Josh Hogenmiller wraps a gas mask around his face and reaches for his gun. He fires into the air, once, twice. A fine black mist drifts from the barrel. Everything’s working properly.
He takes aim at a skeleton of silver metal, curved like a rib cage and hanging on a wire from the ceiling, and shoots.
In less then 10 minutes, silver is black.
He quickly discards the mask and gingerly lifts the skeleton — a dirt bike frame — from its hook. It’s ready for the oven: 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
“And that’s about it,” Hogenmiller says with a shrug.
He’s being modest. Because the process he just demonstrated actually takes a deft hand and a lot of experience to do right. And Hogenmiller makes sure he does it right. Every time.
His business depends on it.
Baked, at the beginning
It all started with a $100 gun and a $50 oven.
Hogenmiller, ‘15, and his friend Billy McCoy, both car enthusiasts, had been using the gun to spray colored powder onto their car and bike parts and the oven to cure the concoctions.
The result is a durable, colorful coating that gets you noticed on the road (Lime green wheels! Royal sapphire fenders! Midnight black dirt bike frame!)
Soon, friends were making requests. And then friends of friends. And they had to upgrade to the $2,000 gun. But then that gun started giving them trouble — belching bursts of powder instead of an even coat — and it was time to make a hard decision.
Were they going to tough it out with their $2,000 gun and keep doing work for friends, or upgrade to the $6,000 gun, buy a bigger oven and build a business?
They chose the entrepreneurial path.
In 2014, while he was still studying business at Penn State Beaver, Hogenmiller sold his BMW M3 to cover costs, built an 8-foot-by-4-foot oven and Totally Baked Powder Coating was born.
The business, located in a garage on Cycle Drive in Freedom, is nearing its 22nd month of existence and expects to clear nearly $15,000 in April.
“That $6,000 gun is the best purchase we ever made,” Hogenmiller said.
The powder coating process isn’t new — industrial companies have been using it for years — but it is growing in popularity, partly because it’s more durable than paint, and partly because it’s considered more environmentally friendly. The process emits fewer volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, than painting.
And it looks really cool, a necessity for the motor sport enthusiast crowd that Hogenmiller and McCoy cater to.
Totally Baked offers thousands of combinations of colors and additives. Lately, Hogenmiller has been experimenting — and encouraging his customers to experiment — with two tones, fades and metallics. (He has a set of wheels waiting to be picked up that are lime green and hot pink.) But glossy black is still the most popular powder, and the cheapest since they can buy it in bulk.
“Blacks are nice for profit margins,” Hogenmiller said.
Not that Hogenmiller has been too concerned about profit margins lately. The business has grown in each month of its existence, and with prices set just right for the area (a set of wheels, the most popular item, will set you back just $200 to $300), Hogenmiller expects even greater growth in the future.
So does Penn State Beaver Business Instructor Dan Smith. Smith mentored Hogenmiller when the company was still in its infancy and allowed Hogenmiller to use Totally Baked to fulfill his internship requirement.
“You could see Josh had a lot of potential,” Smith said. “He’s a doer. He’s good at his craft. He’s made tremendous progress, and we’re all very proud of him and the success his company has experienced.”
Baked, in the future
Hogenmiller, a Quigley Catholic grad, grew up racing dirt bikes but was forced off the circuit when he shattered his wrist in a snowboarding accident. He quickly transformed himself from someone more interested in the mechanics of motorized vehicles to someone more interested in the aesthetics. So he knows the car enthusiast world well. And car enthusiasts are still the foundation of the business — a customer recently drove in from Maryland after meeting Hogenmiller at a car show.
But Hogenmiller and McCoy have expanded their customer base to include commercial clients, too. A former co-worker of Hogenmiller’s now works for Ron Lewis Automotive Group and contracted Totally Baked to do all of the dealership’s powder coating. Other dealers have followed suit.
The more commercial clients Totally Baked can line up, the sooner Hogenmiller and McCoy can expand.
They have goals of buying a 60-foot-by-40-foot garage and an oven big enough to cure a car frame. A few employees to do the tedious prep work of stripping and sandblasting would be nice, too.
But the powder coating? Hogenmiller still plans to do that himself. He’s a perfectionist, and he believes his customers deserve high quality and fast turnaround. It’s the reason he spends so much time in the garage. Some days, he’s there until 3 a.m. His girlfriend doesn’t love it, but it’s the price he pays to be his own boss.
“It’s risky (to have your own business),” Hogenmiller said. “I know there’s nothing else backing me. That’s why I never leave.”
Public Relations Director, Penn State Beaver