Small Time, Big Time Stories

/Small Time, Big Time Stories
1 08, 2018

What Do Stan Musial, Reddi-Wip®, and Millions of Industrial Products Have in Common?

2018-08-01T09:12:06-06:00 August 1st, 2018|Small Time, Big Time Stories|

LMC Industries logoTwo large silver-colored buildings at 100 Manufacturers Drive in Arnold represent an impressive heritage of product manufacturing and innovation that few local people may know about. Yet industrial companies worldwide, plus the U.S. military and businesses large and small, rely on LMC Industries, Inc. for specialized products and components without which they perhaps could not succeed.

With two plants on its corporate campus in Arnold comprising more than five acres under roof – one for plastics operations, one for metal stamping/tool and die –LMC Industries serves medical, electrical, electronics and consumer products industries in addition to automotive, agriculture and more. “We do a huge amount of business with agriculture and automobile industries,” says Steve Suellentrop, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at LMC Industries.

His late grandfather, Fred Suellentrop, Sr., a tool maker, businessman, and inventor from Missouri, founded the firm as a machine shop in 1945. The founder’s sons, Fred Jr. and Allan, eventually also joined the company to make their marks as second-generation leadership. Starting in the 1970s, six Suellentrop brothers and cousins joined the firm, helping LMC Industries become a global products company by growing its manufacturing operations and base of customers.

“Today, about 60 percent of our business is for auto industries. We make products such as headlight housings, accelerator pedals, brake pedals, and seat belt components, metal and plastic, for every type of vehicle you can imagine,” Suellentrop says. “Agriculture is also a large segment of our business – for example, we make feeder housings for cattle and swine.”

LMC Industries in Arnold, Missouri

LMC Industries in Arnold, MO

LMC Industries Employees at Work

LMC Industries Employees at Work

Steve Suellentrop, LMC Industries

Steve Suellentrop
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
LMC Industries

“In addition, we design and manufacture hundreds of different products for companies in other industries for many different applications.” LMC Industries has manufactured parts and components for products in virtually every industrial category, from toys to office supplies to military hardware components.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century philosopher, said, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” D-Con mousetrap containers are made at LMC Industries. Says Suellentrop with a smile, “I like to think we make the better mousetrap.”

Manufacturing Diversity

Having two plants with multiple manufacturing capabilities in one location means that industrial companies can realize production efficiencies by dealing with LMC Industries. Its full-service molding company produces stamped and molded products with tooling, CAD/CAM, parts decoration, assembly and specialty packaging services. The company also provides metal processing services that include design engineering, tool and die, production, finishing, welding, sub-assemblies, riveting and passivating (making metal parts less corrosive).

More than 300 skilled LMC Industries’ employees design, build, maintain and operate metal stamping dies, plastic injection molds, jig guides and fixtures to produce the company’s products. Many of those employees trained locally at Jefferson College and in LMC training programs as part of Missouri’s Certified Work Ready Community initiative, which has increased the efficiency and productivity of the workforce and reduced employee turnover.

“We’re very proud of our employees; many have worked here for 20 or 30 years, and some have been with us for 40 years,” Suellentrop says. “We are a family company and we like to consider our employees part of the family.”

LMC Industries, Inc. began in St. Louis with the name Lemay Machine Company until moving its headquarters and manufacturing operations to Arnold in 1995 – the company’s 50th anniversary – and changing its name to LMC Industries, Inc. “My grandfather started with a small machine shop that had an attached office,” Suellentrop says. “He worked in the shop and my grandmother Rose ran the office.”

“My grandfather was a smart, hard-working entrepreneur who saw opportunities to grow his business in the post-war economy, and he did. He never attended college but he had a natural talent with machinery and an aggressive vision for building a company,” Suellentrop adds.

LMC Industries Founder Fred Suellentrop Sr. & wife Ruth

LMC Industries Founder
Fred Suellentrop, Sr. & wife Ruth
Circa 1947

LMC Industries Original Machine Shop

LMC Industries Original Machine Shop
Circa 1947

Fred Suellentrop, Sr.’s two sons, Allan and Fred, Jr., performed increasingly important jobs when they assumed top management roles in 1960 as Fred, Sr. approached retirement. “My father Fred and Uncle Allan were a terrific management team. They worked together for decades with a singular focus to strengthen the company.”

“When my brothers and cousins and I were very young, we worked in the shop to clean up and sweep up on weekends. When we turned about 16, we started working in the plant on weekends and in summer. We literally grew up with the company,” he says. “My grandfather worked here almost until the day he died,” Suellentrop says.

Fred Suellentrop, Sr. passed away in 1978. Steve Suellentrop’s father Fred, Jr., passed away in 2007. Today, seven relatives named Suellentrop manage the privately owned company. They are:

  • Allan Suellentrop – Chairman of the Board
  • Steve Suellentrop – Senior Vice President – Sales
  • Dennis Suellentrop – Director of Manufacturing – Metals Division
  • Gary Suellentrop – Quality Assurance
  • Paul Suellentrop – Engineering Manager
  • Keith Suellentrop – Chief Financial Officer
  • Kevin Suellentrop – Vice President Engineering – Program Management

How do they get along in terms of family members running the company? Steve Suellentrop says, “We make sure that our number one priority is taking care of our customers’ needs. As a team, we are very flexible and nimble. Our family members work together very well, which is unusual for many family-owned companies,” he says. “Let me put it this way, every hunting season all of us go out into the woods with loaded guns to hunt and we all come back alive!”

Future Vision

In 2007, the Suellentrops welcomed Paul Lemke, a management consultant who earned an MBA from Vanderbilt University, to LMC Industries as an outside member of its Board of Directors. Over the years Lemke had served as interim President and CEO of several manufacturing firms experiencing transition.

