The price of fuel and a sagging economy may be making charter fishing trips a little less doable for families and friends, but it’s still an effective way for some West Michigan companies to entertain customers and clients.
“We’ve been taking customers out for three or four years now. We usually do at least one, if not two” charter fishing trips a year, said Bill Herberg, president of Laser Dynamics Inc. in Allendale.
From Allendale, it’s not a long ride to Chinook Pier in Grand Haven, where Herberg and his guests rendezvous at 6 a.m. on a nice summer morning to board Woods & Waters Charters for a day on the Big Lake.
“Everybody tends to have a good time and it only takes us like half a day, so you’re not out of the office a whole day. It really works out well,” said Herberg.
Laser Dynamics is a small but growing company founded in 2000 by Herberg, Jim Scholten and Herberg’s current business partner, Ken Koster. It now employs about 55 people in a 48,000-square-foot plant off Lake Michigan Drive near GVSU, providing laser cutting and metal fabrication services to several hundred industrial customers.
Most of Laser Dynamics customers are in the Great Lakes states, although there are a few customers as far away as Arizona and Florida.
Herberg said that for some of the distant customers they take fishing on Lake Michigan, it is a new experience altogether.
One of Laser Dynamics’ charter trips this past summer was a treat for one of its major customers, a firm located in the Chicago area.
“I suppose there’s charter fishing down there, but the east side of Lake Michigan, from what I hear, is some of the best charter fishing,” said Herberg.
He said his company usually invites three or four people from a customer company, and two or three people from Laser Dynamics go with them on the fishing trip. A trip costs up to $750, which includes all the equipment and temporary licenses for everyone who doesn’t already have a Michigan fishing license. The charter boat companies arrange nearly everything, minimizing the work their customers have to do in entertaining their guests.
There is some risk involved, however. A keen eye on the weather is crucial. If the lake kicks up and somebody representing the customer gets seasick — that’s obviously not the way to entertain customers.
As long as the weather cooperates, it’s quality time on the water for people who have never fished before, as well as those who are avid sport fishermen. And when a neophyte does land a fish, “it’s usually kind of a special occasion,” said Herberg.
“It gives you something to discuss with them when you’re on the phone with them (later), talking business,” said Herberg. “It always strengthens relationships you have with them, personally and business-wise. That’s really how we use it as a tool for our business.”
Laser Dynamics entertains its customers with “a mixture of things,” said Herberg. Golf outings for the golfers is one example. Another thing they like to do is a little more offbeat, more for people who like to get their adrenalin racing — go-cart racing, which they did recently with customers at Craig’s Cruisers between Grand Haven and Muskegon.
Variety is apparently an essential part of the strategy behind Laser Dynamics.
“This year we’re doing fantastic,” said Herberg. “We’re up considerably over last year. … A lot of it has to do with being diversified in customers and industries.”
“We service a lot of different industries,” he added, ranging from office furniture to medical equipment, store fixtures and defense. Of those, “medical is growing right now,” Herberg said, while office furniture is “just kind of steady.”
Laser Dynamics does “very, very little” automotive industry work, he said. “We stay away from that.”
Part of the reason the firm isn’t much involved in automotive is that Laser Dynamics is what Herberg describes as a “small to medium volume” company in regard to its production capability.
“Our processes really don’t lend themselves to the automotive world, which tends to be much higher volume than the fabrication world we’re in.”
Laser Dynamics has a lot invested in its specialty, which is laser cutting equipment. Herberg said the company now has seven: five flat bed lasers for cutting sheets of metal and two tube-cutting lasers.
Laser technology has changed the way products using metal tubes are made. It used to be a stamping process, he said, but with lasers, “whatever you can draw on a tube is what you can cut on a tube.” That permits different ways now of forming tubes and fastening tubes together.
Herberg previously owned a pharmaceuticals packaging company — Fleet Contract Packaging — which he sold. When he and his partners started Laser Dynamics, he said, they “started off really green” and had to learn laser technology from the bottom up.
But it’s working.
“We’ve had 20 to 30 percent growth a year,” he said — although he quickly qualified that, noting that Laser Dynamics is a small company, and small numbers can add up to what “seem like big percentages.”