Small business profile: Winter-Fab
BY LAURIE WINSLOW World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2013
1/26/13 at 7:18 AM
When APSCO Inc. acquired a small company that offers customers a turn-key precision metal fabrication service, the buyer quickly discovered that the former owner had left a history of service and quality standards that was different from its own.
So executives went to work and started making changes to their acquisition, Winter-Fab, such as developing a local marketing strategy and making sure employees enjoyed the same benefits as the APSCO staff.
The purchase of Winter-Fab, previously known as Wil-Fab, in June 2011 was a natural progression for APSCO, a Tulsa company that manufactures pneumatic cylinders, controls and valves for the mobile, truck equipment and automotive markets. APSCO had been buying products from Winter-Fab's previous owner, specifically custom-formed consoles that were designed to incorporate its air control components as well as other parts, said Larry Mocha, owner of both companies.
"Because we saw that area of our business as an important part of our future, we wanted to acquire either the equipment for fabrication or an existing business," Mocha said.
Winter-Fab is a small fabrication company specializing in sheet metal fabrication and decorative metal. It has the capability to do the fabrication, powder coat the finished product, and silk screen custom information on the product all in one stop.
Since the acquisition, Winter-Fab's equipment has been moved into another building that is temperature controlled and significantly more comfortable. Updates have been made to the equipment.
"It took over a year to complete the move, get our machines in what we consider good condition and redefine our production processes," Mocha said.
Just as APSCO has developed a reputation for quality and a desire to develop partnerships with its customers, Mocha wants to see the same culture created at Winter-Fab.
"It serves a different set of customers than APSCO, but we want Winter-Fab to provide the same type of customer service and value that APSCO is known for," he said. "In addition, we want to grow quickly and to be profitable. We'd like our employees to be proud of where they work and to have a safe environment where they're proud to bring their families," he said.
The Tulsa World had a few questions for Mocha:
What is the single biggest thing the state or federal government could do to help small businesses thrive?
There is currently a great deal of talk about the role of regulations with business. While some regulation is necessary, over-regulation can block business growth.
The SBA has many financial resources available to small business. I've participated in SBA loans twice - once for my business and the other for the 1984 flood. Both times, the SBA did a great job of helping me yet positioning themselves to minimize this risk.
I hear about bad SBA loans, but I don't understand how that can happen. In my case, I personally guaranteed my loans and provided collateral to support the loans. SBA is a good thing; in fact, more banks should take advantage of it.
The state also provided me a "link deposit" opportunity. There are many great loan officers in Tulsa that can help small business people connect those dots. I used a private accountant to help me "package" the loan, and I think many banks have those packagers on their staffs now.
What is your opinion of how Tulsa's manufacturing sector is faring right now? The economy?
Tulsa is in a great position for manufacturing to grow. I've heard for years that manufacturing is the economic sector that generates the most wealth for an economy. I think our political leaders realize this and are trying to attract more manufacturers to our city and state.
Mike Bunney, who is senior vice president of support services with NORDAM, once told me that he saw manufacturers in other communities work together better. At one time he was an executive at Boeing, and he said that some communities had one entry point for companies like his to find solutions - and that contact then communicated with the other manufacturers.
I want that for Tulsa! I'm not competing with other Tulsa manufacturers - I want to partner with them. Working together, we can provide a manufacturing network that could be very beneficial to large companies. People like Mike Bunney, Mary Smith, who is executive director of the Oklahoma Aerospace & Defense Alliance, and others can help us make that happen. If our city focused more on making these kinds of things possible, it would be a very exciting economic situation.
Nowadays, how easy or hard is it to find qualified workers? Please explain.
It's difficult to find people to work. There are many people out of work, but they don't have the right skills. That's surprising, as Tulsa has so many resources to acquire those skills.
The world is changing so quickly that education is the only answer to keep up with it. I'm pleased to see higher education in Oklahoma keeping up with the changes. Students should be considering a college education and a technical education equally. There are so many jobs in demand that require a specific skill set. Now we need to get our people that training.
And, entrepreneurship is the "buzz word" for today. Entrepreneurial training can help people think outside the box. Tulsa Community College has entrepreneurship classes, as does Oklahoma State University.
