Industrial metal stairs

Upside Innovations: Then and Now

When sitting in the first iteration of Upside Innovations’ facility, founder Kevin Sharp used to look out the window of the 1,900 ft2 garage/office and stare at the semis loading and unloading at the large manufacturing facility across the street.  It felt so far out of reach when trying to build a company as the economy was still in the middle of the Great Recession.  Fast forward eight years, and Upside Innovations is in its fourth facility (not including Kevin’s house) and is tearing down walls to increase the manufacturing and office space by another 50%.

Upside Innovations has experienced remarkable growth since the business was formed in 2009. After completing the company’s first project – a large canopy project in Indianapolis – Sean Faller joined the company along with one salesperson.  The original concept for the company was that Upside would outsource all production to fabricators in Cincinnati who had excess capacity due to the recession. After outsourcing production for the first few jobs, Upside made a change to its strategy and decided to begin manufacturing in-house. Kevin says, “We just weren’t having success meeting the quality and delivery standards that we were demanding for our customers.

Sean Faller recalls when they were outsourcing production and how he and Kevin had to constantly pick up and drop off material and parts to various companies for welding. Sean says, “I had bought a car, and I had considered buying a pick-up truck. I don’t know how many times I kicked myself for not buying a pick-up instead because I was constantly putting my seats down in the back of my car because it was cheaper for me to do it than to rent a truck or a service.”

That first location in the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati had a small office and a garage where they could start cutting, drilling and welding. The desks in the office were made from old table tops that were stacked on cinder blocks for legs…a real minimalist look! The first two production employees to join the team were Ben Doan (machining) and Jeff Sander (welding).  The garage was so small that they had to prop open the man door while cutting aluminum extrusions so the extrusions could stick through the doorway.

First office in Oakley neighborhood
First office in Oakley neighborhood

Like many people working for small companies, Sean and Kevin wore many different hats including the “Lead Installer” hats. When they weren’t driving around Cincinnati trying to have various pieces welded together, they were at job sites installing each final product. The president and engineer both got their hands dirty! After a year of producing in a confined area and working in a small office, Upside’s operations outgrew the space.

The next office location was in an unoccupied area of a warehouse which was owned by a batting cage company in the Tri-County area north of Cincinnati. It was a 6,000 ft2 space with a few small offices that rented for $1,000/month. Kevin says, “The weird thing about this place was that we had a batting cage in our shop that was used by the building owner on weekends. It wouldn’t be uncommon when we were busy and working on a Saturday to have a sports team come in and be hitting balls in the cage while we were welding 30 yards from the cage.” Sounds like quite a unique setup! It was during the stay in this location, that Amy Gogul joined the team to help run the accounting and operations.  Upside hired an additional 4 or 5 production employees, and from this location, it started to grow its reputation as the access company that was not afraid to tackle the industry’s most challenging projects.  There were two major projects that gave Upside a lot of confidence as a company.  The first was a project that Upside designed and installed in Norfolk, VA, that featured three second-story stair towers, a 75’ second-story walkway between two modular complexes, and a canopy.  The second was a large project for a school that had been destroyed by the Joplin tornado.  Luckily, the company was still “young and dumb” and didn’t say no to either of the projects.  These projects stretched the company’s resources and proved to the entire team that they could succeed at any access project presented to them.  After the entire batting cage plant was rented out to another company, Upside was in search of its third location and found the right spot in the Forest Park neighborhood of Cincinnati.

The Forest Park location was similar in size to the previous location, but Upside had the space to itself and never had to worry about weld flash injuries for pony league baseball teams. This is where the company really started gaining ground and taking on large-scale projects. Even though Upside was making great strides, Kevin recalls, “It still felt like we were ‘playing company’ as the facility was pretty small and the office was not finished out too well.” Amy Gogul says, “The Forest Park location only had one unisex bathroom for everyone to use. It was fun!” There wasn’t any extra money floating around for a cleaning service, so the team had to pitch in to help clean every Friday; mopping the floors, taking out the trash, and cleaning the bathroom were all part of the weekly chores. A few more employees joined the company at this location to keep up with operations: Bill Carroll, MJ Al Jawa, Danny Cornish, Jesse O’Neill, Jim Wendling, and Billy Lippert. Billy, the last to join the company at this location, had a card table for a desk that was in the corner of Kevin’s office. The employees soon outgrew this space as well, so they moved to the current office location on Spellmire Drive in West Chester, OH.

The new 23,000 ft2 location was the first office and shop that felt “real” because Upside’s employees prepared most of the space themselves. They tore down a few walls to make a more useful workspace with modular wheelchair ramps. They then painted the walls and put an “Upside orange” stripe at the top. They ripped up the carpet because the aluminum chips from the shop would not be easy to clean up from the carpet fibers. After the carpet was removed, the team used grinders to smooth the concrete floor that was underneath and coated them with a light gray concrete stain. Sticking to the core philosophy of providing solutions to customers’ most difficult projects, Upside more than tripled its sales volume in the three years at the new location.  With the increase in business and products like adjustable metal stairs for modular offices, Upside has been able to hire many more excellent and talented employees to continue to fuel its growth, but the physical size of the facility has started to impede its progress.

Current office in West Chester, Ohio

Luckily, the tenant located in the unit next to Upside was looking to downsize into a smaller facility, and Upside can now take over additional space just next door.  The new space will be used to expand the machining and welding capacity and provide additional racking and space for finished goods ready to be installed.