MERRIFIELD — Clow Stamping has come full circle and then some.
A few years ago, the company was — like many other area businesses — in survival mode.
Now the Merrifield-based manufacturer is on its third expansion in three years. Clow Stamping fabricates metal components for a diverse list of industries. It’s gone through highs and lows with economic changes but weathered each storm and is now breaking growth records.
The family-owned business started in the metal stamping industry in 1970. During the ‘70s, Xerox accounted for 65 percent of the company’s business. The lesson of greater stability through diversification was one they learned early, said owner Reggie Clow, president and CEO. Now the company does business with close to 500 customers.
Using laser technology and computer-assisted-design staff and punch presses and a tool department, they make items for customers in agriculture, recreation, exercise equipment, commercial refrigeration, hydraulic, lighting, computer, medical, housing, electrical, appliances, equipment like forklifts and lawn mowers, plumbing, music, computer, aircraft, vending — among a list of more than two dozen different commodities. The company creates prototypes and offers assembly and secondary operations as well.
Largest customer sectors are agriculture, including tractors and combines, and recreation from all-terrain vehicles to snowmobiles and motorcycles. Their exercise equipment work ends up in hotel fitness centers, gyms and sports facilities.
Now out of space for finished product, Clow Stamping is doubling its shipping area adding on 25,000 square feet.
“We’re extremely busy out in the plant,” Clow said.
The plant is using temporary weekend shift workers to help keep up with demand.
“We’ve got over 400 full-time employees and then if you add the temps we are up to about 440 to 450,” Clow said. “We’ve never been over 400 before. We’ve probably added 140 full-time positions in the last two years.”
In 2008 and 2009, Clow Stamping worked to lower monthly costs which were out of line with revenues during the recession. Wages and 401k contributions were frozen and salary staff took a 10 percent cut.
“We returned everything we took back and then some,” Clow said. “It’s back to normal.”
The company offers a healthy savings account, competitive wages, paid holidays, and generally gives 3 percent wage increases annually. Sunday work is voluntary.
Clow Stamping has been giving wage increases for the last three or four years.
The company is now in its fourth year of continued growth.
“We’ve probably spent more than 100 percent of our profit reinvesting in the company,” Clow said. “I think we are in a great position. We are coming up on the end of our fiscal year and it looks like we’ll end up 10 or 11 percent over last year and this will be our third double-digit increase in the last three years and we are feeling good about next year.
“The amount of new work coming in has been breaking records.”
Five years ago, Clow Stamping’s sales were about $23 million. Last year, the company did $51 million in sales and this year is on track for $58 million. Conservative expectations for 2014 are for continued growth with a forecast of $65 million in sales.
Workers at Clow Stamping are now in a position where overtime is there for the taking.
The company reduced its debt over the last five years and is now funding the majority of its growth with cash. During the last three years, Clow Stamping has spent about $16 million on capital investment.
“There is a demand for our product and our challenge is keeping up with it,” Clow said. “A couple of months ago we saw our income and orders ratchet up again to a new level.”
In the past four years, the company’s business has increased by about 90 percent. Clow Stamping is increasing its capacity to handle that demand. Managing all the new and continuing business is a challenge in itself.
“The parts you build are going to an assembly line so you have to get your parts there on time,” Clow said. “You’ve got to out-service your competitors. Service is so important.”
In 2004, there was concern for foreign competition as business went to China and India among other countries.
“We saw some of the product move but most of it came back,” Clow said. Companies found the cost savings weren’t there and foreign competitors weren’t as nimble when it came to making quick engineering changes.
“I can change a tool within a matter of days,” Clow said. “A foreign company can’t do that.”
Clow Stamping is on about 70 acres, just off County Highway 3, just north of Merrifield. This latest expansion is the company’s 12th.
“If you are an employer looking for employees, I’d much rather be here than in the Twin Cities,” Clow said.
Clow Stamping is willing to train workers and looks for employees who have a good attitude and can show up on time ready to learn, work safely and be team players. Opportunities are there for young people coming out of high school who want to stay in the lakes area and for Central Lakes College two-year technical school graduates.
“We have a great staff,” Clow said. “There are great people working here.”