There are so many opportunities to learn skills for today and even scholarships to help with the finance. The problem is that it is uncomfortable and difficult to find the time and energy for retraining. But our schools are adapting and are willing to work with potential students - online, evening classes, whatever it takes. You just have to want the education.
What challenges have you encountered in trying to improve the business?
We soon discovered that even though we considered Winter-Fab a “start up,” the former owner had left a history of service and quality standards that was different than our own. We also have had to develop a local marketing strategy for Winter-Fab, as we’ve primarily operated on a national level for APSCO.
We wanted Winter-Fab employees to enjoy the same benefits as APSCO employees, so in addition to providing them immediate relief with a climate controlled environment we also gave them uniforms, health insurance and other benefits. This, of course, resulted in higher costs and new financial challenges. Our break-even point has increased dramatically.
We have worked hard over the years to make sure APSCO maintains certain quality and safety standards. It’s a source of pride for us, and we feel it is an important part of who we are in our industry. For example, APSCO is ISO-certified and continually improving our processes. We also have recently been awarded the SHARP certification by OSHA. We passionately believe in this culture of quality and will not accept anything less from any of our employees or operations. It’s a culture that was new to the company we purchased, however, and difficult for them to understand. We are now on a journey that will make Winter-Fab ISO-compliant as soon as possible. Ultimately, we want it to be ISO-certified as well.
From your perspective, what does it take to ensure a company’s success? What are the core qualities or traits that distinguish a successful business?
I think we have to be willing to ask for help, and we have to be good listeners. We are fortunate in Tulsa because of the many role models available for us to watch — people like Terry May with Mesa and Paula Marshall with Bama. We have the Tulsa Regional Chamber that creates opportunities to network with successful people as well as the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance. The best part is that these successful people are willing to share.
All we, as business owners, need to do is be willing to listen and to learn. The more time you spend with successful people, the more you learn.
What is lean manufacturing exactly, and how does it play a role in making a business successful?
Lean manufacturing has been around for many years.
We can’t raise prices like we used to — we have to learn how to take waste out of our processes and improve our processes in ways that improve our bottom line. Once you “see the light,” it makes continuous improvement kind of fun. Most of my employees “get it” and are involved in trying to take waste out of our processes. Guys like me resisted learning about it until it was the only way to stay in business.
Two of the people I mentioned earlier, Terry May and Paula Marshall, have each won the Malcolm Baldrige award. This is the ultimate recognition of quality and very difficult to obtain. At one time I tried to align our corporate goals to also pursue the award. We don’t have that as a goal now, but we have accepted the journey as part of our culture. I found out that the journey is where the value is and it translates to the bottom line.
I’m proud that we are ISO-certified, but more proud of our continuous improvement culture.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing small business owners this year and over time?
The national political environment we are in seems to be one that will make many of our costs increase. Health insurance, payroll taxes, etc., are things we can’t control. I’m not sure what will happen or how we will respond, but the uncertainty is very difficult to deal with.
Small business owners need to be smarter and better educated to handle the problems of the future. We need to listen to those who we respect and stay active in our business and trade associations. We have to continue to be sharp and look for answers for the many challenges we will face. We are fortunate in Tulsa to have the necessary resources to overcome any obstacle.
Owner: Larry Mocha
Date established: June 2011
Address: 6907 E. 14th St.
Workforce size: 7
Business description: Customers get turn-key precision metal fabrication. Serving the oilfield, pipeline and vehicle industries, Winter-Fab is able to manufacture a wide range of components - from structural frame work to customized control panels and boxes. Its capabilities include silk-screening, powder coating and engraving.
Small, but significant
Despite having a number of large employers, Tulsa actually is a small-business town. About 94 percent of all employment in the metro area is at businesses that have 100 or fewer employees, according to the Tulsa Metro Chamber. And, many of those firms are very small. Approximately 80 percent of total employment is at businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
Original Print Headline: Metallic modification
Laurie Winslow 918-581-8466
Tim Stewart transfers a sheet of cut-out stainless steel vehicle parts onto a table at Winter-Fab. JAMES GIBBARD/Tulsa World