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The humble beginnings of Spika

Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc.’s founder, Tom Spika shares the company’s origin story in this personal essay.
Original pencil art on a Christmas card, hand-drawn by our founder Tom Spika in the year 2000, depicting his first workshop from whose ashes, like a phoenix, rose Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc.

In the early morning light, the glowing embers of what was once my workshop was hard to comprehend.  I felt like I had been punched in the gut.  I had left a very good job as Production Manager at a local manufacturer to strike out on my own, with the dream of creating a new business.  Born and raised on the farm, the independent, entrepreneurial mentality was a part of my very fiber.  That morning in early December of 2000, it quite literally seemed that my dream was going up in smoke.

As the founder of Spika Design and Manufacturing, looking back at that day, I still remember that feeling of hopelessness.  The shop was not much, really not at all adequate for what I envisioned my new company would grow to need, but it was all I had, and times were tough with a wife and three little girls.  I would have loved to go to the banker and take out a loan for a new shop; something well lit and heated and with a tall ceiling and level floor, but I knew that wasn’t in the cards.  As long as I could get by, we had to make do.  Now even that was gone.
Sifting through the ashes, it was evident there was nothing to salvage.  Every tool, every piece of equipment, all of my materials were gone. Even the stock steel was warped and twisted beyond use. Here and there you’d see a puddle of aluminum or twisted steel with a motor armature or rectifier beside it.  We would be starting from scratch.

Tom Spika, Founder of Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc. pictured here during the early days of his entrepreneurial journey.

I had no idea what to expect when I met with my loan officer at our small local bank.  I explained the situation as best I could, calling attention to the fact that to operate a small farm, some sort of shop was mandatory…I couldn’t keep my tools and equipment outside.  I reiterated my plans for my new business, sharing my vision for what I could do, what the business could become, and how it could not only supplement the ranch income but also maybe even provide employment opportunities for 3 or 4 people who grew up in Central Montana and wanted to make their lives there but found few jobs available that could support a young family.  I confidently make my case; if I was to build a new shop, I wanted it to be large enough that I could begin to do what I knew would prove to be successful; grow a manufacturing business in the heart of cattle and wheat country.  I was willing to risk it all; mortgage the farm my father had lived on since 1935, in order to make this happen.  My belief in myself was all I needed to accept that risk, to push all of my chips onto the table.  Knowing me and my family for years, he knew what losing the farm would mean.  He also knew I would not have such passion if I had not thoroughly thought through the plan.  I had showed him the numbers; the projections and market analysis and timelines.  And he knew I had some skills and a lot of determination.  He agreed.

Spika Design & Manufacturing, Inc.’s modern facility in Lewistown, Montana.

Looking back, that moment in my life was most certainly a blessing in disguise.  What looked to be the greatest setback I could have faced was in fact the very thing that allowed my dream to take root.  Before long, I had 4, 5, 10 employees.  We took a while to find our niche; to discover who we were and where we had the best opportunity to succeed, but by 2004 we found ourselves doubling the size of that initial shop.  By 2008, faced with yet another significant expansion requirement, it became apparent that a manufacturing plant located 25 miles from the nearest town and workforce was no longer practical.  We secured a prime piece of property just outside the city limits of Lewistown and began construction of a million and a half dollar facility. A substantial addition followed in 2015, with yet another in 2020, by which time we had grown to 60 employees.

In the beginning, we were not sure what we would find to specialize in, but we knew what our business would be.  We would be ethical.  We would prioritize the ultimate satisfaction of the customer.  We would strive to understand their true needs and do all we could to provide the very best solution.  We would honor our commitments to them, and focus every day on continuous improvement, both in our work processes and our designs.  We would hire only the best, and treat them accordingly, providing decent wages and benefits, and never implement restrictions that prevented them from being the best they could be.  We would all take immense pride in what we produced with our hands and minds.  And we would support our community, helping it to grow and prosper and become even more the best place on earth to live and raise a family.  After 20 years, that commitment to the foundation of who we are has not waivered.

Today, the Spika logo is recognized nationally and to some extent globally.  Military personnel have returned from theater and purchased our equipment for their commercial businesses, telling us the platforms they had in Afghanistan were by far the best they had ever worked with.  We have thousands of elevated platforms in every branch of the military, and list many of the Fortune 500 on our customer roster.  We play a vital role in supporting automotive, aviation, industrial, and aerospace manufacturing.  We are recognized as the leader in elevated access solutions and have incredible customer satisfaction scores.  We make a significant impact in our community in rural Montana.  And I believe we have the blessing of a devastating fire to thank for allowing us to become what we are today.

Tom Spika,
Founder & Chief Innovation Officer,
Spika Design and Manufacturing, Inc.

May 21, 2020,
Lewistown, Montana