One of my goals with the articles I write is to highlight and support local successful companies. Success can be defined in different ways. In some cases it may mean surviving during difficult economic times, and in others, it may be mean blowing the competition away. Either way, success means different things to different people, and today I would like to highlight a Niagara company that has not only survived during difficult economic times, they have also learned to thrive.
Hamill Machine Company Inc.
Hamill started operation in 1948 as a general machine shop in Niagara Falls and with the leadership of current owners Bob and Gaye Benner, who took over the company in 1998, has grown from 3 employees to 15 at this time. The company started as a general machine shop but now specializes in custom machined parts for various industries and specifically wine and food producers in Canada and the U.S.
During my tour of the plant, I was very impressed by the team of employees that were truly engaged in what they were doing. I met with their in-house engineer who was more than happy to explain to me how they can take a part and reverse engineer it from a sample using 3D technology. This technology allows them to design parts much quicker than before saving time and money versus designing the part from scratch.
Like I mentioned in previous articles, Niagara is no stranger to a loss of manufacturing businesses and jobs over the last few decades. With this, companies like Hamill worked hard to survive all while losing some keys customers. Mr. Benner mentioned that they lost over 10% of their business when companies like the Maid of the Mist and Redpath Sugar left the region. Despite a loss of business, the Benner’s were determined to succeed so they could keep people employed.
Adapting to Negative Conditions
Understanding that certain sectors are more difficult to deal in due to fluctuating economic conditions, Hamill has tended to avoid the automotive, oil and steel sectors and has favoured those with more stable outlooks. Adapting to the changing environment, Hamill explored and was successful in moving more of its business to other areas of the food and beverage sector. With 60-70% of their business currently in this area, they have learned to focus their attention where business growth is possible and more stable. In order to make up for the loss of 10% of their business, they turned their focus to the wine industry which is a huge part of Niagara’s current success.
In a previous article I talked about the growing wine business in Niagara and it is clear that Hamill Machine has taken advantage of that growth. They currently service all aspects of the wine industry from engineered barrel racks, tank installation, and custom change parts.
They say that “necessity is the mother of invention” and this is evident at Hamill. Through contacts in the industry, Mr. Benner realized that there was a need for a higher quality wine barrel racking system. The customary system used very heavy, cumbersome steel racks but Hamill designed a basic but very effective aluminum racking system that is easily customizable and movable for easy access by the winemakers. While more expensive to purchase, their aluminum racks only weigh 27lbs versus 49lbs for the steel ones, don’t need painting, don’t rust and specific to Hamill’s product quality, they are stamped with a Professional Engineers design approval; something rare in the industry.
Additionally, Hamill’s designed a newer type of racking system that allows wine barrels to be rolled without moving the whole rack. This innovative product helps winemakers save time and reduce the risk of moving very heavy barrels.
Future Growth for Hamill Machine
Bob and Gaye Benner plan to grow their business but as a relatively small operation, they needed help. They looked no further than Brock University and Niagara College. Brock was extremely helpful by working with Hamill to create business and market plan. Niagara College helped by creating a practical approach to product pricing. According to Mr. Benner, “both programs at Brock and Niagara College have offered value by helping local business owners find ways to improve their business”.
As a next step, Hamill Machine decided to hire an outside company to do most of their marketing and sales in the wine market. The company they used is already well entrenched in the wine business across North America and they saw this as a way to access other large wine markets without having to hire their own internal sales staff. This allows Hamill to focus on what they do best; design and produce end products.
Another area of growth for Hamill came in the form of a Laser Cutting machine. This machine allows them to make a part, which in the past took 16 hours to produce, now only takes 20 minutes. For a full turnaround, if an customer had a part that needed replacing, it would take about 6 weeks to get one from the manufacturer, 2-3 days to have one made by one of their competitors with no laser cutter, and about 3 hours for Hamill to deliver the part to a local customer or overnight for one out of the area; talk about efficiency! This technology not only saves his customers money, they also have substantially less down time for their own machines; resulting in more loyal customers and higher margins on their sales.
The last area of growth for Hamill Machine is in the, what he calls, Change Parts business for the beverage bottling industry. He sees this as a big part of their growth profile and a potential for at least a 20% increase in sales over the next few years.
I wish Hamill Machine all the success for the future!