Entrepreneur says starting business "is the best thing you can do"

Barbara Birr

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

Confidence has been Don Bender's maxim since he formed Falcon Plastics Inc. in May 1975. Bender, president and chairman of the board, made the decision to open his own injection molding equipment company in only six weeks. "I'd been working in the business since 1960 and suddenly had an opportunity," Bender says. "I had no qualms about making it go."

And make it go he has. In its first year, Falcon, headquartered in Brookings, S.D., had sales of $500,000 and three employees working in 5,000 square feet of production space. Sixteen years later, Falcon's 160 employees are operating out of 72,000 square feet in two plants, and sales are at $9.7 million, up 36.9 percent over 1990. Falcon has never had a losing year, Bender says.

Falcon sells its custom injection molding directly to 30 customers nationwide. Word-of-mouth does more than anything else, Bender says of his company's marketing strategy. "My son and I handle sales; 98 percent of our business is direct."

Finding resources to fund his project was easier for Bender than for many. "I'm very active in encouraging economic development in South Dakota," Bender explains. He also served on the governor's REDI (Revolving Economic Development and Initiative) board from its inception. The REDI fund administers economic development loans to businesses in South Dakota through the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Bender is quick to add that he resigned from the board five months before applying for a loan.

Falcon's start-up was capitalized with $30,000 and three low-interest loans: a 3 percent REDI loan, a similar development loan through Madison, S.D., where Falcon's second plant is located, and a 1 percent loan through the city of Brookings.

As Falcon continues to expand, it is instituting changes to meet the needs of its customers. "We're hiring engineers so we can be more customer-specific," Bender says. "We're strong advocates of quality. We produce quality. We deliver on time and we're competitive. That hasn't changed in 16 years."

Always be prepared and have controls in place, is Bender's advice for dealing with unforeseen problems. Several times over the last few years, Falcon was threatened by big surges of business, Bender says. "Those surges were good for us because we had controls in place and tapped available fund sources," Bender adds. "We always had control of the balance sheet."

Bender's confidence and positive attitude carries over into his expectations for the future of Falcon. "We've got very, very good people here and we're looking for great things," Bender says. "We think the world is out there waiting for us."

Bender's advice for would-be entrepreneurs is simple: "Feel confident. Be well-versed in what you're going into. Starting your own business is the best thing you can do."