Paul Lemke, LMC Industries

Paul Lemke, LMC Industries Chief Executive Officer & President

In 2013, Lemke was named Chief Executive Officer and President of LMC Industries. Lemke recently told Manufacturing Today magazine, “We are creating a culture that’s more outwardly focused on customer needs and competitive realities. We expect to build a future based upon employees’ contributions. Everyone’s orientation needs to be focused on how we can best meet the customers’ needs.”

“Our product lines change frequently,” Lemke said. “As a contract manufacturer, we are an extension of our customers’ manufacturing facilities. So, we are operating as part of an overall lean-thinking supply chain.” Since most of its machines are used to produce more than only one type of product, LMC Industries utilizes equipment with maximum flexibility.

The company’s mission is evolving as it works to reduce time to complete setups and reduce the amount of work-in-progress inventory stored. Some customers require made-to-order items with short lead-times, while others utilize LMC Industries as a make-to-stock supplier. “While balancing all those competing customer requirements, we have maintained an on-time shipping value above 98 percent for each month,” Lemke said. “Everything has to be delivered to our customers on time, whether they’re 20 miles away or 8,000 miles away.”

Manufacturing Today magazine noted that LMC Industries maintains an entrepreneurial culture with a can-do attitude, growing into its markets and expanding globally with 40 percent of its products shipped internationally. Customers range from the world’s biggest automotive suppliers and consumer goods companies to entrepreneurial firms. As industry standards have changed, customers have become more demanding with their suppliers about quality levels, services, and additional value-added services. “Because automotive quality requirements have increased significantly over the last few years, LMC Industries has (adapted) to deliver higher-quality products, adopting a zero-defects culture initiative. The company constantly refines its systems, equipment, training techniques and operational capabilities to meet these standards,” the magazine noted.

Steve Suellentrop admits that his family’s 73-year-old company is operating in a very different industrial environment than it did just a few years ago. More companies based overseas are producing competitive products for similar industrial markets; LMC Industries is constantly on the watch to protect its position as a global industry leader that it has maintained for years. “Foreign competition, especially from companies based in Asia and the Pacific Rim, has intensified, particularly in terms of industrial parts and tooling, and lower costs,” he says. “Among other innovations and strategies that we have implemented, our employees are using statistical analysis tools and statistical analysis data to ensure that products coming off our manufacturing lines are exactly precise to customers’ specifications.”

Suellentrop says LMC Industries often receives foreign-made parts and components that the company will use to make finished products, but that some foreign-made parts often do not exactly reflect customer specifications. As a result, LMC must resolve errors in those foreign-made parts before introducing them into LMC manufacturing processes. But LMC Industries did not become a leading global manufacturer by avoiding challenge and new innovation. Over the years it has set new standards and procedures for the industry, as it did when founder Fred Suellentrop, Sr. developed the mechanical parts process that enabled Reddi-Wip® to be dispensed from an aerosol can.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

Steve Suellentrop remembers the days when Stan “The Man” Musial often visited the plant to play baseball with the plastic toy bats that LMC developed for his company Stan the Man, Inc. “I used to pitch to him,” Suellentrop says with a grin. He remembers when LMC made piggy banks featuring pictures of The Flintstones® cartoon characters, and Looney Tune® beverage cups for kids. The company even developed a portable charcoal filtering system for application to bottles of cheap whiskey that would transform the cheap stuff into a smooth premium version. “That system didn’t really work out too well,” Suellentrop admits, “but I do keep a couple of bottles at home as souvenirs.”

From his office filled with hunting trophies and photos of his children, Suellentrop is asked to describe LMC Industries in a few words. Reflecting on the company’s history, he says, “This is a family-managed company that has grown by responding to customer needs from the very beginning. My grandfather grew the business of his small machine shop by producing whatever type of component or product his customers requested.”

“As the founder, he instilled the qualities of dedication, hard work, pride, innovation, and top quality design and production into his sons and grandsons. In a sense, but in much bigger ways, those qualities define what LMC Industries is today – a family-owned company with skilled employees committed to satisfying whatever component or product need the customer requires in a high quality way.”

“As a global products company, we are proud of the resiliency and flexibility of our family members and employees who successfully deal with industrial change and different customer priorities. We don’t back away from manufacturing challenges, and we always come through for the customer.”

Story by Jeff Dunlap

24 05, 2018

Medart Engine & Marine

2018-06-20T13:31:48-06:00 May 24th, 2018|Small Time, Big Time Stories|

Medart Engine & Marine

Medart Engine & Marine in Arnold Prospers with Golden Rule of Customer Service

 

106-Year-Old Engine Parts Distribution Company Survived Great Depression, World War II & Employs 135 Today

J.R. Medart was the youngest of four children when their father died in 1910. He became an engine buff and, at age 14, J.R. began to earn money to help support the Medart family by repairing auto parts such as magnetos, starters, and carburetors. Skilled and smart, young J.R. nurtured customers among doctors who needed reliable transportation for house calls near Saint Louis University in the city’s midtown area.

Called “Jimmy” by family, friends, and customers, young J.R. rode a big Indian motorcycle that was bigger than he was. Fitted with leather saddlebags and loaded with engine parts, the motorcycle was J.R.’s regular “ride” to and from the doctors’ offices that he served.

Before long, J.R. was hired by S. G. Hoffman Magneto Co. The owner, Sam Hoffman, paid Jimmy four dollars a week in 1913 to pick up, fix, and deliver engine components after they were repaired.

Jimmy Medart was a go-getter. By 1925, he had saved enough to buy Hoffman’s company. At age 27 he started his own enterprise. He joined the Rotary Club and applied the Club’s four-way test of service above self – “Golden Rule Service” – to his new company, and followed Club guidelines for dealing with manufacturers, customers, and employees (associates):

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build goodwill and friendship?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

“My grandfather J.R. was fastidious about his business and careful about saving money,” his grandson J.M. “Mike” Medart, company CEO and President, says today from the company’s headquarters in Arnold at 124 Manufacturers Drive.

