Written by Janet Davies
Aaron Brough recently became sole proprietor of the machining fabrication and design business he had been running with a partner and changed its name to Aaro Concepts, reflecting both his name and his love for aviation and looks pretty darned sharp on the logo. “The name has changed, and I feel great to be 100% in charge, but I’m maintaining the business we have always had – making replacement parts that just can’t be found any more and highly specialized parts for clients like Bombardier, repair work and fabrication,” he pauses. “But I am branching into more creative things, too, furniture and even artwork. It will be good to add that element to the business, have some new direction.” He grins, “But not denying clients like Bombardier will remain our bread and butter.” Aaro Concept clients are mainly industrial, like one in Ottawa that makes carpet fibres using specialized machinery that gets hungry for parts you can’t buy off the shelf. “We do assembly line tooling for manufacturers,” he says. “And a little bit of work for local farmers – not a lot, but I enjoy working with them. It’s a nice smaller part of the business.”
For five years Aaron has been manufacturing the components for the Canadian Screen Awards, those shiny little statues presented to actors, directors, costume designers and others at the annual showbiz ceremony. The design required skill and exactitude that only a smaller dedicated shop could provide. Aaron works with Glen Wallis who moved his Wallis Awards business to Prince Edward County in 2012, to create 200 of the glittering prizes every year. “I’ve helped with the Geminis, too,” he says. “But there’s not a whole lot of machine work in that, it’s extruded metal that we cut and mill and Glen takes care of the polishing and plating and assembly himself.”
Aaron also designed and made awards for Kingston Flying Club, and Fly Kingston and sounds just as proud of those as the famous ones. He’s a man of few words but warms right up when he talks about flying. “I got my pilots license in Kingston about six years ago and I’m a member there. I rent Cessna 172s and 152s from there, so I decided to make trophies for their annual flour bombing competition. It’s my donation to them.” Flying takes him to a whole other world. “When I started, it was also new. Different tools, a different language. And being in control of an aircraft, well, it feels normal now, but the first couple of times it was bizarre. I was scared, excited and really happy at the same time. These days I go up if the club wants a plane taken somewhere for maintenance. I fly over The County, check it all out, and I’ll occasionally drop into the Fly-In Breakfast at Picton airstrip on the first of the month in summer. Small planes just fly in for breakfast, and local enthusiasts can drive in and park and join them.”
Working with Bombardier, does he do any jobs for the Trenton base aircraft? “No, the military is tough to get into. You need a lot more licenses and registrations. Bombardier is like that too for aircraft, but their train division is different. Before we bought the business 12 years ago the previous owner had a relationship with them. We carried it on and now they’re my clients.”
What about getting creative? “My wife works for Sage Design & Construction and we have done some work for them and some of their clients. We’ve made custom furniture for people who have the money and want something different. I really enjoy that, it’s an interesting way to use my skills. We’ve done kitchen tables, coffee tables, really custom stuff in steel and wood as well as cabinetry doors and rolling door hardware for big custom doors.” Aaron wants to make contact with other architects and designers working in The County, especially those who are enthusiastic about using local materials and local artisans.
The new Aaro Concepts has a spot in Picton industrial park. How does it compare to bigger parks in Quinte? “Personally I’ve never been into those great big parks. I find them kind of cold and impersonal. Too industrial I guess,” he laughs. “I prefer it here. I have everything I need. The only down side is the distance to some of my suppliers, it can take a little longer, but it’s absolutely no problem for them to deliver to The County. Most of them are already coming here on a certain day of the week, and if you’re okay waiting for that day it’s no big deal.
“Customers don’t care where I’m located. We work with Ottawa and Kingston, we have customers in the U.S. and shipping is usually next day so it makes no difference to them where I am – but it makes a big difference to me. The industrial park is a good place to be. I’d like to see more businesses here – especially ones that could use my services!” he laughs. “It would be great to have more manufacturers. What we need is a developer to build units for people to rent – like you can in bigger parks. Not everybody wants to buy their own commercial and industrial space. Not everybody wants to invest in real estate – they want to focus on their business.
TYPES OF SERVICES OFFERED
On the fabrication end of things, Aaro Concepts does basic welding. They don’t have big machines for bending sheet metal or big shears, but he says “When it comes to machining there’s not much we can’t do, anything from prototyping to production runs. We do turning, millwork, grinding. We work with a lot of stainless steel, piles of aluminum and everything in between – plastics, rubber, wood, titanium.
Customers come to us typically with a drawing or a sketch. We work with everything from simple pencil sketches to full blown blueprints. If it’s a sketch we have AutoCAD here so we can get everything precise. We price the materials and put our best guess to the time it will take to actually machine it and then we get them a quote.”
Aaron grew up in The County and went to Loyalist College in Belleville. “I got a job in Belleville in the machining industry, did my apprenticeship, did some more school in Kingston. I have worked for other people, but I always wanted to make my own way. Never saw myself working in a factory environment, so as soon as I had my license I made the move to go out on my own. It was 2005. I planned to start something from scratch but my friend Shayne Anderson heard of a place for sale. We met the owner who said this is my price take it or leave it. We took it and we made it work.” The previous owner had pretty much worn out all the equipment but they upgraded and added. “He had a CNC lathe and CNC mill,” says Aaron. “We added a brand new CNC mill, replaced one of the big lathes with a bigger, newer one, did bits here and there.”
Seven years later, his entrepreneurial spirit still totally intact, Aaron is looking to the future with Aaro Concepts. Taciturn he may be, but he’s got the passion. And now he’s got hats and t-shirts too! “Yes, my brother did those for us,” he says with a grin. “We’ve got a Facebook page. Got to get the word out there if I’m doing more adventurous things.”
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