Apollo Joel and Keerstans First Horse.
Apollo the horse

Joel and Keersten Nichols are entrepreneurs at heart. Their first joint business venture was a horse-drawn carriage company serving the downtown Fort Wayne population. Apollo, the horse, was one of their most beloved employees whose pay consisted of oats, hay, and the occasional sugar cube.

While Corban Carriage was rewarding, it was short-lived. Joel and Keersten brainstormed future business ideas, zeroing in on developing and manufacturing small products that could be shipped worldwide and had little start-up costs. Their location made their plans even more appealing. Indiana is a cost-effective manufacturing base with a stable workforce. The location is a plus, too, for shipping to both coasts and everywhere in between, as well as international destinations. To this day, Indiana remains one of the top manufacturers in the tool-and-die industry.

Innovation and engineering are Joel’s strong suits, whereas Keersten thrives at creating and perfecting processes, as well as managing personnel growth. (Proof that she does the latter exceptionally well is reflected in the number of employees who have been with Apollo Design® Technology, Inc. for the long haul. We'll cover this phenomenon in another blog post.)

A family friend volunteered at a local theater. He showed Joel three gobos he had purchased for their Cinderella production. The quality was poor and the cost even worse: $200 for three gobos. Joel knew something was off. Working in the steel industry, he realized the cost of the stainless steel was around $1.50.

The internet wasn’t available in 1991, so Joel headed to the library to research dealers after working the graveyard shift at the steel mill. Depending on which coast he contacted that day, he would come home at 7:30 a.m. and sleep until noon, or hit the ground running and nap throughout the day. Keersten would round up the boys to play outside or head to the park so Joel could sleep. “I don’t even know how we made it during those early days with our crazy schedule,” Joel admits.

Eternally optimistic, Joel has never viewed a challenge in a negative light stating, “A challenge is pretty exciting for me!” Keersten adds, “The biggest tasks we faced when we first started Apollo were figuring out what we were making and who would purchase this product. We had seen the gobos created for the local theater but not being from this industry I had no idea the size of the market. Joel and I thought that if we could just sell enough so that we could be self-employed and put our kids through college, we would be doing good. Imagine my surprise when the business kept growing beyond what we initially thought possible.”