“He was a tough, hard-working man, and he cared a great deal about people. We have preserved and respected those guidelines at our company for nearly a century as a value statement for our business and as a tribute to him,” Mike Medart asserts.

In the mid-1920s, J.R. Medart was in the right place at the right time in America’s booming auto industry. He expanded his company service line, hired new employees, and gained new customers.

Then came the Great Depression of 1929. In 1930 he reorganized and renamed his enterprise the Medart Auto Electric Co., Inc.

“It was a very difficult time,” Mike Medart says today. “It was a time when people repaired things rather than buy new things. The company got by with repair work, but I won’t say it flourished.”

“Years later I remember my grandfather telling me that he wanted to keep everybody on the repair staff during the Depression, but that there were some weeks that he could only pay people enough to put food on their table.”

“It was then that the company began the tradition of giving every associate – we call our employees associates – a turkey for Christmas so people would have food on the table. It is a tradition that we continue today.”

When World War II displaced the Great Depression in 1941, J.R. Medart’s company again encountered tough times. “There were shortages of just about everything, and it was a lean time because of workforce depletion – most working men joined the service to fight overseas,” Mike Medart says.

“Although we always have had women associates in our workforce in customer service roles, we introduced more women into our company at that time.”

As the tide of World War II turned in 1944, J.R. Medart introduced the forerunner of a profit-sharing plan for his company associates, an innovation at the time.

“One reason my grandfather cared so much about people is because his own father had died when he was 11 years old, and he knew how difficult it was to keep a family together. So the company bought an annuity contract for every associate. That was a wonderful thing for him to do, and it established a premise for introducing a company profit-sharing plan in the 1950s when Congress authorized those types of plans.”

“We believed then and we believe now that profit-sharing plans empower every associate to think like a company stakeholder,” says Mike Medart.

Medart Engine pioneered development of service training for dealers and customers in the post-War era, conducting seminars and programs so industry representatives and buyers could understand all components of equipment and parts distributed by the company.

Electric Auto-Lite was Medart’s first product line that required distribution and education. At the time, Electric Auto-Lite manufactured more than 400 types of parts, including generators, headlamps, horns, hubcaps, and seat adjustment devices, and was the auto industry’s biggest maker of electrical equipment. Medart conducted education and training sessions for Electric Auto-Lite routinely for many years.

Such in-house innovations were supplemented over the years by instruction from Original Equipment Manufacturers that the company represented, such as Kohler, Oregon, Carlisle, and others. Medart continues to conduct numerous educational programs.

As noted in a historic account of Medart Engine, the company “also operated a large drive-in tune-up and repair shop. At that time  it was one of the finest drive-in repair garages in the Midwest. America had over a hundred car companies, but only a few electrical and carburetion companies, so the need for repair was great. All car dealerships with carburetion and electrical needs came to Medart or one of our authorized dealers in southern Illinois and eastern Missouri.”

“In the 1950s and 60s, the company developed into an automotive warehouse distribution business, renamed Medart Automotive Warehouse. We thrived as a company during these times…During the 1970s competition in the auto industry greatly intensified and a family decision was reached to sell our automotive legacy business, but not our roots. It turned out to be a great long-term decision to focus in the engine and marine industries.”

J.R. Medart

J.R. Medart

James Speed Medart

James Speed Medart

Mike Medart

Mike Medart

The Modern Era

Today, Medart, Inc. is a large regional wholesale distributor representing more than 60 different manufacturers – it handles more than 10,000 parts for virtually all types of gas and diesel engines from its headquarters in Arnold and warehouses in Kansas City and Memphis; the company also has operations in Mobile, Alabama, that only support marine parts. The Medart Marine division is a supply operation for boating, marine, and boat yard industries.

More than 135 full-time Medart associates work to provide equipment, parts, and shipping service solutions for the turf and garden industry; construction and industrial contractors; forestry; small tools and equipment; rental; and marine. Medart Marine has a separate, dedicated sales staff.

“Many of our full-time associates have worked at our company for 20 or 30 years,” says Mike Medart. “We are proud of our associates and their track records. Fifty-five of our 135 full-time Medart associates work in or with our Arnold facilities. The company also employs seasonal temporary employees.“

Speed Medart led the company into the modern era. James Speed Medart was the name that Speed’s father, J.R. Medart, gave him at birth in 1930. Speed “hit the ground running” when he started with the company after college as a young man in progressively responsible jobs. He was named President in 1968 when J.R. Medart became Chairman of the Board.

“My father Speed was very much a ‘people person,’ a very good father, and a great guy who was well-liked within the company, as well as in the industry” says Mike Medart. “He was very outgoing, and we had a ton of fun together.”

Speed’s involvement with industry and trade associations helped him lead the company into new directions and opened new opportunities. He was a member and officer with the Automotive Electric Association, the Engine Service Association, and the National Marine Distributors Association.

As President of his family company, Speed helped develop and expand new office/warehouse facilities for Medart in states outside Missouri, and he established many new distribution relationships with OEMs, including with many well-known product brands.

In 1995, after battling cancer for a number of years, Speed Medart died of leukemia at age 64. Mike Medart was named company CEO and President the year before Speed passed away. “My father Speed died too young,” he says. Speed Medart was beloved by many. Like his father J.R. who founded the company, he had anonymously helped many people who had fallen on hard times.

Mike Medart had worked part-time at the company during his high school and college years. After he earned an MBA at Saint Louis University in 1982 he joined the firm full time, based in the information technology department where he helped modernize some of the company IT operations.

In 1985 he was promoted to Sales Manager at Medart Engine and was named President in 1994 at age 38. “I felt strongly at the time that I had a responsibility to preserve and advance the company’s legacy and traditions,” Mike Medart says.

“I still do today.”

In addition to serving on the boards of several industry associations as both a director and as an officer, Mike Medart serves on the board of the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business at Saint Louis University.

It was Mike Medart’s decision to move the company’s headquarters to Arnold, beginning with a land purchase in 1997 and then completing two facilities totaling 121,000 square feet in 1999.

