is not the first award Chris has won," O’Leary says. "He’s often out in the public and has been a great ambassador for us. We are thrilled and delighted that he has won another award. He was an ideal client."
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