A Chat with the President: Meet Travis Coon

Technical Training Aids was established in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, when technical education was in its infancy. Computers, electronics, and robotics were not the commonplace tools that you see in the classroom today. Since its founding, our focus has always been on empowering the next generation of the workforce by supporting our technical training educators. A simple commitment to our teachers and students has laid the foundation for excellence and given us a reputation as an industry leader. TTA has grown from serving eight southeastern states to ten and has expanded its offerings across middle schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities. This success hasn’t been an accident – it has been built on the hard work of our team, our innovative leadership, and our unwavering dedication to the mission. 

TTA: The Early Years 

Innovative partnerships have been a key element in TTA’s growth over the years. We were among the first value-added resellers to partner with Autodesk, which was bringing computer-aided design (CAD) software into the education space. We were also pioneers of Smartboards in the Southeast, a technology that you can walk into almost any classroom today and see. It was through the leadership of our past President, Larry Baggett, that we established our partnerships with these companies, as well as Stratasys over two decades ago. While 3D printers weren’t as common then, they definitely are now, and TTA was ahead of the curve. On the other side, in our relationships with educators, we are so much more than a standard equipment reseller. We like to help educators make great decisions when investing in the technologies that their students are going to be using. We have always had dedicated technical support staff that come into the school, install the equipment, train the instructors, and sometimes even train the students. 

Introducing President Travis Coon

Someone who lives the company mission wholeheartedly is our current President, Travis Coon. Travis’ career in educational training started in 1995 when he was working for a company called DEPCO out of Pittsburg, Kansas. They developed and produced curriculum and training equipment for middle school and high school career exploration education, and Travis was out in the field with the representatives, selling the products. Around 2009, he was in Alabama for a conference and had dinner with Larry Baggett, TTA’s then-President, and they connected over a shared desire to empower and educate the workforce. A hypothetical conversation was had about a move to Fairhope and a succession plan for Larry, but it was really just a casual conversation and no real action was developed. A few years later, Travis resigned from his position as Vice President of DEPCO and accepted a Sales Management position with LEGO Education, working with robotics educators all over the country. While at LEGO Education, in 2013, Larry and Travis’ hypothetical conversation from years ago came back around and a plan began to develop. Travis and his family moved to Birmingham, AL, and joined the TTA Family in Jan 2014.  Travis’ initial role was as Operations Manager, providing an opportunity to learn the inner workings of the Technical Teaching Aids family before officially announcing his promotion to President in 2021. Now, he does his best to grow the business while staying true to the mission of excellence in technical training education. 

We sat down with Travis to get his thoughts on TTA and its past, present, and future…

On TTA’s Challenges and Triumphs 

When I joined the company, my first task was to make sure that we had an upgraded ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) System in place. We needed a system to handle orders and do the day-to-day back office processes more efficiently. Then, it was a matter of getting everybody trained so that we could all effectively use those systems.  We also looked for opportunities to grow the sales teams in certain areas. We accomplished these things by having a team behind me that was willing to step up and learn new things and get the job done.  It paid off huge when COVID hit because we were all able to work from home and not miss a beat. If we hadn’t pre-emptively put those systems in place we would have struggled. I see this as both a triumph and a challenge in the grand scheme of things. Day to day, the challenges vary because every customer has different needs even though they’re trying to accomplish a similar goal. I do what I can to make sure everybody’s communicating effectively, and that we set the best expectation we can for the customer’s success.

One of TTA’s biggest achievements is being number one for Amatrol sales as far back as I know. That’s a huge achievement and accomplishment. Having a partner like Amatrol in your corner provides a training platform for our customers that is tremendously flexible and powerful.  We combine this with other partner systems like Fanuc Robotics, Stratasys, MSSC, SACA, and others and can deliver training for educators as well as the most advanced production facilities in the world, like Automotive Vehicle Production Plants. 

On Company Culture

When I joined TTA, I enjoyed getting back to the family-run type company.  There are pros and cons to working for either large or small businesses.  My leadership style has definitely evolved here as I respond to the challenges of running the business. Our company culture is one of a family. We’re pretty much all family and friends. And it’s not just our internal culture, that’s the way we feel about our vendors and our customers as well. Certainly, families have their challenges and their struggles, but at the end of the day, it’s your family, so you find ways to work it out and move through the solution. I feel like we do that very well here at TTA. Every day I am thinking, “What can I do to empower the team to be successful?” If I can empower them to be successful and respect and find a voice in what they do, they’re that much more bought into what we do and why we do it.”

On Lessons Learned

Be Prepared. When we were getting our ERP System in place before anyone could have imagined a disaster like COVID, we were doing it from a business strategy standpoint, but it turned out to be the best way to stay flexible and respond to challenges. You can’t prepare for everything, but always be thinking forward. 

Be Honest. Be honest with your vendors, partners, customers, and team. That’s the only way you can be successful. If things don’t go great, that’s alright, but be honest with them and tell them how you’re going to solve the problem. Usually, people will understand. Tensions can get high when you’re working through that solution, but you just find a way to work through it. 

Be Forgiving. The honesty part works both ways, so the forgiveness part works both ways too. 

Nobody’s perfect. It’s not worth dwelling on problems or tensions. Just be honest, work through it, and things have a way of working out.” 

Visions for the Future

“We’re seeing shifts in the thoughts of the four-year college degree being a prerequisite for a successful career. We’re learning that an industry certification or a technical college degree will get you where you want to be and provide advanced opportunities for career growth. So we try to make sure we’re leading the pack in this type of thinking. It’s exciting to see industry-recognized credentialing becoming more and more accepted by employers, and we believe that trend will continue moving forward. Sales growth, of course, is one metric, but it’s not just about sales growth. More importantly, our forward-looking vision for the company is that we want to continue to do what we’ve done best – provide the best training equipment, curriculum, and software for students to find success in their career pathways. It’s exciting to see the schools – leadership, instructors, and students – react to the technology. And what that looks like changes all the time. I enjoy this industry. We’re not stuck doing one thing one way; we’re always able to shift and change.”

Thank You for 60 Years

I tried to find statistics on companies that make it to 60 years but could find that only 12% of companies make it past 26 years. So, what does it mean to reach this milestone? For me, the fact that TTA has been around for 60 years is a testament to the founders and leadership in the company before me, and the dedication to the mission of the company. I think it’s important to us because that’s what we’ve always done. I’ve been a part of the company for about 10 years, but our history goes back 60 years, and it’s always been built on quality, service, support, and family. We like to bring our customers in as part of our family and take care of them as such. I’m definitely tasked with carrying that on, and it’s certainly a daunting task. You need to think about what you need to do to be here for our customers, vendors, employees and their families, and to make sure that we continue to do the right things the right way. I would love to say I’ll be here for the next 60, but I’ll certainly do the best job I can to set us up so that the next leadership that comes along has the same foundation that I had to continue that legacy. 

From the bottom of my heart and from everyone here on the team at Technical Training Aids and Prototyping Solutions, we’d like to thank all our partners, our vendors, our customers, and everyone who’s trusted us over the last 60 years. We’re committed to earning and keeping that trust for the next 60 years and beyond.”