Entrepreneurial Spirit Drives Innovation


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When planning coverage in Products Finishing, we always do our best to try to provide a good balance of topics and various types of coverage. But some issues of the magazine begin to take on a life of their own, expressing themes over which we as editors have little or no control and of which we did not conceive.

This issue provides a good case in point: it happens to focus on finishing businesses that are being propelled forward largely by the entrepreneurial vision of their owners.

Take a look at our feature article subjects. For editorial planning purposes, we break these down by broad technology areas: mechanical finishing, paint, powder coating, plating. But three of our four features this month describe shops that are not only surviving but are continuing to grow and evolve largely because they are imbued with an enterprising spirit.

In our mechanical finishing feature, shop owner Jerry Stenger is a self-described entrepreneur. He’s run several businesses, ranging from a remodeling company to a limousine service. The owner of Mechanical Finishing Inc. (Cincinnati) since 1992, Stenger is a believer in lean manufacturing concepts and practices and an inveterate collector of process and auxiliary equipment—he owns, for example, 47 tumbling barrels of various sizes. Only a relative handful of those are in use in the shop at any given time.

Stenger says his big flaw is that he buys too much stuff, but when he wants to do something around the shop his first stop is the warehouse. Two projects he’s working on right now are a homegrown vision inspection system for critical parts and a biodiesel conversion project that he hopes will eventually power not only his company’s trucks but also burners for process equipment in the shop.

Down in Texas, William Howard, a former CPA with absolutely no finishing industry experience, took over the reins of a Houston-based plating business in 2003. Since then, revenues have tripled and the number of employees has doubled. Howard attributes Houston Plating & Coatings’ success to a service-oriented attitude, and his company is pioneering supply-chain innovations such as satellite plants inside customer facilities that may serve as a model for finishing job shops in the future. As our story shows, it’s also spreading the word and developing good will with customers and potential customers in true Texas style.

In Toronto, entrepreneur Robert Langlois first caught the attention of Products Finishing in January 2005 when his company, Alliance Surface Finishing, announced development of a commercial process for powder coating on plastics. When he launched Alliance, Langlois had no experience with powder coating. Yet he sold one company involved in an established finishing process to take a crack at developing a powder-on-plastic process he has since patented.

In this issue Langlois is back to describe the next step in his company’s technological evolution: a powder coat finish that can simulate decorative chrome, stainless steel, or brushed aluminum appearance on nylon and other plastic substrates. Langlois expects widespread automotive and appliance industry acceptance of the process.
Coincidentally, this issue also marks the 70th anniversary of Products Finishing magazine. It was the depth of the Great Depression when Gardner Publications launched a new magazine for the finishing industry. In true entrepreneurial fashion, company founder Don Gardner looked at the dire economic situation and saw not a reason to tighten his company’s purse-strings but an opportunity to help struggling shops stay alive by improving the efficiency of their finishing processes.

“With this, the first number, Products Finishing assumes the task of searching out and disseminating the newest and best information available concerning metal finishing methods in all of its various ramifications, including cleaning, polishing, buffing, plating, lacquering, and so on,” Gardner and his editorial partner Howard Campbell wrote in that first issue.

This statement sums up the editorial mission of the magazine perfectly: Gardner saw that other magazines covered portions of the finishing industry, but no publication embraced the entire spectrum of finishing processes. That mission has remained constant, but the entrepreneurial spirit of our parent company and of the previous staffs of this magazine have resulted in many other changes over the past 70 years.

Most recently, this spirit has expressed itself in the conversion of Products Finishing from digest-size to a standard-size magazine. It’s a big switch, and it was done mainly to improve the readability and usability of the magazine for you, our readers.

Here’s to the next 70 years of innovation.