Consolidation paves path to success


Bryan Howard and Amy Proos say the consolidated facility on Oak Industrial Drive creates more learning opportunities for employees. Photo by Michael Buck

Three years ago, Proos Manufacturing & Fabrication faced a tough decision. The company had to decide how to operate successfully as a third-generation, family-owned business.

In 2010, Amy Proos took over ownership of the business started in 1919 by her grandfather, Neal Proos.

Amy Proos said she has a desire to see the business diversify and grow, and for three years, she has worked with her leadership team to develop a strategy for achieving that vision.

The first big decision Proos and her team made was to sell the company’s Michigan Street facility and consolidate all of its operations into its 2555 Oak Industrial Drive NE facility.

The Michigan Street facility housed Proos’ operations since 1943. The location expanded over the years, growing to a 60,000-square-foot facility, but Proos said the building was choppy and the surrounding neighborhood changed so much that it was no longer a good home for an industrial business.

Proos said the Michigan Street building was sold during the first quarter of 2016, and at the same time, the company began renovations at its Oak Industrial Drive location, renovating the office space and converting 40,000 square feet of the facility for industrial use.

“We actually ended up with just a little less space here,” Proos said.

She said the layout of the building allowed for more efficiency overall than the Michigan Street facility.

“This building was always meant for manufacturing processes, so it was much more open and we were able to condense square footage,” she said.

Proos said the consolidation has had an even bigger impact on the business and its employees than expected.

“There is a lot of new synergy, and it’s creating new opportunities to take everyone to their full potential,” Proos said.

Bryan Howard, Proos general manager, said another part of the company’s strategy is focusing on employee attraction and retention, especially as competition for skilled talent increases in manufacturing.

He said Proos believes in motivating employees by providing them with increasing training and opportunities.

For instance, Howard explained one of the company’s employees came in as a temporary worker and was later hired full time as a general laborer. Through internal training, he received a promotion to press break operator and, during the past six months, has begun cross training on the company’s laser equipment.

“We invested in that individual,” Howard said.

Proos added, “Of our workforce, I would say 20 percent or more we’ve brought up through the ranks. We have engineers that have come from the shop floor. We focus on the people and what qualities they have.”

To help make the transition from one job to the next easier and more seamless, Proos also has adopted the strategy of buying equipment from one manufacturer.

“All of our equipment in our fabrication group is Trumpf equipment,” Howard said.

Proos sends handfuls of employees to Connecticut for one to two weeks of training, which it said is a big investment, but when the employees come back, they are able to adapt their knowledge to other machines as needed.

“That is what makes the company scalable,” Howard said.

He said for many small- and medium-sized manufacturers, a lack of talent inhibits growth opportunities, and Proos is determined not to let that happen.

“When I can’t find more talent, I’ve hit my ceiling,” Howard said. “We are trying to make decisions that allow us every day to raise that ceiling height and make us more scalable, so when opportunities do come, it’s easy to say yes.”

Another piece of the company’s growth strategy involves a nontraditional management structure.

Proos hired Howard a year and a half ago to serve as GM, but she said his responsibility centers on sales and other outside business, while she focuses on internal operations as CEO.

“We are kind of going against the grain of what a third-generation business owner would do,” she said. “We’ve had success because of it. Now, we are starting to demonstrate that to the floor, and it’s creating momentum and it’s creating a lot of happiness.”

Proos said the way she looks for what talents and strengths her employees have to help put them on the right track toward advancement within the company is similar to what she had to do for herself when she bought the company.

She determined her strengths and passions were internal and sought out someone who she said had the strengths she didn’t.

“That is a little different than what you’d see in most family-owned businesses,” she said. “It has been something we’ve tried, and we haven’t seen any negatives.”

Proos and Howard said in the next several years, the company plans to continue to execute its growth strategy.

“There has been this process of diversification,” Howard said. “For years, Proos was a stamper; we stamped parts for the auto industry, one after another. Then we got into some fabrication work and started changing our business some but still a lot within our current customer base. Now, we are starting to say, ‘How do we go out and find like industries or customers?’ and begin to find ways to leap frog our technology into other industries.”

He said one of the answers has been to invest in engineers.

“We really are focused on the engineering side of our business. We have five engineers on staff, a mix of full and part time, and in our industry, a company of our size, most have one or maybe two.

“We are really leaning on that technical expertise to go out and not just be your traditional fabricator who wants to make one bracket or two brackets. We are trying to develop a niche where we can provide a solution for a customer that is complete, that goes from engineering to a packaged product.”

Howard said Proos is keeping an eye on some of the trends it thinks it could benefit from and capitalize on in the future, including the decline of brick and mortar buildings and the aging baby boomer generation.

“We see brick and mortar dying, which opens up new opportunities, and we see a baby boomer generation getting older, which creates different unique needs in the marketplace.”

While Proos focused on operational level changes in 2016, Howard said the focus for 2017 is on preparing every area of the business for growth.

“2016 was a lot about the physical move and the realignment of our staff and leadership group. In 2017, now what do we need to do to free up channels?” he said.

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