A fast-growing, family-owned high-tech metal and stainless steel fabrication operation was the focus of our last Midwest Entrepreneurs class.
Another amazing example of amazing entrepreneurial activities right here in our own backyard (in the middle of a corn field off an asphalt road)!!
Today’s class blogger is Nikki Hurt. Below, she recounts the ongoing entrepreneurial success story of Roseville, IL-based Fusion Tech (as told to the class last Thursday by company General Manager Dan Bentz).
Dan Bentz, the general manager of Fusion Tech, was our guest speaker on 4/24/2014.
Fusion Tech provides metal and stainless steel fabrication services in every step from design to installation. Their clients include: food, food processing, transportation, renewable fuels, and agricultural industries. They also do small individual projects like signs, handrails, counter tops etc.. They handle materials like carbon, aluminum, stainless steel, rubber and more.
Dan’s father had a blacksmith shop in their local hometown in Iowa. Dan and his brother worked at the shop learning about fabrication early in life. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri and went to college earning a degree in Business and Industrial Technology.
In 1997, Dan’s brother and his father started Modern Engineering and Piping in Roseville, IL. His brother inherited a two car garage and 88 acres of land when he married. The business only had three employees at the time. They tore out equipment and put in new for their clients. They wanted to start making their own products because they were having too many problems with the current ones they were installing.
In 2001, Modern Engineering and Piping put in their first shop. They hired more people, serviced more, worked seven days a week. Dan’s brother wanted him to come work at the family business.
In 2003, they got their first abrasive water jet to do their own cutting. Dan came around and joined his brother and father in 2004.
In 2007, The Company introduced another side to the business, Fusion Tech. Fusion Tech dealt with designing projects for customers, while Modern Engineering and Piping handled the servicing side. By this time they had 30 employees. They eventually bought out Modern Engineering and Piping and all became known as Fusion Tech “The One Stop Shop”.
In 2013, the family-run firm gained a 1.3 million dollar contract with a company they had previously lost due to lack of having a laser jet. At this time they now have three laser jets and two water jets. There are 85 employees.
Dan expressed that they work on big projects, but still do small ones as well. The big projects that earn large sums they do not get right away. He said it usually is paid “40-40-20”: 40% down immediately, 40% at time of completion, and 20% during the installation process. They have to do small jobs to keep the lights on and function (because the large ones require such time and effort to complete). Around 10 employees work on the large projects, and the other 75 handle the small ones.
Fusion Tech, unlike some of our other guest companies, do indeed believe in using banks. A small business needs capital. They used the local Raritan bank for 5-6 years before outgrowing it. They search different banks when looking to purchase equipment for the best interest rates.
Mr. Bentz led us through a summary of the many services Fusion Tech provides to its clients.
Drafting is there #1 thing they are known for and is a great sales tool. It shows a 3D model of the product Fusion Tech is going to produce. This takes a specific person to have the skill to perform drafting and it is time consuming.
Milling- This entered Fusion Tech into the machining world. The return on investment purchasing a milling machine was better than outsourcing. This also created convenience for their customers.
Drafting and milling are main two services provided. However, many others are performed as well. These include: CNOC and Lathe, Brakes, Roller and Bender, Saw Cutting, Spot Welding, Mig Welding, Tig Welding, and Trucking (transporation of finished goods to client operations).
Fusion Tech also uses an Industrial Laser Marking System for all the equipment they produce so they can use it to find products later on (as well as tools, equipment, materials etc.). They also use access databases and excel to organize jobs.
One of the most important issues for the company in recent years has been to attain ISO (International Standards Organization) Certification. In the eyes of clients (and prospective new clients, particiularly big ones), this certification means that Fusion Tech follows precise standards and performs high quality work. This ensures they hold safety rules and regulations high. It allows them to get into big name food companies that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to without the certification.
Recently, the company branched out and created Stainless Reflections, a company that specialized in monuments, head stones, statues, and memorials. This wasn’t as successful as Mr. Bentz thought it would be but has been a good opportunity for the company to learn from its mistakes. “If you’re not making any mistakes, you’re not doing anything different,” he told the class. “Don’t do the same thing twice.” You must try something or you won’t know the outcome.
When asked by a member of the class what the firm’s biggest competitive advantage is, Dan replied “our people.” They are talented individuals. They do what they have to do to get things done for clients and to respond to the changing marketplace.
A lot of quick decisions and being able to think on their feet led to many new customers, opportunities, and overall company growth. Working with the customer is important to build lasting relationships and customer loyalty. Don’t argue, just get it done and make it right if you mess up. Making the customer happy is your job and is important for the company image.