May 28, 2007 | last updated February 6, 2013 4:08 pm

Closing thoughts Craig Bovaird, president of Built-Rite Tool & Die Inc./Reliance Engineering

Craig Bovaird, president of Built-Rite Tool & Die Inc./Reliance Engineering in Lancaster, was recently named the U.S. Small Business Administration's 2007 Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year. His company, which specializes in part design for molding, mold design, prototype and production tooling, and full-scale manufacturing of plastics, had about $4 million in sales last year. Bovaird, along with a partner, bought Built-Rite Tool & Die in 1999, expanded the business to include its Reliance Engineering division, and has grown employment at the company from 10 to 35. Here, Bovaird discusses the SBA award, the lessons he's learned about running a business, and the challenges he continues to face.

How did you end up in the running for the Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year?

Bovaird: When I started the business in 1999, I worked closely with the Small Business Development Center and John Rainey at Clark University. I worked very closely with them right from the get go, developing a business plan and strategy and finding sources for funding. And then, as the company continued to grow, I continued to work with the center on issues like developing strategy, growth and sustaining growth. This year, John submitted the company as a candidate for the award.

A lot of small business owners are hesitant to ask for outside help. Was it a conscious choice on your part to continually seek guidance from the Small Business Development Center?

Bovaird: It was very much a conscious choice. One of the key things I've found is that small companies tend to not have as much experience at looking at the financial side. For example, doing monthly sales analysis, cash analysis, setting targets and goals, and then monitoring performance to see if the goals are achieved. The center helped me do that and that's really critical.

Can it be painful to take such a hard look at your company's finances?

Bovaird: If the results don't look good it's painful, sure, but it's also very motivating. If I know a trend is not looking good, I can set a path to compensate. It can be painful, but it's very revealing as well. If you have to lay people off because of a downward trend, that's a very difficult decision. In the early days of the business, we ran into times when we had to retrench and look at what we were doing wrong. Those were critical decisions that at that time were painful. But looking at the finances carefully and regularly continues to be a very positive tool we utilize to make sure we know where we're going.

Did you travel to Washington, D.C., to accept the SBA award? What was that experience like?

Bovaird: I did go to Washington. It was a two-day event. One of the interesting things I found is that many of these small business owners own multiple businesses. Once they get the bug for entrepreneurship, the sky's the limit. And I also found it remarkable the diversity of businesses. The great thing is that the opportunity is available to anybody in this country to start a business, once they decide to jump into the deep end.

How did you get your start in the plastics industry?

Bovaird: I got a job at company in Worcester called Holden Plastics, but after college, I really had no idea what I was going to do. I ended up working there for 20 years and eventually became general manager. Then, I started a business with people that owned Holden Plastics called MassTech Molding, which I sold in 1999. I left that business to start this venture. I guess you do what you know best.

The Bovaird File:

Age: 52

Hometown: Worcester

Current residence: Princeton

Education: Earned a degree in management at Worcester State College

Biggest career achievement: Starting a business from scratch.

Hobby: Gardening, woodworking, hiking and restoring old tools

You bought out your original partner at Built-Rite in 2004. What was that process like?

Bovaird: My partner was James Essary and he wanted to move on and do other things. Buyouts can be very, very challenging. You never know how it's going to go. I went through it when I got out of MassTech and in this particular case (with Built-Rite) it was absolutely a great experience. It really was a win-win for both parties and for the company. My former partner and I are great friends today, and that's very gratifying. You hate to walk away from a long-term relationship with sour feelings in the end.

If you had the power to make any change that would make running a small Massachusetts business easier, what would that change be?

Bovaird: Well, one of the big things for me is that energy costs are just skyrocketing. Our costs have doubled in last three years, so energy is a major factor. The other is health care. Everybody knows about health care, but what do we do about it? I have 35 people that I have to provide health care coverage to, and every year we go through this incredible, traumatizing review of various quotes that go up 20 to 30 percent each time, depending on the mix. There's got to be a way to pool the resources of other manufacturers so that instead of a group of 35, we could have a group of 3,500, or more. We need more buying power. There's got to be a way to be smart about how we go about purchasing the services that we require.

This interview was edited for content and length by Christina H. Davis.

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