It’s no exaggeration to say that Kathy (Dvoracek) Trumbo and her brothers, Frank and Joe, have been immersed in the injection molding business pretty much since birth. Their dad started his own custom molding company in his garage in the 60s, and Kathy and her siblings – also known as the “Three Ds” – earned pocket money by separating boxes of parts. (Fun fact: When the plastic skateboard craze hit its heyday in the 70s, the company made 30 million urethane wheels and 7 million boards!). As adults, Kathy, Frank and Joe decided to start their own injection molding company, just down the street from their dad’s operation.
The Three Ds designed and produced everything from landscape drainage lines to a popular plastic folding sawhorse until forming the Three D Traffic Works division in 1999. Now, Kathy and the team create a proprietary line of traffic-safety products for the highway industry. They proudly use recycled materials and green manufacturing techniques. This approach, as well as an unwavering commitment to innovation and quality, has helped Three D Traffic Works survive industry and economic downturns. Today, with an impressive 55 employees, Three D is the go-to manufacturer for top-notch, eco-friendly traffic-safety products.
Kathy, injection molding is, as they say, in your blood. Tell us what you learned from growing up in the industry.
My dad, the son of Czech immigrants, started his business when he moved to California from Nebraska. He raised us to understand the value of working hard and working together as a family. We each played a part in contributing to the business. Now, my brothers, my husband and our good friend from high school all work together. I focus on the financials, and Frank does the specs and keeps up with the industry regulations. Joe is the visionary – he designs new products, innovates to make certain parts better and helps us keep our competitive edge.
My husband, Tim Trumbo, is the chief operating officer, and our friend, Scott Behm, is the national sales manager. From the beginning, it’s been important for us to run Three D Traffic Works as a family business, even as the company has grown.
Has your business model shifted over the years?
It has. Early on, when we were manufacturing millions of plastic skateboards and folding sawhorses, we had 100 employees. We’ve weathered a lot of ups and downs due to either changes in the economy or because a customer’s company sold or they no longer needed our services.
After hitting rock bottom more than once, we decided to change our business approach so we weren’t dependent on the whim of a customer. We started making our own line of proprietary traffic-safety products so we could be in control of our own destiny.
During the tough times, what keeps you going?
Even though our business has gone through a lot of highs and lows, I somehow just know we’ll get through it. Recently, my bookkeeper was stressed because we started working with a new bank, and I told her not to worry, that we’d get through it. My brothers and I said those words to each other just yesterday in the middle of a tough day – we’ll get through it. We ride it out and, when we need it, we get help from family and friends. At the end of the day, experiencing all the ups and downs of this business has made me a stronger person.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out in business?
I wish we’d had better financing and more capital on hand. When we started the Traffic Works division, we all put in some money and tried to finance the business ourselves. We kept having to put more and more of our personal funds into the company – it felt like we never had enough.
If I could do it over again, I would take out some loans and connect with some of the many business-financing programs out there. Looking back, we needed a little more than just our personal savings to comfortably get the business off the ground.
What do you find to be particularly rewarding about running your own company?
It’s important to all of us that we’re able to make our own decisions. As business owners, we can bounce ideas around and do something about it the very next day. There’s no red tape, no committees – we can act immediately. Sometimes, maybe this means we get started a bit too early and later realize we should have thought something through a little more. But we believe in trial and error, and we know how rewarding it is when a new idea or technique works out.
Tell us about the company’s focus on being green.
We love being able to offer green products that are made in the U.S., and many of our products are made from 100%-recycled materials. We are very involved with a grant program offered through the state of California supporting businesses that reuse rubber. All the bases for our traffic delineators – those plastic posts or markers that sit on a rubber base – are manufactured with rubber from recycled tires. We’ve calculated that, since joining the program in 2004, we’ve used tens of millions of pounds of recycled material. As a result, Three D has diverted millions of tires from our landfills. We think the program is fantastic.
Now it’s your turn
QB Community members, how has your business model shifted or changed over time? What caused you to make such a pivot?
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