Three Generations, One Industry

Engineered Seals and Components
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

What makes Engineered Seals and Components instructive is not its product lineup, but that it outgrew its founders’ intentions because that’s what customers wanted. “It was supposed to be small scale, but that, however, did not work out,” says the company’s president.

Located in Spencer, Iowa, Engineered Seals and Components (ESC) was established in 2006. Its founder, Paul Lair, had previously been in a similar business for 43 years, but had decided to retire, and sold his original concern in 2001.

But, according to Paul, “Ambition, drive, and a lousy golf game forced me out of retirement to form a new seals manufacturing and distribution company.” Engineered Seals and Components was born.

In the first few years after Paul’s return, customers hearing of his re-entry into the market were reaching out – as President Trish Ackerman put it – to “work very hard at changing our minds from being a small specialized steel business to going back into the old business.”

Customers were drawn to the quality and service that they’d come to expect from the previous company. As Ackerman noted, “It was supposed to be small scale, but that however did not work out. Many of our old customers have come back, so we are continuing to grow,” though that growth is now carefully controlled and methodical.

What customers want, customers get
As Ackerman explained, “We had to change our whole business plan. It’s not what we wanted, it’s what the customers wanted, and we had to go back into production.” Of course, that meant adding tooling capabilities and the resources required to produce its own products.

It says a lot for your reputation when your customers force business growth on you.

ESC is esteemed for its wipers, backups, piston seals, wear rings, and custom machined and custom molded seals. All products are backed by the support of in-house engineering expertise, full-service sealing specialists, as well as kitting and assembly services and prompt shipping.

In 2010, after graduating from college, Paul and Trish’s son Bryan Lair joined the family business as plant manager, ushering in a new era of growth through innovation, new technologies. and improved workflow throughout the operation.

“Good at a handful of things”
Once a four-person operation, the company has grown to thirty-two employees today. Last year, the decision was made to double the footprint of its operation and it continues to grow its capacity without compromising levels of quality and service. Bryan Lair says, “We don’t want to be kind of good at everything; we want to be really good at a handful of things.”

The commitment to quality is deeply rooted and demonstrated repeatedly in the products and service it delivers. “We control the quality of our products,” said Trish, of the proudly domestically-manufactured output. “It’s not made overseas and shipped to us. We control it here. We have so many check points before anything leaves here.”

There’s no doubt this contributes to the high rate of satisfaction demonstrated by the company’s customers.

The company leadership points out that the focus on quality begins long before production does, with material selection. Bryan notes, “We are very particular when it comes to material choice. We do a lot of testing to prove out what materials we like, and we also test out a lot of our competitors’ parts to see how they stack up against our own.”

To ensure quality remains the highest priority, ESC invests unremittingly in its operational and administrative resources, and its ability to consistently bring its customers around the globe the very best in class.

High-tech equipment supported by industry-leading expertise is a recipe for success and has helped the company sustain the growth it has shown since day one.

The maturing approach
“Whenever we have implemented a new product line, we have tried to mature our process over a two-year period before we ramp up production and offer it to other customers. We’re usually kind of selective,” says Bryan.

This strategy, which seems both deeply conservative and highly unusual, enables the company’s structured growth – as previously mentioned – while maintaining the quality of its output. Maybe this approach shouldn’t be a rare as it is.

The result is that the company currently has a list of would-be customers willing to wait for the opportunity to enter a relationship that a carefully controlled number of clients currently enjoy.

To gain a market edge in a market with a relatively small pool of large clients, it’s important – no, essential – to be the best. This means manufacturing the best products, as well as offering the highest levels of service. ESC apparently excels in both capacities.

As Paul notes, “Some of our markets are not overwhelmed by other manufacturers,” citing the wear-ring market as an example. “It’s more of a technical product than you’d think, and we happen to have some of the best expertise that there is because we’ve been doing it for so long.”

Agile responses
Further to having outstanding expertise in-house, ESC is agile and responsive and quickly adapts to meet customers’ changing needs as they arise, often doing so without change fees or expedited service charges. The company’s first priority is to be a dependable resource for customers, and one that offers exceptional service.

“One of the things that helps us grow is that we are more nimble than some of the bigger companies, so we can meet demands a little quicker. I think there is still an appetite for a company that will do that, versus behemoth companies that just do business their way,” says Paul.

Bryan concurs. “When a customer needs a particular part, we can turn around and make a tool in a few days and have a good part in their hand within the week. That has definitely been one of our growth factors.”

When customers call ESC, they can expect their call to be welcomed and their queries to be addressed, as an automated answering service would be an unthinkable breach of the company’s personal approach and culture. For the company, this is an important part of service provision.

“We answer the phone,” said Bryan. “You can get factory support. With a lot of companies you get support through their distributors, where with us, you can call us directly and we will help you.” A small thing but of great value to customers when they need help the most.

Good quality choices
It’s hard to believe that the intention was never to grow ESC to the level of success it has achieved, given the strategic approach taken by the company. With hindsight, quality products, responsive service, and unparalleled expertise were always going to secure determined customers (who even press business on you!), especially a group of previous customers who found themselves in a market void, as Paul Nair’s clients did when he ‘retired’ in 2001.

When asked about the future growth trajectory of the company, Trish responds thoughtfully.

“We are not going to grow rapidly, we are going to go at steady growth with good quality products, making good quality choices,” she said.

“We just took on another company that, for four or five years, we had been saying no to because they are so large, but we did take them on.” There’s a testament to how selective the company has been to date to ensure sustainable growth, and to sustain its impetus over three generations.

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