Under new ownership, one engineering firm is going through transformation, reassessment and reflection as it reaches out to a new generation of clients and looks for growth in new industries.
“We jumped into this feet first, and it took us a good six months to figure out what had to be done” involving every facet of the company, said Dave Wensel, president of LB&W Engineering Inc. in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, the past two years.
In July 2015, employees Wensel, Edward Dawe and Justin Kern bought into LB&W. Most of the company’s original owners were retiring. The only member that stayed on at that time is Michael Washer, who is the firm’s vice president.
The engineering firm, which specializes in designing systems for material handling, has been a fixture in the Lehigh Valley since it opened in 1992. Its clients include cement plants, lime facilities, sand quarries and the aggregate industry.
Dawe, director of engineering, acknowledges that the role of ownership “was a real eye-opener and learning experience.”
The new owners quickly found that they had their work cut out for them as they assumed responsibility of all areas of the firm, from finances and payroll to management of employees and health care packages.
$4M-$5M REVENUE ANNUALLY
According to Dawe, the company’s annual revenue generally is $4 million to $5 million. LB&W has seven employees and uses local staffing firms for more help if needed for projects.
Wensel and Dawe said they are adapting to their new roles in the company and are reconnecting with long-standing clients, some of whom have loyally remained with the company for years.
“Our customers, the main thrust of our business, are stone quarries, cement plants, lime plants and any industry dealing with mining and processing of raw materials,” Dawe said.
Design services include system processes at cement, lime, batching and blending facilities and structural and foundation work and hazardous material handling.
SAME CLIENTS, DIFFERENT CONTACTS
Dawe said one challenge for LB&W has been maintaining relationships with longtime clients. It seems that contacts at client companies are retiring, moving on and being replaced with a new wave of management.
“People are being replaced,” Dawe said, and then it becomes about forming different relationships.
Wensel said the firm should consider establishing a social media presence, since it does not do much advertising.
Clients arrive by word-of-mouth and will contact the firm when they need updates to their plant or are building a new facility. Often, clients expect face-to-face interaction and more of a hands-on approach.
Wensel said many of the firm’s clients are outside Pennsylvania in other states and countries such as Canada.
The LB&W team does its share of traveling, going to the site of a project, meeting the client, performing site surveys, doing measurements and learning the layout.
“A lot of what we do anymore involves 3-D design, not the 2-D design that has been around forever,” Wensel said.
According to Dawe, the 3-D design is a trend that engineering firms anticipate will stick around and has kept the profession highly competitive.
“Essentially, we are building a representative model and developing it into a walk-through. We can show our client, ‘Here is what your plant will look like.’ Clients need to visualize the project,” Dawe said.
Dawe and Wensel see a future for LB&W in designing process systems for manufacturing and other industries.
“We are looking to diversify into other types of industry,” Dawe said. “… You have food manufacturers focusing on automated equipment, the postal service with their power conveyors and sorters … everything becoming mechanized and automated.”
He added that broadening technology opens up more work for the material handling engineering firm.
“There will always be opportunities within the food processing industry,” Wensel said. “Families will always need food, and they will always have pets that need food. We recognize that the focus should be looking into those industries.”