Paola Banchero, Staff Writer, ENTERPRISE
From the June 27, 1997 print edition
Using a hand-operated printing press, Dean and Bill Armstrong spent their childhood afternoons filling orders for neighborhood businesses. The dry cleaner and drug store bought printing services from the boys, who laid out, edited, printed and delivered the orders.
That early entrepreneurial venture forged Dean Armstrong's business instincts: "I learned how to watch the bottom line, how to sell a job. I knew that if I didn't buy ink or other supplies, we were out of business. I guess we learned how to get the job done."
Getting the job done is a specialty at Roller Equipment Manufacturing Co. Inc., which Armstrong helped found 20 years ago.
REMCO manufactures equipment that other companies use to make rollers, belts and hoses. These rollers are, in turn, used to manufacture products ranging from cookies to metal sheeting. REMCO also makes a number of accessories, such as polishers and groovers, used for specially covered rollers.
Hy-Dac Rubber Manufacturing Inc. makes rollers for the steel industry using REMCO's equipment. If a steelmaker wants to apply a coat of plastic to steel, Hy-Dac turns to REMCO for a groover that can carve a pattern in a roller. That pattern will meter the amount of plastic applied to the steel.
REMCO started as a joint venture with AMF Tire Equipment Division. AMF helped sell the equipment Armstrong designed and built. When AMF dissolved the division, Armstrong continued on his own with his wife, Priscilla, doing the books and other administrative tasks. Over the years, Armstrong has added engineers to the staff and 18 people now work at REMCO.
In 1996, the company pulled in revenues of $4 million, nearly double what it made in 1993. This year, Armstrong expects the company to make about $4 million again. The growth slowed because REMCO received an order early this year for five grinders before they were completely designed and built. Company officials think the company can make $5 million to $6 million in annual revenues without adding staff.
"I was going to be satisfied just making a living," Armstrong said. "But it's been a much bigger thing than that."
Armstrong, 58, finds pleasure in improving technology. He draws plans for new machines and conceives bells and whistles to enhance REMCO's current line of equipment. He understands the mechanics of this niche industry.
His willingness to modify equipment to client needs has kept longtime customers happy. REMCO has earned a reputation as an innovator in the industry.
"These guys are so far apart from the field," said John Slotten, corporate vice president and co-founder of Valley Roller Co. Inc. in Appleton, Wis. "Their concepts are second to none."
Slotten attributes one of the largest breakthroughs in the industry to REMCO. The company innovated a process to "crown" a roll of rubber, or give it a slight hump in the middle, using computer automation. The technology makes the crowned rolls more uniform, aiding in the manufacture of consistently high-quality film or paper for the printing industry.
In keeping with the spirit of improving REMCO's product versatility, Armstrong created a research and development department three years ago. The Roller Technical Center tests the design of new or updated products. The center recently conducted tests using pressures greater than 100 pounds per square inch to dry -heat cure rubber-covered rollers. REMCO customers could take part in the testing or wait to find out if they could use the technique in their manufacturing processes.
Dennis Welch, plant manager at Roll Crafters in Indianapolis, said REMCO stays tuned to his company's needs.
"They take very good care of us," Welch said. "I've been recommending them to other roller equipment manufacturers, and believe me, I don't have the time to sell their product."
The Roller Technical Center is an ideal place for REMCO to showcase its equipment to customers or prospects who come to Grandview.
Increasingly, the customers who stream into the center have an international flair. Recent visitors have come from Uruguay, Great Britain and Japan.
Overseas customers contribute a large share of the company's total revenues, said Shirley Ladner, REMCO's administrative manager. Ladner came to REMCO five years ago after working in the international departments of Continental Grain and Farmland Industries Inc. An estimated 70 percent of REMCO's business now comes from export sales.
Although REMCO had sold some of its equipment abroad before Ladner's arrival, she smoothed out the glitches.
Early on, REMCO sold a piece of machinery to Australia. Unfamiliar with the sales process, a REMCO employee returned the original letter of credit to the buyer, rather than keeping it to settle the purchase.
Luckily the Australian buyer contacted REMCO and sent the letter of credit back.
"We didn't make a lot of horrendous mistakes, but on that deal we went by the seat of our pants," chuckled Armstrong.
The international market, however, is essential to REMCO's continued health, Ladner said.
When the U.S. economy slows, the company can sell to countries whose economies are healthy. So the demand for REMCO's equipment is constant if it can find the customers, Ladner said.
Ladner, who handles letters of credit, wire transfers and other international documentation, is the international department. But the company relies on a network of distributors located in foreign countries. Satisfied customers also recommend REMCO products to prospective clients, Ladner said.
Developing countries are especially active buyers of REMCO's equipment these days. These nations used to use manual labor to produce rubber rolls and belts are now finding they can justify buying REMCO's equipment to do the work because it saves time and labor costs. The process of making a simple rubber roll on a piece of machinery called a "strip builder" takes minutes with REMCO's equipment. Making it by hand can take hours.
Rich Sexton, general manager at Hy-Dac in Smithton, Ill., said his company used to employ seven people for the job that one can do using REMCO's strip builders today. The manual process also tends to create air bubbles in the rubber, which can wear out the roller more quickly.
"The growth possibilities are unlimited for us internationally," Ladner said. "So many countries are looking for new technologies."
© 1997 American City Business Journals Inc.