“Being located in Arnold has been a positive for our company,” Mike Medart says. “A number of capable and skilled people who live in the area have joined our workforce over the years. The community is a good place to live and work. The fire and police departments have taken good care of us.”

“Our company stands by our motto ‘Real People, Real Service.’ Our most important goal is customer satisfaction, and we believe that commitment is one reason why we have become an industry leader over 106 years in business.”

“I am proud to be the family’s third generation at Medart, Inc., and also to work here with my son Griffin, who is our purchasing manager and represents the fourth generation.”

“Our commitment to providing Golden Rule Service is very much intact.”

Story by Jeff Dunlap

9 05, 2018

Sinclair & Rush, Inc.

2018-05-14T11:55:56-06:00 May 9th, 2018|Small Time, Big Time Stories|

Arnold’s Sinclair & Rush is a Global Plastics Powerhouse

 

Bradley Philip, Sinclair & Rush

Bradley Philip, Sinclair & Rush

At a cocktail party scene in the Oscar-winning movie The Graduate a man corners Dustin Hoffman’s character and says, “Ben, I just want to say one word to you…Are you listening? Plastics. There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

 

That movie scene today could certainly apply to Sinclair & Rush, Inc., the global manufacturing company headquartered at 123 Manufacturers Drive in Arnold.

Sinclair & Rush is one of the fastest-growing and most successful manufacturers of plastic, rubber and vinyl products for industrial applications on earth.

It has U.S. manufacturing operations in Arnold and Fenton, as well as in Carlstadt, New Jersey. Its overseas plants are in Maidstone and Rochester, England; Changzhou, China; and Riverstone, Australia.

How many Sinclair & Rush products are in use around the world today?

“Billions,” candidly says Bradford M. Philip, the company’s President and Chief Operating Officer since 2010. Philip was previously Executive Vice President and General Manager. He joined the company in 1995 as Corporate Controller.

“If you visit a Lowe’s or Home Depot store, the majority of the rakes and shovels have our grips on them – they are all made in Arnold and sold all over the country,” Philip says.

Yet big home and garden stores are just one of numerous industry sectors for Sinclair & Rush.

 

Modest beginnings

Sinclair & Rush was founded in 1950 by George Sinclair and Wayne Rush, two entrepreneurs who saw the post-war potential of making small, protective flexible caps.

They began the enterprise in their kitchens in houses where they lived in south St. Louis. “As their business began to grow, their spouses ordered them out of the kitchen,” explains Philip with a chuckle.

They ultimately moved the company into two buildings in south St. Louis where they developed different plastic products and the firm began to steadily grow.

In 1978, the entrepreneurs sold their company to two seasoned manufacturing executives, Vincent T. Gorguze, who had recently retired as President of Emerson Electric Company, and John J. Henry, who had also recently retired after a long and distinguished career in manufacturing.  This duo began expanding Sinclair & Rush by acquiring small and mid-sized companies with similar operations and good track records.

In 1994, they constructed the building at 123 Manufacturers Drive in Arnold. They moved the company headquarters into that 125,000 square foot facility and established a production plant there, where now 250 employees work in manufacturing, sales, customer service and financial operations.

Today, Sinclair & Rush has three main branded operations:

  • StockCap, maker of vinyl, plastic and rubber caps and plugs.
  • GripWorks, maker of vinyl, foam and rubber grips and tubing.
  • VisiPak, maker of clear tubes and tube containers, plastic clamshells, trays and blister packaging, clear folding boxes and more.

Given these diverse product lines, it is not unusual to see everything from golf balls to candy and cosmetics packaged for sale in clear plastic tubes made by Sinclair & Rush – not to mention thousands of additional products for retail and industrial applications.

Jeff Barket, Director of Sales & Marketing, notes that the company serves automotive products, sporting goods, exercise equipment, HVAC, electrical, housing, finishing, lawn & garden, hand tools and various other retail, industrial and medical applications. Its major markets are North America, Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia. Sinclair & Rush sells its products online and catalogs can be seen at http://www.stockcap.com, http://www.gripworks.com and http://www.visipak.com.

 

Sinclair & Rush products
Sinclair & Rush products
Sinclair & Rush products

Job security     

In addition to the 250 employees in Arnold, about 150 people work in the company’s 100,000 square foot plant a few miles away in Fenton. Worldwide, Sinclair & Rush has a total of about 650 employees.

For a company with so much product diversity, as well as more than 20,000 customers, 650 employees seems like a low number.

“We run things pretty lean – we don’t have lots of layers of management,” says Philip. “We have been fortunate to find and retain good employees in the Arnold area and, also, for every plant location. Most of our local plant employees live in Arnold or nearby in Jefferson County.”

“The people who work here are a very dedicated group,” Philip continues. “Many of our employees have worked here at the Arnold plant for 30 or 40 years. It seems like when we hire someone if they stay for the initial 1 ½ or two years, they will stay forever. We are proud of our workforce.”

Charlie Hawes has worked in the Arnold plant for 34 years. Now 58 years old, he says, “This place is like a home to me. It’s a good place to work. I plan to retire in a few years when I am done working here.”

During the economic recession of 2008-2009 in the U.S., Sinclair & Rush and most manufacturing companies were adversely affected, particularly those in construction-related industries, Philip says.

“During the recession, we bent over backwards to help our existing customers any way that we could.  By adjusting shipping schedules and offering better inventory management we were able to assist and retain the vast majority of our customers during this period.  I think that reflects our total commitment to providing world-class customer service,” Philip says.

Starting after the recession ended in 2010, Sinclair & Rush renewed its tradition of acquiring other companies. In recent years the company has acquired National Plastics Inc. of St Louis, a thermoform manufacturer; Tulox Plastics Corporation of Marion, Indiana, a manufacturer of clear plastic packaging containers; and Component Force Ltd. of Kent, England, a manufacturer and distributor of product protection solutions.

