Q&A with Gregory English President & Owner of Air Dimensions
by Boardroom Brief Staff on December 09, 2011
1. You are part owner and President of Air Dimensions, Inc., a South Florida based company which engineers and manufactures high precision diaphragm pumps and compressors. Can you define for us who your customer is, what industries you serve and some of the more unique applications of your product?
Basically, there are many companies out there who make inexpensive diaphragm pumps designed to move regular, old air similar to a fish tank pump or a compressor pump to fill a car tire. This is what we would call an ambient air pump, which is not our target market. At Air Dimensions our niche in the pump market is the sampling of corrosive and hazardous gases for industrial applications. Our Primary business is manufacturing pumps for environmental or process sampling applications. A typical refinery smoke stack is an excellent example where our pumps are used to pull a sample from the stack and deliver it without contaminating the sample to a computer or analyzer to be tested and reported to the EPA. Also, our pumps are used for chemical applications to test the purity of the process gas.
Many of the gases coming out of a smoke stack or automotive testing facility are at a high temperature and in some cases the best way to get a true sample is to keep the gas hot through the pump and into the analyzer to be tested. Air Dimensions manufactures heated head pumps whereby the customer can use heated sample lines directly from the source into our heated head sample pumps and onto the analyzer to be tested. We can heat the pump head up to 400 Degrees F which will prevent liquid from condensing in the pump or the very expensive analyzer. This provides a pedestrian version of of some of the unique applications of our product.
2. Since the company was founded by your father over 40 years ago, Air Dimensions, Inc. has been 100% exclusively owned and operated in the United States. In today’s increasingly global landscape, what are some of the unique challenges facing USA owned and operated businesses in the manufacturing and industrial sectors in Florida? What should our policy makers focus on to help build industry in the United States and prevent further production moving overseas?
We face many challenges when manufacturing in Florida and one of the main difficulties is finding vendors who manufacture their goods in the USA which is important for our company. Quite simply, we find the quality of many foreign parts to be unacceptable. In addition, excessive long lead times prevent us from maintaining a delivery schedule to which our customers have become accustomed.
As a result, we perform much of our own machining in-house so ADI can control inventory needs, assure top quality and customize our pump parts to meet customer requirements. Some exceptions do exist where we are forced to purchase a particular motor certified to a specific country’s standards, such a GOST certified motor for hazardous areas in Russia or an ATEX certified motor for use in Europe. In these cases the motor manufacturer is located overseas and we really have no other choice.
Another obstacle facing our business is locating qualified engineering talent in Florida. We addressed this challenge by hiring engineering interns from Florida Atlantic University; many of which have become permanent employees and are now a valuable part of our operations.
As any business owner knows; it would be wonderful to someday see our health insurance costs rise with the rate of inflation and these double digit annual increases really impact small business. At ADI, we have taken advantage of the accelerated depreciation of capital investments to purchase the latest, most efficient manufacturing equipment and techniques. This tax savings is crucial to further reducing our overall manufacturing costs allowing ADI to be more competitive worldwide.
3. The basic tenant driving the enduring success and growth of your company is the superior quality of your product combined exceptional customer service. For example, in some situations when a client experiences equipment failure and a new pump or parts are required immediately, Air Dimensions can provide emergency shipping within 24 hours. How else does your company set itself apart from the competition in terms of responsiveness to your customers’ needs?
If a chemical plant or refinery cannot produce their product due to a down sample pump, the loss could literally be in the millions of dollars. Similarly, if a power or manufacturing plant cannot provide the EPA with continuous data on their emissions, they could be fined by the government for hundreds of thousands of dollars and/or forced to shut down.
We have had instances where we will drive the pump to the airport for same day shipments. Basically, at ADI we do whatever it takes to keep our customers 100% satisfied. Air Dimensions has 4 sales engineers in our office that can efficiently assist our customers with engineering and design applications. For example, many of our European customers tell us that they can receive an ADI pump from Florida before our competitors (located in Germany) can even supply a quote! Additionally, our QA department tests every pump that is shipped, so our customers are confident the pump received is ready to use.
The engineering support we offer is second to none. Our philosophy is to work with our customers upfront before the pump is sold to ensure the pump selected is absolutely the right pump for their particular application and this helps helps eliminate problems after start up. The corrosive and hazardous nature of the applications we deal with can be very demanding on any material, let alone one with moving parts such as a pump. In this instance, technical experience is vital, but really, it is our desire for 100% satisfaction that drives this assistance and another reason our customers rely on ADI for their diaphragm pumps.
The plant technicians who work on our equipment are often required to climb hundreds of feet up a stack if a pump fails. This may be in the dead of winter, in extreme heat, or on a holiday. So you can imagine their desire and appreciation for a pump that works continuously through extremely tough conditions.
4. To remain competitive in today’s marketplace you have consistently focused on improvement through a variety of different manufacturing strategies. What innovative marketing strategies have you put in place in response to changes in the industry, to enhance productivity, reduce waste and continue to provide optimum quality of your product?
It’s funny, 10 years ago we used our fax machine nonstop and we needed sales representatives throughout the US and abroad. Today, due to the internet, email, web site and the invention of the GPS, we are able to stream line our sales/marketing departments to become more efficient.
ADI no longer utilizes exclusive sales reps; rather, I or one of our sales engineers will go and see our customers directly. It cannot be understated how important GPS navigation has become for this task. In the past, one of the most valuable skills of a sales rep would simply be getting around a big city to see Integration/OEM customers or to find a plant in the middle of nowhere. Now with this technology, it has become an afterthought – enabling us to develop more one-on-one relationships directly with our customer base.
Because customers can contact our factory directly through phone, email, or web we are able to provide a direct link between the customer and ADI; passing the sales commission savings onto the customer. It is a win/win for our customers. . By using internet based phone calling for overseas, we are easily able to keep in touch with our international customers for a fraction of the price it cost just a few years ago. On the marketing side; 95% of our advertising dollars are now spent on internet based opportunities such as web site development, product updates, search engine optimization, and web based advertising. We also stay connected with social media outlets LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
5. As an experienced owner and operator of an established and successful U.S. based business, what do you feel are some of the hidden costs and growing risks associated with outsourcing production to countries outside of the United States, specifically China?
Ultimately, ADI will never outsource any aspect of our business because we cannot afford to lose the control and quality of our product. Perhaps in a less precise industry it would be less of a challenge. However, many of our pump parts have tolerances down to a few thousands of an inch which is difficult to control from 10,000 miles away. Additionally, because our business deals with sophisticated equipment and technology that is paramount to industrial operations we can’t rely on the unpredictable nature of outsourcing.
I know of companies that outsourced their production to Mexico, for example, only to close the operation12 months later due to poor quality and a lack of a consistent, dependable workforce. The end result was when they returned their operations back to the US, most of their customers had moved on to competitors and they ended up bankrupt within in 2 years. I believe the same principle is true when outsourcing to other countries such as India and China. Certainly you can save money by manufacturing in countries with lower labor costs and less regulation. But my belief is that at the end of the day, you get what you pay for in return.