Realty rebound boosts Carson company

Enrollment in real estate schools in Florida is on the rebound, and that’s good news for Carson City’s Calculated Industries.

“We’ve found they’re a leading indicator,” says Steve Kennedy, president and general manager of the manufacturer. “They’re a bellwether for the market.”

The market is real estate and construction, the two primary buyers of the company’s line of calculators and specialty tools that, among other things, help builders convert feet, inches and fractions and real estate agents figure out loan payments for homebuyers.

Kennedy’s also encouraged by an uptick in building unions’ apprenticeship programs and the continued success of mortgage brokers such as Quicken Loans.

All that is a welcome sign after a recession that hit Calculated Industries’ core markets hard. For now, the resurgence is mainly on the East Coast and in California, says Kennedy. In Nevada, he sees contractors who once employed 15 workers building new homes whittled down to a few employees focused on remodeling.

Like its local customers, Calculated Industries knows what it’s like to change with the times. In 2009, the 35 year-old manufacturer of handheld devices sold in Home Depot and Lowe’s ported its product functionality to the Apple Inc. iPhone and Google Inc. Android smart phones. The company now offers about 30 smart phone apps, which can also run on tablets such as the iPad. But those apps don’t take full advantage of the additional screen real estate, says Kennedy, so the manufacturer is working on customizing them for the increasingly popular tablets.

Calculated Industries is also branching out into entirely new applications for construction. The company is developing an application that would allow builders and tradespeople to take electronic notes, and they’re developing another app for annotating photos. Both play in markets crowded with generic offerings, but both would focus on helping contractors, who are usually working on multiple projects for different clients, to organize and share their notes and photos.

Standing out from the crowd on Google Play or Apple iTunes, the digital apps marketplaces, isn’t easy, says Kennedy, although the company’s well-established brand helps. A search for construction calculators can turn up dozens of competitors, some of whom are listed higher by search engines than Calculated Industries, so the company spends time figuring out how to optimize its search results. And its apps, priced at $20, are more expensive than the average smart phone app, although they’re at least half the $40-$60 handheld calculators they replace.

The manufacturer is also moving into new geographies. It recently signed a deal with Bunnings Warehouse, Australia’s and New Zealand’s version of Home Depot and Lowe’s. And the company would love to see its products in B&Q, the home improvement retailer in Western Europe.

“We’re expanding, but it’s slow going,” says Kennedy. “The U.S. moves a lot faster. The rest of the world doesn’t move as fast.”


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