“These acquisitions complement our long-term strategies to increase our product offerings and market reach. The synergies created with these acquisitions allow us to offer the broadest line of product protection and packaging products, from development to delivery, of any company in the industry.” Philip says.

“Since we made these acquisitions, our company has more than doubled in size in terms of revenue, facilities and employees,” Philip says.

“Our ownership group has challenged us with a goal of 30 percent growth in the near term and we intend on achieving this goal,” he continues.

“The group is very supportive of acquisitions that make sense, that are a good fit for us and which complement and enhance our manufacturing and distribution operations. We have no intentions of pulling up stakes or moving out. We’re going to be in Arnold for a long time.”

 

 

Story by Jeff Dunlap

9 04, 2018

Unico, Inc.

2018-04-09T11:20:32-06:00 April 9th, 2018|Small Time, Big Time Stories|

Unico of Arnold Helps Keep the Ghosts of Abraham Lincoln & Ernest Hemingway Alive!

UNICO Systems

UNICO Systems

Few industrial companies based in Arnold can say with assurance that they’ve improved original properties where Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, and other luminaries walked the halls. Or, in President Lincoln’s case, where he died.

Unico, Inc., headquartered in Tenbrook Industrial Park, is the only company in Arnold – and one of few in the world – whose products have helped preserve irreplaceable historic homes and properties across the U.S. and in Europe, products that are also found in many newer, upscale modern properties internationally.

Such properties range from the cottage on a hill outside Washington, D.C., where President Lincoln relaxed away from The White House, to the downtown boarding house where Lincoln died after he was shot by assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre across the street. With Unico’s help, both of those properties are among many that are well-preserved and open to the public today. Unico projects include Ernest Hemingway’s two-story house in Key West, FL, where the author lived and worked for more than a decade. The improved property is now a tourist destination and museum with grounds inhabited by 40 cats, the offspring of Hemingway’s own. The 50,000 sq ft mansion called Hempstead House on Long Island, NY, was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for his famed novel The Great Gatsby. Much of the mansion’s renovation features Unico improvements. So does The LaMatta House built in Queens, NY by Chris LaMatta, great nephew of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMatta – a luxurious, 7,500 sq ft private home that is not open to the public. Yet Unico projects cover far more than properties linked to famous presidents, authors, and celebrities.

The company’s clients today include colleges, universities, government agencies, historic trusts, homeowners, real estate developers, and rehabbers of all varieties. Also known as The Unico System®, the company’s flagship product this year will be featured on the popular television program This Old House – for the 34th time. So…What does Unico do?

Founded by Joe Intagliata and his wife Sharon in 1988, Unico makes small-duct and ductless heating and air-conditioning systems that are whisper quiet and nearly invisible once they are installed, and which can accommodate virtually any structural environment, new or old. The innovative Unico System is often preferred by the property owners or caretakers of projects involving modern renovations of older structures, new construction, and upscale property rehabilitations. To date, the Unico System has been installed in about 500,000 properties in the U.S. and internationally.

Family Owned & Managed

Scott Intagliata, Unico marketing director, is one of Joe and Sharon Intagliata’s four grown sons who manage the company today at its Arnold headquarters along with President Phil Coerper and Engineering Vice President Craig Messmer. The modern plant employs 80 skilled engineering, manufacturing, sales, customer service, and operations personnel. The 125,000 sq ft building also hosts Unico’s subsidiary, SGI Manufacturing, which designs and builds HVAC materials.

Scott, a graduate of Tulane University and the University of Missouri – St. Louis, says, “Our family has owned the Unico business for 20 years now. Prior to that, my father and older brother were heating and air-conditioning contractors, and they installed a product similar to the one we manufacture today.”

“At the time they were based in south St. Louis where we had a facility on Meramec Street.Their contracting firm was one of 32 contractors across the United States who worked together like a business cooperative, and they all installed a product that was the forerunner to what is today’s Unico System. They put that product primarily in houses constructed before people had air conditioning.”

“About 20 years ago my father and older brother decided that they’d had enough of that forerunner product, which was invented by a man named Calvin McCracken, an MIT graduate who owned multiple patents. Craig Messmer, our vice president of engineering, knew of Calvin McCracken back then. One of Calvin’s engineers told Craig, ‘I am retiring, but I can make an improved, new product for you guys,’ meaning for our family.”

“My father and older brother were instrumental in the cooperative group that decided to take on that new proprietary product, and it made sense for my father to oversee sales of that new product.”

One Unico Exec Team
Warren Sign  at Sharpshooters BBQ
UNICO PLANT Worker
Warren Sign  at Arnold First Baptist EMC
Unico Plant Worker
Warren Sign at Cardinal’s Nation

“Since there were 32 contractors in that group, the family decided that we would buy out all of them,” Scott says. In 1997, the Intagliatas did just that.

For 10 years after the acquisition, Unico was based in south St. Louis as the family built its customer base for the proprietary new product and maintained good relations with the cooperative group it had bought out. The Intagliatas chose Arnold as the place to consolidate all of the company’s manufacturing. The family decided to build a modern facility to employ 40 people.

The date April 27, 2007, was proclaimed “Intagliata Family Day” in Arnold when the mayor, city officials, contractors, and local citizens gathered for groundbreaking ceremonies with the Intagliatas. Civic officials lauded the site as the start of a new industrial building boom for Arnold. Joe Intagliata told a newspaper reporter, “Give us a couple of years and, as a private organization, we’ll have more employees than any other private organization in Arnold. If I had known the people in Arnold were so nice, we’d have been here 10 years ago,” he said.

The new manufacturing plant opened and was busily occupied within a year. A year later the United States entered a recessionary economic downturn and the construction industry, including Unico, was hit hard.

Shannon Intagliata, sales director at the company and a member of the management team, says, “For us, the timing of that recession was horrible. Just a year or two before it hit we had built the new plant and then the recession brought tough times for everybody. Unfortunately, we had to lay off some employees.”

