The first time Johnny Mira-Knippel set foot on Tektone Sound & Signal’s manufacturing floor, he was about five years old.
TekTone, a manufacturer of communication devices, was founded in 1973 by Johnny’s grandfather, Manuel Mira, in Lake Park, Florida.
Initially, TekTone’s made intercom systems for the home and apartment entry markets. But six years after it was founded, TekTone entered the healthcare market—a move that proved to be a game changer for the company.
“Over the next 20 years, TekTone’s sales mix shifted and became more involved in nurse call,” says Johnny, who now serves as the company’s Executive Vice President. “Today, over 93 percent of TekTone’s sales are nurse call related, and we have grown to become one of the top three providers of nurse call and emergency call systems to the long-term care market. “
In 1998, the family made another major business decision: moving TekTone from Lake Park, Florida to Franklin, North Carolina, a small town nestled in the Nantahala National Forest, surrounded by the pristine Appalachian Mountains.
“Our plant in Florida couldn’t grow anymore, and it made sense to move our manufacturing operations,” Johnny says. “We chose North Carolina because of the natural beauty of the area, the availability of land, as well as a reliable workforce.” Eventually, TekTone closed its Florida plant and moved its entire operation to North Carolina.
Today, TekTone employs about 75 people during a single shift. “Our employees are what make us successful,” Johnny says. “As a family business, we truly believe that our employees are an extension of our family. Our goal is always to hire great people, and provide them opportunities and an excellent atmosphere so that they will want to work their entire career with us.”
Calling on the community
Over the years, TekTone has celebrated some major milestones, as well as its share of challenges. Luckily, the leadership team at TekTone has turned to a combination of local, community and natural resources to meet their needs.
“Western North Carolina is one of the most beautiful areas of the country, and becomes a recruiting tool we use to try to attract employees that love the outdoors,” Johnny says.
Even with this, Johnny specifically cites a difficulty in recruiting software developers and engineers, prompting the company to turn to nearby universities to help develop talent.
“We’re working with Western Carolina University…to help develop students, and then try to hire them as they graduate,” Johnny says. “It will take us longer to get productive employees, but our goal is to keep them for a longer period of time and make the investment worth it.”
Adding to this, Johnny nods to a range of resources and services that have helped TekTone grow. “The SBTDC (Small Business and Technology Development Center) and Southwestern Community College have been terrific in providing resources for training our staff. Western Carolina University also has their Rapid Center that we use for prototyping products.”
In August 2016, TekTone received a building reuse grant from the North Carolina Rural Infrastructure Authority, a process achieved with support from Josh Carpenter at the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) and others. Josh is one of eight Regional Industry Managers EDPNC employs around the state to serve as resource matchmakers for growing North Carolina companies.
“The Macon County Commissioners and the Department of Commerce were terrific in providing us grant funds that made moving into a new building possible. Our move into our new space has allowed us to grow more than 15 percent in volume this year, with continued growth expected.”
Looking to the future, Johnny’s got big plans for TekTone. “Our vision is to be the leading nurse call provider in the long-term care market,” he says. “Our goal is to triple in size over the next ten years as far as the number of units that we provide to the market. “
Making business a family affair
Johnny has his family to thank for his industry smarts and his work ethic, and a North Carolina education to help with the business side of things.
“My grandfather started taking me to TekTone when I was around 4 or 5 years old, teaching me about computers and how important technology was to a business,” Johnny says. “My mom is our CFO and made sure to teach me about money and debt. My uncle has been the President since I started full time and taught how important it was to pay attention to the details throughout the organization. I have been very fortunate to watch my mom and my uncle grow and run the business since 1998 and put us in a great position for the future. I always loved manufacturing and having a physical product to build and sell. Growing up and seeing all facets of the business was exciting. Now my cousin Wesley and I are the 3rd generation and we look forward to making our mark on the future of TekTone.”
Over time, Johnny has worked in nearly every department at the company. After studying business at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Johnny spent a year working for a consultant; ultimately, however, he realized there was no place like TekTone.
“I’ve wanted to work at TekTone for as long as I can remember.”
Interested in starting a small business in North Carolina? Here’s Johnny’s advice:
Invest in the community and in your employees, especially in a small town. North Carolina has amazing people that believe in Southern hospitality. Take full advantage of the education system and the community colleges to provide customized training, and really develop your staff to help you grow.