Odell company is known nationally
Story by Drew Myron
An Odell factory that began as one man working nights in his garage is now a nationally known brand selling to Grainger, Fastenal, Subaru, and other industry giants.
Champion Tool Storage, founded by Garin Buckles, is a leading manufacturer of high-quality steel tool storage cabinets. The Hood River Valley company designs and produces custom heavy-duty boxes for a range of clients, from auto dealerships to perfume companies, furniture manufacturers, the U.S. military, and more.
“The fun part of our business is never knowing what we’re going to get into,” Garin says. “Each week is different.”
Champion dramatically increased its national presence in the past year, adding five major distributors and dozens of sales representatives who carry and sell Champion products.
“We’re innovating and developing new products,” says Dave Robinson, who joined Champion in 2019 as chief financial officer and vice president of business development. “We’ve revamped the production floor, and we lead with customer service.”
Dave brings to the company years of experience working with Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, and other heavy hitters.
“We’re poised and ready for new business,” Dave says.
Growing up in Illinois, Garin always had an eye for design. As a youngster, he aspired to be an architect.
“At 6, I was into Frank Lloyd Wright,” he recalls. “We’d go tour his houses.”
At 10 years old, his family moved across the country to Long Beach, California.
By age 15, seeds for his career were planted when he worked as an apprentice for metal fabricator Pete Wilkins. Garin developed skill and passion for industrial design and gained on-the-job experience that would set a path for his future career.
When he was in his early 20s, Garin was offered a job working on new product design for acclaimed national original equipment manufacturer Hogg & Davis.
Garin moved from the fast pace of Orange County, California, to the slow ease of Odell, and experienced a welcome culture shock.
“I think I’m really built for this place,” he says of the move he made 30-plus years ago. “I really like the terrain and the diversity of the landscape.”
Garin enjoyed the work and learned a great deal at HD, but economic changes had him looking for new opportunities. His next venture—fabricating architectural metals—led him to a range of commercial projects, from working on modern lofts in Portland’s Pearl District to interiors of international cruise ships.
During this time, a search for metal storage solutions prompted Garin to create Champion Tool Storage. In 2006, he began working nights and weekends to get his fledgling company off the ground.
Just a year later, Champion secured its first large order from Snap-on Inc. to fulfill a military contract for the U.S. Marine Corps. Champion then expanded into automotive, aerospace, motorsports, and industrial markets with a series of build-to-suit workstations, a modular series, and tool storage systems for dealer service bays. Subaru, Mercedes, Lexus, and other major auto brands across the country use Champion products to service the automotive industry.
In 2009, Garin bought property at Lower Hanel Mill—a former lumber mill-turned-manufacturing enclave—and built a 16,000-square-foot factory.
The factory is understated, tucked in the quiet industrial park near Highway 35 but humming with productivity.
Garin has grown Champion from a one-man operation to a nationally known manufacturing company producing eight product lines.
“I like making the products better, seeing people grow and the business grow,” Garin says. “My goal is to have a healthy, thriving, growing business here in the valley, and to stay here.”
Champion began with a few employees and, to save money, used equipment. Today, Champion has 25 employees— including a handful that have been with Garin since the start—along with top-of-the-line machinery and sales professionals who have created a national appetite for the U.S. product.
Self-taught and driven, Garin is a college dropout who worked full time while studying industrial design at junior college before running out of money and focus.
Every skill he has now—design, production, engineering, shipping, marketing, and sales—was gained through trial, error, and trying again.
“I came from the shop floor and I still love it,” he says.
The company culture reflects Garin’s can-do spirit. Champion offers on-the-job training for nearly every role, from sheet processing to welding, powder coating, shipping, and administration. Garin and his wife, Danielle, have been married 22 years and live on a 17-acre hobby farm in Odell with their two children: Alexandria, who is studying product design at the University of Oregon, and Henry, a high school senior heading to Oregon State University on a football scholarship. Lilly, an English springer spaniel, is Garin’s sidekick and Champion mascot.
Despite the hurdles of a pandemic, Champion remains strong.
“The market is small, and we have a high-value product and offer incredible customer service,” Garin says. “The care and respect for the client is different at this level. We’re gaining so much brand loyalty and trust from the marketplace. It’s rewarding when clients choose us.”
It’s been 14 years since Garin first built his vision into an empire. What’s the reward for years of hard work?
“I just finally got a toolbox,” he says with a smile. “It’s 72 inches—our biggest.”