“The year 2009 was terrible. In the credit crunch, people who would otherwise borrow money against the equity in their homes to install the Unico System often couldn’t do that. It was heartbreaking for us to have to lay off some employees,” Scott Intagliata says, “but we had a good enough base of business, we kept a good base of customers for the company to get through those tough times.”

“With smart management, we were able to weather the storm,” Shannon adds.

Marketing Success

In his role as marketing director, Scott Intagliata has utilized state-of-the-art techniques that include marketing analytics and targeted digital marketing to help expand, grow, and preserve Unico’s success since 2009.

He attributes the company’s sales volume to the fact that Unico markets to elite homeowners with assets of at least $500,000 who can afford a new HVAC system to help beautify and increase the value of their home. He especially credits Unico’s affiliated contractors nationwide “who continue to promote our product installation as part of their business.”

“You can’t have one without the other,” he says.

Phil Coerper, Unico president, points out, “Our focus is on high-quality customer service. Our commitment is to make sure the experience for our customers and our contractors is as good as it can be. We are very committed to making sure that the experience of working with us fits beautifully for the people with whom we are interacting. Our type of customer is paying a premium and expects a perfect installation and a perfect product.”

“This commitment is an outgrowth of Joe Intagliata’s customer service philosophy from the early days, and which the company has carried forward as a hallmark of our operation,” Coerper asserts.

“Excellent products and responsive service are the lifeblood of this business,” adds Shannon Intagliata. “Our on-time shipments are at 99.8 %, and we want to improve that.”

Unico employees are responsible for much of the company’s success. Shannon says, “There’s a passion and pride for our company’s traditions and commitments that is reflected in our employees.”

“We have a long-tenured workforce – employee turnover is minimal at 1%. There’s a family feeling here, and it is not just among the Intagliata family. A lot of married couples work here. Our father always treated his employees as good as he treated our customers. Everybody here knows that they are working for a family and a company that cares,” Shannon says.

In 2016, Unico expanded its existing plant in Arnold with a $2 million investment that consolidated all of its non-manufacturing operations by building new offices, a training center, an R&D lab, and other improvements at the facility it opened in 2007.

Scott Intagliata credits Phil Coerper with forward-thinking leadership to help make that expansion happen after Coerper joined Unico as its president four years ago.

Like many companies, Unico in recent years has seen a lot of millennials enter its workforce. The company has accommodated these younger people, as well as its other employees, with opportunities such as flexible work hours, tuition reimbursement for work-related advanced study, and a social lounge where employees can play board games or simply relax on work breaks.

Future Growth

Unico, which began as an air-conditioning installation firm staffed by Joe Intagliata and one of his sons, seems positioned for even greater success than it has achieved since 1997.

Asked how the company has grown so much in 20 years, Unico’s management team responds with these comments:

“We consolidated business and manufacturing operations at our expanded plant in Arnold.”

“We continually introduce new technology to our operations.”

“We hire and engage employees with new skill sets.”

“We maintain exceptionally good relations with our installation companies and our customers.”

“We want our employees to excel in their jobs, and we maintain programs to help them do so.”

“We found capable and skilled employees in Arnold, and the City has been very supportive of our business.”

Joe and Sharon Intagliata are now retired and have a home in Florida. As Unico’s CEO and chairman of the board, Joe is at headquarters once or twice a week when in Arnold. Though not involved with day-to-day operations, Joe consults with and advises his sons about the business that the family founded. He attends all of the major parties and celebrations at headquarters, and he visits with employees he has known for a long time.

“We are maintaining and preserving the traditional values that our father introduced to this business, we are doing it in a modern way, and we continue to work hard to be the best caretaker of our customers in this industry,” says Shannon Intagliata.

Story by Jeff Dunlap

16 02, 2018

Warren Sign Company

2018-03-06T11:42:39-06:00 February 16th, 2018|Small Time, Big Time Stories|

Many Clients of Arnold’s Warren Sign Company Glow in the Dark

 

David Warren, CEO of Warren Sign Company

David Warren, CEO of Warren Sign Company

There’s a little of David Warren at Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis. There’s also some at the National Blues Museum and at the St. Charles Convention Center. And also at Dierberg’s grocery stores, at major banks, community centers and shopping malls in greater St. Louis.

There is some of David Warren all over St. Louis because his late father, Lynn Warren, opened a sign-making shop in 1929 near what is now Interstate 55 in Arnold and began to grow a company that, almost 90 years later, is considered the biggest, most experienced sign company in metro Saint Louis.

Its custom-made signs for clients identify brands and stores, restaurants, sports teams, banks and additional enterprises all over the region, and in many out-of-state cities. Warren Sign is the oldest full service sign company in business around here today and certainly one of the busiest in the Midwest.

David Warren’s ambition, his hard work, and that of his dedicated company employees helped build the firm into what is today – a successful company that originated during America’s Great Depression when many other companies went broke.

“I remember my father telling me how hard it was to put food on the table and clothes on his children when he started this business,” says David Warren, who prefers “David” to “Mr. Warren” though he is Chairman of the Board, CEO, and President of Warren Sign Company today. The firm is located in an industrial park at 2955 Arnold Tenbrook Road a mile off Jeffco Boulevard.

“He was trying to build a business during the Depression and times were tough for everyone, but he never quit.”

Neon Roots
During the Great Depression, David’s father worked alone building signs of all designs. The company Warren Sign became the first in the region to design and install neon signs, which were introduced in the United States in the mid-1920s. In 1957 Lynn Warren hired George Wilson, his first full-time employee.

“They were not sign painters,” asserts David Warren, who today is in his 70s. “They specialized in neon signs and plastic-faced signs. I remember that when I was a teenager George Wilson drove me around in the company truck to installation jobs and that is how I got introduced to the business. I began to work part-time for the company in summers, and I tried to learn everything I could.”

