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Published: Monday, 2/27/2006

Elevator supply business enjoys steady growth in stable industry

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Ellen Bates assembles an emergency elevator telephone at Wurtec Inc., a supplier of tools and fixtures for elevator companies that has been in Toledo since it was started by Steve Wurth 20 years ago. Mr. Wurth says it's a 'hard-working company.' Ellen Bates assembles an emergency elevator telephone at Wurtec Inc., a supplier of tools and fixtures for elevator companies that has been in Toledo since it was started by Steve Wurth 20 years ago. Mr. Wurth says it's a 'hard-working company.'
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Steve Wurth candidly admits that his industry - elevators - hasn't changed much in 150 years. Oh, computers, new materials, sleeker designs have come about, but "it's still about cables and counterweights."

As a supplier of tools and fixtures that elevator companies use for installation and maintenance, Wurtec Inc., the firm Mr. Wurth started 20 years ago, is a lot like the industry it supports.

Wurtec is bigger, has new products and services, and a cozy new home in Toledo's North Cross Industrial Park. But principally, it hasn't changed much.

Founded around fast delivery, strong customer service, and knowledgeable employees, that remains the emphasis, the leader said.

"We are a hard-working company. You won't find us on the golf course on Fridays," Mr. Wurth said. "We like to stay focused on continual growth and we set annual goals and monthly goals. I think if a company is not growing more than 5 percent every year, you're shrinking."

In an industry in which four large companies control about 80 percent of the market, it's not easy to maintain growth. "Our customers are constantly on us to lower prices and we're never able to dodge that completely," he said.

But the company has kept growing by being innovative, continually updating its product line, and delivering on its promises, he added.

"Is [Wurtec's] price always the best? I can't say that's true," said Christine Harden, an executive with Kone Corp., of McKinney, Texas, the fourth largest elevator and escalator company in the world.

"They don't always win the bid but it's never because we don't like the way they work with us. They're always very responsive, very personable," she said.

Mr. Wurth, an industrial engineer, opened Wurtec in 1985 after seven years at the former Haughton Elevator Co. where he noticed that the firm manufactured its own tools and parts, which were often disposable, to install its elevators.

Reasoning that he could make the tools and parts cheaper, quicker, and more universally adaptable, he established his firm and within six months knew he had tapped a successful niche.

For 15 years Wurtec thrived supplying elevator tools, parts, and other products under its own name, and manufacturing products for sale by other firms. "About the only thing we make that the average person would see and recognize is the emergency phone you find in most elevators," the owner said.

Five years ago, he expanded the company's revenue by adding a sales division to buy and resell products made by others. And three years ago, he ventured into electronics, which have quickly overtaken control aspects of elevators.

The result was a device the firm introduced in September called the S3 Analyzer, which Mr. Wurth thinks could be an industry breakthrough.

Consisting of a series of sensors and a computerized monitor, the device was designed as a retrofit for older elevators. It can notify a building owner by e-mail if an elevator shuts down and determine what caused the shutdown.

But Mr. Wurth said the company soon realized the device can monitor any motorized electrical device, such as heating and cooling systems, which opens possibly new markets.

"It'll work on almost any elevator or literally any electrical device," he said. "A mechanic will have some prior knowledge of why the device shut down before he gets there."

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

Small Business Profile is a weekly feature on local companies. To be considered, send information about your company to Small Business Profiles, Business News, The Blade, P.O. Box 921, Toledo, Ohio 43697-0921.



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