How did you get into this business, Gene?
Well, I was a truck driver before, and when I lost my job I had the chance to start a business with a couple of other guys in 1983. Then, in 1994, Chuck Schulz and I decided to buy everyone else out and we became the sole owners. We were known for repairing and rebuilding Sundstrand machines, and we bought the Van Norman line and sold parts and accessories for their milling machines, as well as for Atlantic jig borers. Then we realized that there was a market for maintaining Barber-Colman machines, and that′s when we approached Terry McDonald about joining the company. He was introduced to us by a friend of mine who′d worked with Terry at Barber-Colman for many years, and we offered him a deal where he could buy into the company if he′d become our resident expert, which he has done.
Do you stock or work on other gear machines?
Occasionally we do, if we run across a good deal that we can’t refuse, but mostly we try to stick to our area of expertise—Sundstrands, Van Normans, and Barber-Colmans. There are a lot of companies out there that just want to get bigger and bigger, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but when that happens the little guy sometimes gets left behind. We’re not out to conquer the world, and we don’t want to step on other people. We see ourselves as being the company that’s here for the little guy. I do have one Pfauter on the floor, but it’s been sitting there for awhile. In terms of the machines we specialize in, we’ll usually have about 150 different pieces of equipment in inventory. We have rooms full of parts, though, and that’s where we get into some other lines.
RPI is known for helping small companies get started, and for helping existing companies expand their manufacturing capabilities.
That′s right. We′ll have a company come to us and say “We make this widget, and we want to buy the equipment we need to put a gear on this widget, but we don′t know how.” Well, Terry knows how, and so does Chuck, so we can help them make the right decisions about the type of machines they need, and we can also teach them the right way to approach the manufacturing process. We′ll do a turnkey package for them, including tooling and installation, and if something goes wrong, we′ll be there to make it right. But it′s always a good idea for the customer to do a little legwork and figure out what the problem is for themselves, because sometimes we can help them fix the problem over the phone without having to go to the expense of a site visit or shipping the machine to our shop. But we′re always available to send our technicians to their plant if that′s what′s required. Anything they need us to do, we can handle it.
Where are you customers found?
Mostly here in the United States. We′ve shipped outside the country before, and we′re always open to new opportunities, but our niche so far seems to be working with companies here in the States. And I like it that way, because I really enjoy talking to the people and helping them out when I can. And every once in a while you′ll make a sale, and that′s always nice.