Craftsmen such as Lynn Warren and George Wilson were called neon benders. Neon tube signs were produced by bending glass tubing into designs. Neon tubes made of hollow glass were assembled into custom fabricated lamps for commercial applications.

Pure neon gas produces shades of red, orange and pink. Colors of blue, yellow, green, violet, and white, and soft shades of pink, are created by filling tubes with another inert gas – argon – with a drop of mercury added. When the tube is ionized by electrification, the mercury evaporates into vapor, producing ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light in tube coatings produces different colors. Such tubes don’t use any neon gas but are often called “neon lights” anyway.

Today, Warren Sign Company uses ultra-modern techniques to design and fabricate neon and other types of signage for clients. The firm has about 40 employees who work in a 40,000 sq ft facility with manufacturing, storage, parking and office space.

But it wasn’t always that way. Warren Sign grew slowly through the 1930s, and faced tough competition from other local sign companies after World War Two. Yet it persevered.

In 1950 David Warren enrolled in Arnold’s Fox Schools. Years later attending high school there he met his future wife, Cheryl Werner, who also attended Fox High School. In 1962 David graduated and enrolled at the University of Missouri, but he left college a year later to work for Warren Sign Company. He wanted to grow the business.

In 1965 David and Cheryl married. Dave’s father retired and David became sole owner of the company. It turned out that Cheryl’s three brothers and father worked in the sign business for another company. Before long, all three Werner brothers and Cheryl’s father started working at Warren Sign Company.

“We definitely were a family company,” says David, a sociable, outgoing man who became the firm’s top salesman.

warren sign sharpshooters bbq
Warren Sign  at Sharpshooters BBQ
warren sign arnold first baptist
Warren Sign  at Arnold First Baptist EMC
warren sign cardinals_nation
Warren Sign at Cardinal’s Nation
Blues Museum Sign
Warren Sign at National Blues Museum

Union Label
The biggest adjustment that transformed Warren Sign Company from a small, hard-working firm into a larger firm that did business on a much bigger scale occurred in the early 1970s when Warren Sign Company and all of the employees joined local chapters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and, also, the Painters District Council.

“When we did that, big doors opened for us,” David says.

“Up until then we couldn’t call on larger companies to try to win their business or visit their job sites because unions would put up picket lines – we couldn’t get in. Unions were much stronger back then than they are today. I remember going in to bid a new signage project at a big savings and loan company that was expanding its facilities after we joined the unions – and we won that job!” he adds.

“I couldn’t have gotten in the doors to bid if we weren’t a union shop. Soon we had the chance to bid another big project – it was for a big bank – and we won that job, and then we went on to win other big jobs. And whenever we got those jobs I hired more people. I am pro-union and I am proud of the fact that we pay good wages to our union employees,” David says.

To expand, Warren Sign soon moved from its site in Arnold to a larger manufacturing facility in Fenton, but in 1998 returned its operations to Arnold and the headquarters on 4½ acres where it operates today.

“Our passion, management style and dedication to top quality customer service helped us grow,” David asserts. “Our company goal was always to grow and grow. I wasn’t afraid to borrow money from lenders when we needed to expand. And, we all worked hard.”

Then in 2008, the nation’s economic recession set in and hit the construction industry – hard. “It was a challenge,” David admits. “The company struggled. We suffered in 2009, 2010 and 2011. That was the only three years in the history of the company that we experienced real difficulty, and it was very challenging. We had to let some of our people go, and we didn’t want to do that. I worked as hard as I could to keep our employees here for as long as we could. Business was slow, but we got through the tough times. In 2012 things started picking up, and we began to hire back our employees. Every one of the employees that we had to let go came back to work – except those that found other jobs outside the construction industry during the recession. Today, we have more employees than we did in 2009.”

After Warren Sign regained its footing in 2012 and returned to growth serving clients large and small – including well-known companies, banks and hospitals in the metro area – David Warren entered semi-retirement.

As Chairman, CEO, and President, he remains involved with big decisions for the company, major loans, capital investments and big equipment purchases. He works in his office at Warren Sign one day a week and sometimes strolls the plant to visit employees.

Day-to-day operations are managed by his executive team, including Vice President and General Manager Tom Werner, one of Cheryl Werner Warren’s three brothers who joined the company years ago.

“David is a great guy to work for. Our company works in a very competitive industry, and we feel like we can do it better than any other company. We provide the same levels of dedication and committed customer service to every customer we serve, whether the project is large or small. We’re a proud union company with proud traditions, and I would hate to see Missouri become a right-to-work state,” says Tom Werner.

For descriptions of Warren Sign Company capabilities, policies and project photos, visit  WarrenSign.com.

Story by Jeff Dunlap

(Neon light description paraphrased from Wikipedia)

16 01, 2018

Nottelmann Music Company

2018-03-06T11:44:08-06:00 January 16th, 2018|Small Time, Big Time Stories|

A Small Company with a Big Time Following

With stores in Arnold and south St. Louis County, the independent family-owned music retailer Nottelmann Music Company has grown and prospered in a retail music world dominated by giant, corporate-owned megastores that have hundreds of locations and million dollar advertising budgets.

Owner and President Dennis Gerfen, age 65, with his wife Jan and their two children, have successfully navigated ups, downs, and ever-changing music industry trends to expand the business founded in 1953 by William and Audrey Nottelmann.

Nottelmann Music Company today has 20 employees and, with its traveling sales team, serves hundreds of customers in metro St. Louis and southwest Illinois, including high schools, middle schools, other music stores, students, and professional musicians. The sales team visits band directors at between 80 and 100 schools every week.

That’s not including dozens of people who take music lessons from Nottelmann Music Company’s experienced teachers at both of its stores, or who visit to shop for merchandise.

“I see mostly school-related customers coming through our doors every day, but we have a busy repair service here, and many people come in from all over the region for instrument repairs or to buy an instrument,” Dennis says.

“We also have a tremendous market for people who need accessories – guitar accessories, recording equipment, PA systems, and other new gear.”

