The strong dollar and the expense of a new and customized website took a bite out of its bottom line in 2016, but President Fritz Ruebeck said his company, Classic Automation LLC, continues to grow.
The company sells and repairs components used in many installed control systems. These systems allow factories to manufacture a wide array of goods and control items from prison doors to automatic car washes and the steering on a cruise ship.
When they fail, it is often an emergency. Ruebeck’s employees, 40 in all, must identify if they have the needed part in the warehouse and, if so, clean it and test it to make sure it works before shipping it out posthaste.
“Thirty-five percent of our orders are emergencies, and we need to ship it the same day,” he said.
Similarly, the company handles repairs for many different components, with testing stations at its Webster headquarters configured for different brands to ensure a repaired or replaced part works within the identified control system or drive.
These parts are shipped to 80 countries since half of the company’s customers are overseas. That is why the strong dollar has taken a toll on revenues.
“For 50 percent of our business, our customers have experienced like a 30 percent price increase. So we can lower our prices, be more flexible with discounting, but some people just don’t even consider us. They’re not going to look at a company in America because it’s just going to be too expensive,” Ruebeck said.
In response, he is adding new service lines, expanding his storage space, adding a repair area for motors and placing greater emphasis on U.S. sales by hiring his first salesman.
The new hire is working out of Florida and will be looking to promote Classic Automation to potential customers throughout the Southeast. This is a test run to “see if we can grow that business there,” Ruebeck said.
Ruebeck has relied almost exclusively on the internet and word of mouth to attract business. People who have a failing component typically contact the person they bought it from or search the internet for the part number. In either case, Ruebeck counted on customers being directed to Classic Automation, which has a wide supply of parts no longer being manufactured.
With requests likely for thousands of hard-to-find parts, Ruebeck’s job involves identifying what parts are out there as factories close, as older equipment comes up for auction or someone contacts him about potential inventory. In every case, Ruebeck has to make an assessment about demand, pricing, what is worth keeping in storage and what is obsolete.
Some of that information he gets from his company data, which tells him what is selling and at what price.
“Some of it I have to go by feel,” he said.
In some cases, Classic Automation will have the only remaining part of its kind.
Last year, Classic Automation made a major investment to create its new website. The company has some 120,000 parts listed on there, Ruebeck said. He set up a small photo studio to take pictures of all the components. Every part has to be labeled and stored to ensure someone can put his or her hands on it quickly.
Ruebeck also invested recently in a 3-D printer. An older part might be unusable because of something as simple as a cracked plastic battery cover, a piece he can now replicate to put an otherwise functioning part back into circulation.
The company is expanding into new systems and product lines, which does require adding staff, and that is another challenge, said David Smith, vice president of technical operations.
“The challenge is finding capable, competent people,” he said.
Moving existing employees from old to new lines is not always possible. When it comes to technology, “the trailing edge lasts longer than the leading edge,” he said.
On the plus side, Ruebeck said, the diversity of the industries he serves means he never lacks for business. He has been hiring steadily, two or more hires per year.
“If there are any downturns in one part of the world or one type of industry, we’re protected from that. That helps us grow consistently year after year,” he said.
The Rochester Chamber Top 100 program is presented by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. The 2017 Rochester Top 100 event is slated to be held Nov. 2. For more information, go to greaterrochesterchamber.com.
Classic Automation LLC
Worldwide provider of parts, products and services to users of installed control systems and drives
Year founded: 2003
Top executive: Fritz Ruebeck, president
2016 rank: 90
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