When Hilton McBroom founded McBroom Electric in his parents' garage in the midst of the Depression, he couldn't have envisioned that the company would exist 75 years later-or what it would be doing.
Back then, McBroom repaired anything someone would pay him to fix. Over the years, the company evolved from repairing washers, dryers and furnace motors (and selling Maytag products) to fixing electric motors in manufacturing machinery to its current concentration-repairing and remanufacturing specialty devices used by industrial customers like the GM Marion Stamping Plant and Allison Transmission.
"Had we not [made that last transition]," owner Richard McBroom said with a laugh, "we wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation."
Since it does no business with the general public, the company now known as McBroom Industrial Services doesn't get much walk-in business at its 40,000-square-foot West 16th Street headquarters. But like all small-business owners, 62-year-old Richard McBroom-who bought the company from his uncle Milton and his father, Fred, in 1984-has learned some lessons other entrepreneurs might want to heed.
In a service-oriented business, relationships with customers and suppliers are everything, he said, "so establish and nurture your relationships."
Eric Taylor, senior territory manager for St. Louis-based Emerson Motor Technologies, said his company has been a McBroom supplier more than 30 years. He praised the company for "a very good and long-standing relationship."
Attentive, quality customer service is more important than price, McBroom said.
"Pricing comes into it," he said, "but it's not at the top of the list. Service and capability is very important. You can't be the creator of their down time."
On that account, the company gets great reviews. Chris White, superintendent of engineering and maintenance at General Motors' Marion Stamping Plant, tells the story of the time the plant had a conveyor motor fail and needed it back quickly. McBroom brought the motor to its shop, but couldn't get the parts it needed from the manufacturer. So it manufactured the parts in house.
"They were able to repair the conveyor drum and motor assembly and get it back to us in a timely manner to get it back up and running," White said. "That's just the kind of things they do to go above and beyond to help us as a manufacturing organization."
Of course, a company needs talented people to be able to pull that off. So finding good workers is key, McBroom said.
"You hear a lot of people say that," he said, "but it's the truth. We've got 45 ... employees right now, and whether they're a technician who repairs the higher-tech part of our business-[precision] spindle repair-or a customer-service person, they've got to be good."
Along those lines, if a small-business owner hires someone who can't do the job, it's best to cut them loose as soon as possible. McBroom said he learned that one the hard way.
"The people who work for you know who's doing it and who isn't," he said. "You need to, for the morale of those people, react to their needs and make the necessary corrections."
In establishing long-lasting relationships, providing quality customer service and hiring the right people, McBroom seems to have hit on a winning formula. He expects 15-percent to 25-percent growth in the next 12-18 months, which would coincide nicely with an upcoming milestone-the company's 75th anniversary this fall.