The Nottelmann music stores are located at 714 Jeffco Boulevard in Arnold and at 1590 Lemay Ferry Road in south St. Louis County. They gleam with virtually all types of band and orchestra instruments on display – from saxophones to xylophones and seemingly everything in between. Those instruments – plus shiny new electric guitars, amplifiers, drum sets, and electronic gadgets – make the stores enticing for anyone who plays or wants to play music.

For many years Nottelmann Music Company’s biggest market has been public and private schools throughout the region, says Dennis. The company is well-known to band directors and families in Jefferson and St. Louis County for introducing thousands of young students to school band instruments and musical performances.

Until he passed away in 2015, company founder William Nottelmann was revered by people in the region for his many years of musical community involvement. He played several instruments, taught private lessons, and was recruited as the first band director at Mehlville High School. He wrote a popular piano lesson book titled “Keyboard Adventures” that was widely used in the area for decades, and Nottelmann was a key influence in helping to develop Rickman Auditorium in Arnold’s Fox C-6 School District. He also often organized music events at Rickman.

“A lot of people knew him, liked him, respected him, and trusted him as a store proprietor and music teacher,” says Dennis.

Before he passed away, Nottelmann was honored by the Mehlville School District, which named its new auditorium after him. His entire family, including Dennis and Jan Gerfen, attended the dedication ceremony for the William B. Nottelmann Auditorium when it opened in October 2013.

Musical Marriage

William Nottelmann’s daughter is Jan Gerfen – her married name. She met Dennis Gerfen when both were students at Bayless High School where they began going steady. After graduation, Dennis studied draftsmanship and worked part time at Allied Electronics selling stereo equipment. Jan worked on Saturdays at her father’s music store. William Nottelmann knew that the couple planned to marry. Dennis recalls that his life changed in 1971 when “Mr. Nottelmann asked me if I’d be interested in learning the music store business and how to repair instruments.”

“I said, ‘Yes sir, I’d like to do that.'”

Dennis Gerfen Nottelmann Music

Dennis Gerfen, Owner and President of Nottelmann Music Company

Jan Gerfen Nottelmann Music

Jan Gerfen of Nottelmann Music Company

Dennis Gerfen (left) with Steve Owen (right) at Nottelmann Music

Dennis Gerfen with sales team member Steve Owen

The rest is history. Dennis soon learned that operating a music store, managing employees, dealing with schools and customers often required 60-hour work weeks. Yet he thrived in the role of growing the business one school and one customer at a time. Jan worked as the company’s bookkeeper.

In 1979, Nottelmann Music opened its location in Arnold to serve customers throughout Jefferson County. In 1984, Dennis and Jan Gerfen purchased Nottelmann Music Company from Jan’s father, who continued to serve as the face of the business for years.

“Our focus stays on
what we do best.
You can’t be everything
to everybody.
You’ve got to stick with
your strong points.”

~ Dennis Gerfen

As the sales team grew, the business continued expanding its territory and the number of schools that it served. In 2001 as his health declined, Mr. Nottelmann stopped being a presence in the stores.

Dennis and Jan assumed control of the business that year. Yet the policies, procedures, and traditions that William Nottelmann established for the company were preserved and remain in place at the stores today.

“I like to believe that over the years we set the tone in greater St. Louis for how this business is done,” Dennis says. “Our business has grown because we respect our school customers and band directors, and we work extremely hard to earn their respect and their patronage.”

As a result, school band directors and parents depend on the fair-minded work ethic that Gerfen and his wife Jan and their staff maintain at Nottelmann Music. Dennis works in the store Monday through Saturday, arriving at about 7:30 am. He deals with people of all ages with all kinds of musical preferences, from orchestra members to young rock and rollers to new age folk singers.

“Our biggest non-school sales segment is probably acoustic guitars. We stock Alvarez, Ibanez, and Yamaha guitars – all fine acoustic guitars, especially for the entry-level players,” says Dennis.

“Over the years we have offered all the big electric guitar brands, but these days’ acoustic guitars seem the most popular guitars sold in our stores,” he says. “I think one reason for that is because these days electric guitar rock stars who influenced younger generations are now past their prime as performers or have passed away.”

Influential blues guitarist Eric Clapton, for example, is now in his 70s and nearly past his prime. So is guitarist Jimmy Page of the rock band Led Zeppelin. The legendary electric guitarists Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and B.B. King passed away years ago.

“A lot of today’s popular young guitarists and singer-songwriters – people like Ed Sheeran – play acoustic guitars, not electric models, in their concerts and recordings. And I think that is influencing today’s retail guitar market.”

The Gerfens and their store team members are proud to have built a business whose primary mission is to provide unparalleled service, sell and rent high-quality musical instruments, and handle repairs. And they are proud to preserve traditions that Mr. Nottelmann established decades ago.

The company website is informative, but website visitors cannot buy instruments directly from the site. Dennis has been known to say, “I consider the internet like an electronic pawn shop. Sometimes you can find a good deal there, but you had better know a lot about what you’re buying.”

He prefers doing business with customers face-to-face because he believes it builds positive relationships and trust. “That’s just how we do it, and I think that’s the right way to do it,” he says. He offers this advice for other small independent retailers: “Our focus stays on what we do best. You can’t be everything to everybody. You’ve got to stick with your strong points. Our business is built on word-of-mouth referrals. I could place 100 advertisements and yet it will be word of mouth that does the most good – that and our experience and exceptional service. And you’ve got to be honest with people.”

“Honest, reliable service is what we provide to band directors, rental customers, people who buy from us, and who rely on us for instrument repairs. Ninety-nine percent of our business is service oriented, and that’s what we are known for.”

“We often see people who took lessons with us many years ago now bring their children to us for music lessons, and that’s a good feeling” says Dennis.

“Sometimes they call me Mr. Nottelmann – and that’s OK with me.”

by Jeff Dunlap