Trying to survive an ever-changing market, National Machinery has looked at ways to grow, including broadening its international presence.
When the automotive industry took a bad turn a few years ago, owner and CEO Andrew Kalnow said the company - which designs, develops and manufactures cold forming machines that produce metal parts from coiled wire, bars, slugs, or preforms - was in a difficult situation as machine sales were low.
"The outlook for new machine sales was rather cloudy," he said. "It had become clear that while (the auto industry) boomed in the 1990s with SUVs and pick-up trucks, it was a song that was getting a little tired and lost market share. So the American market for new machinery was severely dissipated. The only growth portion of it was with Japanese transplants, which we had a small hold on, mostly because Japanese companies use Japanese equipment."
In addition, the Tiffin-headquartered company faced an issue concerning the long lifespan of its products.
"The good news, and the bad news, is that we build machines that are very good and last for a long time," Kalnow said. "We can get a higher price ... but it comes back to bite you in a certain way because you don't sell many machines as they take a long time to become obsolete."
Today, National Machinery has taken a "more balanced philosophy," in looking at ways to capitalize on its machines already in the market.
"How do you not just make money on machines once, but how do you make money in any way you can on our good name, our good product?" Kalnow asked.
"Part of the key in trying to broaden, stabilize and ultimately grow is going back to the future, and realize that we have a very rich heritage, and that translates into a large, installed base of machines. So, we're trying to make money off of that large base, and we're doing that in more and many ways, and we're doing that in a more and better way, but the other side is to think of new ways where you can make money."
The increased focus on the after-market has become a staple for the company. Today, National Machinery is doing more repairs and rebuilds of its equipment sold years ago.
Kalnow said it also has moved toward doing more in the technology division, by introducing an additional model of its FORMAX line of machines and producing the less expensive Met-MAX line.
The company also has turned its eye on the international market. An industry leader with a worldwide presence, Kalnow said it was key to add a plant in Suzhou, China, to lower costs and act as a "springboard" for the growing Asian market.
"Some people may say that having people in China is taking jobs from Tiffin," he said. "At the end of the day, it's making us more competitive and broadening the company. For every machine made in China, a meaningful amount of it is still made in Tiffin, the critical parts are made (in the United States)."
In addition, National has service centers in Rockford, Ill., Nuremberg, Germany, and Nagoya, Japan, as well as sales offices around the world.
"It's very interesting, in a small town like Tiffin, the international presence we have," said Anne Martin, human resources manager. "We have international people here on a regular basis, and that is something I think most people don't realize about National Machinery."
Although the company faced a decline in sales leading to job loss, it is working to rebuild the work force. Already this year, 15 jobs have been added, and the company hopes to add more.
Martin said National prides itself on bringing in skilled workers who stay with company. The average number years of service is 17.
And with its focus on continual improvement and increased international presence, Kalnow said has high, but realistic, hopes for the future.
"There is no doubt that I see, desire and am planning on not just National surviving, but trying to broaden its footprint and ultimately have some growth," he said. "I envision, dream that we could do other things here in Tiffin than just build the machines that we build today."