Owners and operators of industrial machinery: Don’t worry — Mark Swarny has you covered.
Swarny, founder of Custom Linings and head of its corporate operations, was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City when he was first introduced to the world of industrial coatings.
“I was doing some research using coatings for the military. I spent a year and a half researching a particular type of coating process,” he said. “We were getting ready to buy coating equipment for the military and Desert Storm came along and took away all of our operating capital. I was sitting there one day and said, ‘I’m going to start my own company.’
“So I did.”
Swarny worked on his business in the evenings for about six months while still on active duty.
“I got my first government contract; I had my first government contract canceled for conflict of interest,” he said. “I was in my … 20s and didn’t understand a military person could not own a company that sells services to the military.”
So the then-young airman requested an early out on a Friday.
“Long story short: I was granted an honorable discharge on Monday,” he said.
After 10 years of military service, Swarny struck out on his own.
Line ’em up
Swarny started Custom Linings, which coats equipment subject to impact, abrasion or corrosion, in the mid-’90s in Oklahoma. He moved (along with his operation) to Buena Vista in 2003 for “a lifestyle change” and, due to the number of clients he’d accumulated along the Front Range, moved his corporate office to the Springs in August 2018.
According to Swarny, Custom Linings has 10 different coatings it sells to industrial contractors, and his company works with municipal clients, as well as clients in the mining, construction, and oil and gas industries. Custom Linings’ operation also has a pickup truck-lining arm.
Mining and municipal contracts, however, make up the bulk of business, Swarny said, adding the company recently landed work lining shafts at a large mine in Saskatchewan, Canada. That contract, he said, contributed to the company’s biggest year since opening.
Swarny said revenue has increased “30 fold” over the $120,000 the company made its inaugural year nearly a quarter-century ago.
“All of the salt trucks that go up and down the interstate for Douglas County — from Monument to south Denver — the salt spreaders are coated with our product,” Swarny said, adding the company was also contracted by the federal government to do bomb blast mitigation at some of its facilities.
“We line storm drains; we do manhole linings,” Swarny said. “We coat mining equipment. Everybody in this town has seen our work — they just didn’t know it.
A lot of street sweepers are coated with our product.”
Even as business booms, there are challenges, he said. One is figuring out ways to introduce relevant industries to the products Custom Linings has to offer.
“A challenge is the fact that we provide a niche service that is not widely offered,” Swarny said. “The pro is we don’t have competitors. The con is not everybody has heard of what we do. We have to do a lot of educating of engineers and facility owners.”
Educational events include lunch-and-learns at engineering firms and setting up displays at trade shows, he said.
“We’ve been around long enough in Colorado that the relationships we have — they’ve started to spread what we do by word-of-mouth. The project we did in Canada, which is the largest single project we’ve done, came to us from an engineer who saw our work at a mine here in Colorado.”
Custom Linings was contracted to work on the Climax molybdenum mine near Leadville.
“Our company was hired to do all of the coatings for all of the ore processing equipment at that mine,” Swarny said. “We were also selected to provide all the coatings on the waste water treatment plant that handles the tailings coming off that mine by Copper Mountain Ski Resort.”
Custom Linings continues its research and development, particularly in mining and pipe coatings, because those areas are the operation’s fastest-growing specialties, he said.
Swarny has also licensed the Custom Linings name to about 15 truck-lining businesses across the country.
But, he said, following three moves, Custom Linings is sticking around.
“We’ve signed a long-term lease here,” he said. “We will keep our corporate operations in the Springs.”