CINCINNATI - What does it take for a family business to survive and thrive for 25 years or more? Our weekly feature shares the secrets to success of local businesses with staying power.
General Chain Manufacturing Corp. (Wire Form Division)
- What: Maker of custom wire forms and sub-assemblies (steel component parts made from bent steel rods and wires) for manufacturers of cars, lawn and garden equipment, golf carts, etc.
- Where: 3182 Beekman Street (Queensgate), Cincinnati
- Founded: 1872. The company has been in the Schaumloffel family (the business' current owners) since 1917.
- Number of employees: 30
Originally known as the Cincinnati Pump & Mfg. Co., John Martin Schaumloffel purchased the company in 1917. The name was changed to General Chain & Mfg. Corp. in 1961 and the business focused on manufacturing well pumps and RFD Mail Boxes (which led to chain manufacturing and then custom wire forming).
By 1972, with the pump, mailbox and chain businesses fading out (due to foreign competition), the company changed focus again to embrace current business demands and today strictly makes wire forms and sub-assemblies.
Meet the Bosses, Eric and Kip Schaumloffel
The president is Eric Schaumloffel (above right). His son Kip (above left) currently serves as senior vice president and handles most of the day to day operations.
Q & A with Kip Schaumloffel
Who are your customers?
We're manufacturers who supply the manufacturers. Our business is about 60 percent automotive (the Big 3 and most major Japanese and Korean Companies), and 40 percent other OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) --telecom, lawn/garden Equipment, ariculture and industrial air filtration."
What's great about doing business in this region?
Cincinnati is at a crossroads of major interstates. We have direct access to the Southeast and upper Midwest. Being in a central location in the U.S. makes us very accessible for supply chains across the country.
What's challenging about doing business in this region?
The lack of skilled help that understand the trade. Once upon a time, Cincinnati was known for machine tool and die and mechanical engineering. I don't know what happened or what caused it, but the trade schools for a period of time -- starting probably in the 80s-- they basically contracted in their enrollment; there was just not a lot of young people studying the trades.
We are starting to hopefully see some of that coming back with Cincinnati State and the Great Oaks Career Campuses. That's usually where we would go (to find qualified employees) and even at those places, it was like pulling teeth to find people. Habits have changed. Consumption has changed. At the end of the day, that was one of the things that was so frustrating to watch in the late 1990s and through the 2000s, everyone was saying we're going to become a service economy and everything's going tech.
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Yeah, there's obviously been massive growth in tech and innovation, but somebody still has to make these things. So there was a huge vacuum that was created in the trades because young people simply didn't want to get their hands dirty.
What has proven to be the key to your longevity?
There's two different kinds of business in our industry: There's massive-volume business, and then there's lower-volume, more specialized type process, which you can't just run on one machine. There are secondary operations that must be performed on them that requires a little more skill in engineering and design.
That's really where our niche is. We find that people -- even in our industry looking in from the outside -- will think we are direct competitors. But actually they're on a more automated scale. They're running mass volume and they end up looking to us to supply parts that they just don't want to get involved in because it doesn't fit their model or the way they work. Their economy and scale just don't apply. we're probably never gojng to be the biggest, but we grow a little bit at a time and we stay consistent. We try to adapt to changing economic conditions while constantly finding niche opportunities."
Fill in the blank: "I bet you didn't know...." about General Chain
That I'm a partner at Peak 38 Media Broadcasting (which builds and manages digital radio stations).
Connect with General Chain
(Photos courtesy of General Chain)