Issue 106

On The Cover: Darcy King, Unique Tool & Gauge. By D.J. Telfer. Photos by Trevor Booth.

Darcy King CEO of Unique Tool & Gauge

Hiding Behind Success

UNIQUE TOOL & GAUGE PUTTING THE WORLD SPOT LIGHT ON WINDSOR AND ESSEX COUNTY

“We don’t want to be the biggest – we want to be the best” said King. “We take enormous pride in what we supply to the market and as a medium sized company we can keep closer controls over quality and production. This tight, step-by-step oversight keeps customers, employees, and shareholders gratified.”

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When 26 year old Darcy King was handed the company’s reigns 11 years ago, Unique Tool & Gauge, 1505 Morrow Drive in Windsor, had around 50 employees and a few clients. Today they have approximately 150 employees at two locations in Windsor and Tilbury. Their clientele is a list of the who’s who in the auto industry, including most of the world’s major automotive manufacturers and several suppliers. They are a global company and industry leaders in the automotive industry. The company’s success and aggressive growth is attributed to the proactive approach and forward thinking philosophy King has implemented since becoming CEO and this strategy has helped position Unique to be competitive worldwide. But while Unique Tool looks to expand their client base and operations, they will not compromise quality for growth.

“Expanding our customer base has been a key part of our business plan,” explained King, “we were tired of the rat race, competing for the same customers, we began looking outside the city, the country... we started thinking globally.”

However, growing their domestic and international client list does not mean becoming a giant corporation.

“We don’t want to be the biggest – we want to be the best” said King. “We take enormous pride in what we supply to the market and as a medium sized company we can keep closer controls over quality and production. This tight, step-by-step oversight keeps customers, employees, and shareholders gratified.”

Established in 1982, Unique Tool offers full services in engineering, design, manufacturing and program management of tooling from start to finish, from initial concept and through the life of the product. Specializing in large molds for the automobile industry, Unique Tool were the pioneers of Aluminium Production Tooling. They are one of only two Co-Management shops capable of building tools directly for Honda Motor Company.

“About 10 years ago we were chosen from hundreds of tool shops to be a part of this partnership with Honda,” King said, “it represented a significant achievement for our company and is a reflection of not just the quality of our work but the quality of the people who work here.”

When King began running the company 11 years ago he wanted to bring it forward into the 21st century and while he owes much of what he has learned about the business to his father, he has stamped the company with his own brand, with his own hands.

“My father and I are like-minded, we share similar philosophies and the experience I have gained under his guidance has been invaluable and treasured but I think I was able to take advantage of the new technologies in software and hardware, customer relations, as well as Social platforms to grow the business to the next level.”

The desire to push out into the world and leave his mark started when King was a teenager, when he slowly began to see a different future for himself but even then he did not imagine being where he is today.

“This was not something I had dreamed about,” he said. “As a kid I was athletic, and played competitive hockey but I just grew tired of playing hockey. I wanted to exercise my intellectual capabilities, I wanted to be something other than an athlete.”

He said. “I love the idea of taking a concept and building it into something real; I love to be challenged and involved and that’s what got me into this business.”

However, working for his father was not a foregone conclusion. King had to actually apply for a job in his Dad’s shop and then when he was hired, he was low-man on the pole.

“I started painting & sweeping floors and cleaning up,” smiled King, but it was the start of an apprenticeship that would bring me and this company to where we are today.”

And the lesson of proving oneself, even in the eyes of his father instilled in King the importance of maintaining uncompromising quality and “not to settle for anything but the best.”

Doing what is necessary to make the Unique Tool more valuable to their customers is another part of King’s strategy. Remaining stagnate is not an option.

“Investing and re-investing is what sustains us,” said King. “We have invested more than $20 million in infrastructure, facilities and equipment, and we continue to invest in ways to improve productivity; in R&D; and in implementing ground-breaking technologies.”

Meanwhile, King said they are, “always looking ahead, trying to predict what’s coming next and keeping the company prepared for all possibilities.”

“In this business either you’re in the game or you’re not” King said, “Our philosophy is to always take a positive, forward approach while being pragmatic in preparing the company for both [economic] sides. Today the industry is strong but our company is well positioned for possible downturns and we would look to take advantage of those situations. We would look to invest and expand at a time when other companies are downsizing, and continue to attract talent.”

While expansion and investment have been integral to Unique’s success along with their demanding quality controls, their rigorous testing, reviews and analysis programs, King points to their stringent adherence to the customers needs that gives Unique Tool a competitive edge. And while business is good, there are some serious challenges facing Unique Tool and other tooling operations.

“The cost of operating a business here in Ontario, especially the rising utilities’ cost is making it increasingly difficult,” King lamented, adding, “and the exchange rate creates additional challenges.”

While King acknowledges there is not a lot he can do about utility costs and exchange rates, the challenge in finding skilled employees and developing a new generation of moldmakers is something he can be involved in.

“This is a dynamic industry, there is a lot of work and the money is great. I don’t think the majority of people are aware of what an excellent career choice this industry can be or that there are many different employment opportunities within the industry.”He said, adding, “We use computers, robotics, we are leaders in software and technology. This is far different from the traditional Tool & Die operations. This is not your father’s tool shop...we represent the new generation in moldmaking.”

To help encourage more interest in moldmaking, King said they have partnered with St. Clair College and the Ontario Youth Apprentice Program (OYAP) to attract more applicants. And after a slow start, the program is working!

“Initially there were only a few dozen students in applying to the college, but today there are more than 1,500 enrolled in the program. So it is exciting to see the next generation looking to industries like moldmaking as career choices”

King said the company is also looking south, looking to expand to the U.S. but he assured there will be no neglecting the company’s home in Windsor and in fact expansion plans are already underway here.

When Darcy King initially took the reigns, he not only followed his father’s example, his unwavering commitment to excellence and customer service, he has gone far beyond even his own imagination. He has developed Unique Tool & Gauge into a global competitor and an industry leader. With a client base supported by many of the world’s top automobile manufactures and suppliers, including their Co-Management program with Honda Motors, King has grown the company by leaps and bounds. In addition UNIQUE is proud to be one of the first companies in the area to work with Tesla Motors before they came to market, and were fortunate to have met and be recognized by Elon Musk personally for our efforts.

But Darcy will step back from the accolades and shine the light on his team, illuminating the pioneers in new moldmaking technologies and the forward thinking minds at Unique Tool, and while this father of three would modestly try and deflect the credit it is hard to hide behind success.

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