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Published: Monday, 2/17/2003

Diversification gave teetering firm big lift

BY HOMER BRICKEY
BLADE SENIOR BUSINESS WRITER
Accountant Ruth Turner, left, and president James Staczek show off the Ergo Lift, which has given a big boost to the industrial firm. Accountant Ruth Turner, left, and president James Staczek show off the Ergo Lift, which has given a big boost to the industrial firm.
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James Staczek thought his 14-year-old business was going down the tubes in late 1998. That summer, he was shocked to learn his bookkeeper had embezzled $80,000, and in the fall his Glenwood Road plant in Perrysburg Township was hit by a windstorm that knocked out a transformer and melted its electric power-supply equipment.

“The embezzlement really floored us,” Mr. Staczek, founder and president of Industrial Design & Supply, Inc., said. “And [the power surge] fried all our computers. That was almost a death blow. We were literally down on our last legs.”

The company, which began as a distributor of hydraulic and pneumatic components and a designer and builder of industrial machinery, survived because of a lucky break and soon expanded into two new fields. “If we hadn't diversified, we'd be out of business,” Mr. Staczek remarked.

The economic slowdown hit his core business hard, he added. In the darkest days, the business landed a contract to coordinate the rebuilding of a large industrial press in Georgia. It put together a coalition of companies to get the job done. The press was disassembled, and some parts were shipped to Toledo, others to Birmingham, Ala., for rebuilding.

The firm designed the hydraulics, another Toledo firm built the controls, and a third took the press apart and reassembled the rebuilt parts, Mr. Staczek said.

“That kept us going while we figured out our plans,” he said.

One satisfied customer is Plastics Group, Inc., a blow-molding company in Fremont from which Industrial Design provides maintenance on five air compressors. “We've had a good relationship with them,” Dave Welling, the Sandusky County firm's maintenance manager, said.

Finding good solutions is key, Mr. Staczek said. Four years ago, he explained, he visited a customer, a General Motors plant that was having an ergonomic problem, injuries on an assembly line. As he drove back to Toledo, he followed a semi-trailer for a distance. “I saw the air springs, and said, `Heck, I can do that.'” The inspiration resulted in a new product, Ergo Lift, that uses a combination of air and fluid-power to lift workers up and down to adjust for height differences.

“We built a prototype and got orders for 12 machines immediately,” he recalled. He said GM ordered 12 for its plant in Defiance, then two more for a plant in Flint, Mich., and 25 for other plants. After displaying the product at a trade show, the firm got orders for an Indiana Chrysler plant and two Honda plants, said Mr. Staczek, who patented it two years ago.

Last month, Ergo Lift was named to second place by Plant Engineering magazine in the material-handling product-of-the-year contest for 2002. Mr. Staczek is to receive the award March 3 at the National Plant Engineering & Facilities Management Show in Chicago. The firm has filled orders for nearly 100 of the devices.

Vice President Mike Staczek, James' son, sold a Cleveland manufacturer on buying its compressed air from large on-site compressors owned and maintained by the Staczeks. The idea led to another firm, OptimAir Services - headed by Mike Staczek - and a $7 million contract over a seven-year period, James Staczek said. Several other manufacturers are interested, he added.

Still, the firm cut four positions, leaving six workers, as sales fell to $1.5 million last year from $2.5 million the year before.

To be considered for Small Business Profiles, 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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