To most passersby, the small beige building located at 8155 Huron St. in Dexter, Mich., has little significance. But for the 22 employees at Alpha Metal Finishing Co., it represents triumph over an economic recession that has plagued thousands of American workers.
Alpha Metal Finishing is celebrating its 36th anniversary this year, and after battling the ups and downs of sales, coupled with tumultuous management practices and the untimely illness of company founder Bob Wood that almost forced its extinction, the company is recording unprecedented growth.
“We have been up 20 percent in sales for each of the past two years,” says Greg Wood, chief operating officer. “We haven’t seen this level of sales volume and excitement in 12 years.”
The company specializes in anodizing services for manufacturers, including Terumo Cardiovascular Systems and Quest Bowhunting.
“Our customers come from a variety of industries (sporting goods, military, aerospace and medical device manufacturing), and it’s important for their finished products to be corrosion resistant,” Wood says. “When they come to us, they are looking for decoration and durability. We are passionate about making parts look great and last longer.”
Founded in 1976 by Wood’s father, Bob, the business has come a long way from its humble beginnings in an 8,000-sq-ft building on North Main Street in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“When dad bought the business, it was just a blip on the radar of local manufacturers,” Wood says.
By the late 1990s, the company had moved into its current home on Huron Street and was averaging $3 million in sales, with 76 employees and three shifts, five days a week. At that time, Alpha provided services for IBM and AMD, two well-known names in the technology world.
But like a lot of manufacturers in the past decade, those numbers slowly began dipping in 2007, until the company was forced to cut production to four days a week and slash its staff of 76 employees to fewer than 10 by 2010 just to keep its doors open.
When Wood joined the company in 2010, he immediately went to work applying his sales, leadership and information technology background to breathe new life into the company. Prior to Alpha Metal Finishing, he served three years as an account executive at GetService, an information technology firm based in Grand Rapids, Mich. He has a degree in personnel administration from Michigan State University.
“We either had to change our strategy or let the company die, and we weren’t going to let the company die,” Wood says. “For me, it’s about thriving, not just surviving.”
The company underwent a massive transformation in 2010, including everything from a revamped website and social media campaign, to a change in the management structure, a remodeled lunch room, sales incentives and professional development goals for employees.
These improvements, along with a redefined culture that promoted teamwork and employee participation in process decisions, have led to a much higher level of quality, Wood says.
The company performs Type II and Class 1 and 2 conventional soft-coat anodizing, as well as Type III and Class 1 and 2 hard-coat anodizing. It also provides Type I and II chromate conversions.
“In addition to quality, rapid turnaround and attention to detail are the major deciding factors for most of our new customers,” Wood says. “We wanted to change the culture of Alpha back to what my dad envisioned, with a heavy emphasis on taking care of our employees and our customers. Everything was done with a sense of urgency.”
The gamble paid off, and now the business is slowly climbing back from the brink of bankruptcy, hiring its 22nd employee earlier this year.
“It was painful to go through the management change,” Wood says. “Unfortunately, those that didn’t agree with our new direction ended up leaving. But by March of 2011, things started gelling again.”
Wood promoted Laurie Armstrong to sales and general manager of the company. Armstrong had owned Integrity Cleaning Group for three years and has a degree in public relations from Eastern Michigan University. Her primary responsibilities at Alpha include leading the quality, production and process departments to ensure that Alpha provides superior quality, rapid turnaround and outstanding customer service to clients.
Company founder Bob Wood said bringing his son on board, as well as hiring Armstrong for the sales and marketing leadership, has helped the company tremendously.
“It is not very often that you can find two individuals with such a broad background in business development,” says Bob Wood, who remains president of Alpha Metal Finishing. “As a previous small business owner, Laurie understands the fundamentals of daily operations and the importance of retaining clients in a waffling economy. Greg has a strong pulse on sales, web marketing and social media strategies, and how to use these tools to generate revenue.”
A Second Family
Production Manager Debbie Haynes has been with the company for 27 years, and said she enjoys being part of a team that focuses on quality customer service.
“The people who work here are like a second family,” she says. “Bob is a very caring person and he takes care of his employees. Last month, we broke our sales numbers, which hasn’t been done in the past 12 years. It’s a great feeling to see the company rebounding. For a while I was afraid I was going to lose my job.”
Lissa Fisher, who has been with the company for 24 years, said she feels “safe” working for Alpha Metal.
“It’s one of Dexter’s best-kept secrets,” Fisher says. “The employees are treated very well. From a female perspective, there aren’t a lot of manufacturers that are sympathetic toward women in the workplace. Here, I don’t have to worry about losing my job if I have to take off of work because my kids are sick.
“When you find a job that fits into your life, as chaotic as life gets, that’s huge. There are not that many businesses around that concern themselves with their employees’ lives outside of work.”
Quality Assurance Manager Jamie Barrus agrees, saying that, after the company was forced to lay her off in 2001, she was one of the first employees hired back a year later.
“Changing the culture of the business back to Bob’s original beliefs of faith, family and work was a big leap forward,” Barrus says. “Prior to Greg stepping up, I don’t think I would have ever thought about staying here. Now, with the dramatic changes that have been made and the improvement of Alpha’s quality, it’s exciting to work here and see our customers take notice. It has been wonderful to have Alpha invest in my education and career development.”
Even the company’s temporary workers began to take notice after the leadership change.
“We’ve had several temps turn down better-paying jobs at Ford and other larger companies because they liked the atmosphere here,” Fisher says. “We look out for each other and help each other out.”
Greg Wood said he is looking forward to many more years with Alpha Metal Finishing in the community and he expects sales to continue to grow well into the future with plans for expansion.
Bob Wood says it’s good to have his company running strong again.
“Over the years, we have won the trust and loyalty of our customers because of our core values,” he says. “Never losing sight of what put us on this journey is what drives the business today. I am grateful to our customers who have remained loyal all these years.”
Daniel Lai is a writer with Patch.com. For more information on Alpha Metal Finishing, please visit Alphametal.com.
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