Lowell Miles had already left his dad’s cabinet shop to work as a machinist at age 19 when he attended a boat show in Portland. That’s where the idea to start his own business originated. At the show, there was just one boat made of fiberglass.
What a great material it was, he thought, and not just for making boats.
“I got fascinated with that,” he said.
Eventually, he asked his dad if he could tear down an old barn near his dad’s shop and build a fiberglass shop.
“If you think you can do it, why not?” his dad replied.
Fifty-four years later, Miles Fiberglass and Composites is now a third-generation family business manufacturing quality products for the fiberglass and composites industry.
Family values are what Miles Fiberglass was built on. Sisters Lori Olund, now company president, and Merilee Hinkle, HR manager, used to come to their dad’s shop on Saturdays when they were kids.
“We would go down to the shop, get itchy and make coffee,” Lori recalled. “It was fun to be a part of the facility and to walk around and see what they were doing.”
Coming to work still feels the same way.
“It’s a great place to work,” she said.
Family members believe in the advantages of working for a family-owned business, and the responsibilities that come with it. Brothers Justin Luchak and Alex Luchak represent the third generation to work at Miles Fiberglass.
Alex appreciates how family is willing to assist, like when his brother joined the company after college and had to fill a manager’s extended leave of absence at the Oregon City plant.
“He stepped right up,” Alex said. “That’s one way that our family helps each other out.”
Merilee was working for a school district 27 years ago when Lori called in a panic. Miles Fiberglass had lost another HR manager and the position had become a revolving door.
“Would you be interested in doing the HR here?” Lori asked her sister.
“I’ll think about it,” Merilee replied.
Three days later, her job at the school district was cut and she called her sister back.
“I guess I’ll take it,” Merilee said.
“I was looking for someone I could count on to stay here and be involved. Some I could trust,” Lori said. “That’s when you go to family.”
Before the third generation came to work, family leaders discussed the need to have formal rules to avoid business-related conflict and establish clear and fair processes.
Family members serve as key managers and meet weekly to discuss and make decisions and talk about upcoming issues.
Craig Hinkle started working for the company as janitor when he was in high school and is married to Merilee. As chief operating officer, Craig has helped to establish training programs to move the business forward.
“In order to progress beyond what we created, to ensure that our business continued to grow … we needed to implement continual improvement,” Craig said.
That’s led to a partnership with Clackamas Community College to develop manufacturing training so employees and other students could gain knowledge and specialized skills. Miles Fiberglass also provides financial resources for endowed scholarships.
Lowell set an example of community engagement with his involvement in civic and industry groups. It’s a standard other family members want to uphold.
“That’s always amazed me,” Merilee said. “It made me want to strive to do the same.”
Community involvement actually strengthens family harmony. Miles Fiberglass teaches a class for at-risk youth to make a canoe that they get to keep. They host Boy Scouts troops to make walking sticks. Family members and employees are eager to volunteer and take part.
Merilee’s daughter is a first-grade teacher in Salem and brings her class on a field trip to tour the plant. The kids learn about manufacturing by making toys they get to bring home.
The whole family is involved with the field trip.
“We get down on the floor and play with them,” Lori said.
Away from the business, the family is close-knit, vacationing together and gathering often to share meals and relax.
Lowell, now 80, said he is thinking about retirement. He knows the company is in good hands.
“I have confidence that I don’t have to be here all the time,” he said. “That’s a great matter of comfort to me.”