Company Profile: Gerhardt Gear Co.

With customers ranging from NASA–for which it built parts for the Mars rovers–to off-road vehicle enthusiasts, Gerhardt Gear truly is a different kind of gear company.

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Picture California and you probably think of beaches, sunny skies, and a generally laid-back attitude. But thoughts also lead to industries such as aerospace, filmmaking, and even gear manufacturing. Gerhardt Gear–which is located in Burbank–is the perfect synthesis of all these images.

"Many of our employees are young guys, and we're into surfing, music, and extreme sports," according to Mitch Gerhardt, the company's vice president. "But we're also really excited about gears, from the guys on the shop floor all the way up to the president's office. We like to think of ourselves as the cool gear guys."

That sense of youthfulness is also reflected in the company's age, since it was founded in 1982 and is just now in its early twenties. "My father, Ron, started the company, and even then he had more than 25 years of experience in the gear manufacturing industry," says Gerhardt, explaining that his brother, Kurht, also works for the company as its production manager. "Dad leased 8,000 square feet, and he had one gear machine–a Barber Colman 6-10–so we've really come a long way since those days."

Still located in Burbank, where it was founded, Gerhardt Gear moved into a new 30,000 square-foot facility about two years ago, and it now has 43 employees and 13 CNC gear cutting, shaping, and inspection machines. One thing that hasn't changed is the company's relationship with the aerospace industry, which has represented about 65 percent of its business from the very beginning. "We work with Lockheed, Boeing, General Atomics, and NASA, just to name a few," says Gerhardt. "In fact, NASA honored us recently for our contribution to the Mars rovers. They sent some representatives who thanked the employees for their hard work and presented us with a plaque, so that was a good experience."

Even though Gerhardt Gear has long-standing relationships with some of the biggest names in the aerospace industry, it is by no means limited to projects on that scale. "We'll have people come in with the design for a little gizmo they've invented, and we're always glad to help them out. We also do a ton of off-road, trophy truck work," says Gerhardt, who is into racing himself. "My friends are always asking me about what we've got going on, and I'll tell them to come on in and we'll show them around. They'll see parts for an unmanned spy plane in one place, and gears for a modified truck in another, and maybe some parts for a Panavision camera, too, so they're always amazed by all the things we're involved in."

Gerhardt says that this enthusiasm is shared by the company's employees as well, all of whom play an important role in the course that a project takes through the facility. "As soon as a project hits our dock, Rudy and George will inspect it and send it through the proper channels," he explains. "It might go to Damien, in the shaper department, or to Peppy and Lauro in the hobbing department. If it needs machining, then it would go to Juan or Sergio, or to Victor in the milling department. Then, once the parts are ready, they'll by inspected by Manny or Lou. And then we have Manuel and Kurht who handle planning and purchasing, making sure that we've got all the materials that we need on hand, so we've really got a tight crew here. Everybody enjoys what they do, and they're good at it, too."

Once parts have passed inspection and are ready to be shipped, they are sent to customers all around the country and world. While most of Gerhardt Gear's clients are found in the United States, it has also shipped parts to Canada, Italy, France, England, Mexico, and Australia. Perhaps most impressive about this widespread customer base is the fact that the company does very little to market its services. "We don't have any outside sales reps, and we don't really make cold calls either," Gerhardt says, "but we probably pick up about 10 new customers every single week. And I think that has to do with our reputation. Even though we're only 22 years old, we're known for getting the job done and doing quality work as quickly as possible. On average, we'll turn a job around in three to five days, which is pretty impressive."

Even with such a short turnaround, Gerhardt says that jobs can be shipped even more quickly when required by the customer. "Tell you what, we'll even waive the expediting charge–which is usually about $500–on the first order we receive from someone who tells us that they've read this article in Gear Solutions," he says with a laugh. "I'm willing to make that kind of offer because we like to do things a little differently here. Maybe we're not that big, but we really pack a wallop."

Asked how the company dealt with the trying economic times of recent years, Gerhardt says that it took the opportunity to reinvest in its capabilities in order to be prepared for a return to normalcy. "We moved into this new building, for instance, which is an absolutely gorgeous and state of the art facility, and we've already purchased five new pieces of equipment this year alone, so we're doing well," he says. "Sure, business was down a little after 9/11, but we were able to bounce back stronger than ever. And this is turning out to be one of the best years we've ever had.

"Because the thing is, when times are tough, people still need gears. And when they need them done right, by a bunch of guys who are really into what they're doing, we want them to come to Gerhardt Gear. We work hard to be good at what we do, and we're just going to keep getting better."

For more information:
Call (818) 842-6700 or (800) 893-4042. Visit the company's Web site at [www.gerhardtgear.com].