Starting your own industrial repair business is an exciting and terrifying venture. What do you need to know? What unexpected challenges will you encounter? What industry specifics do you not know?
Mike and Christine (Chris) Rossi, owners of Rossi Machinery Services, know this feeling well. Based in Ashland, Ohio, the Rossis service and sell a variety of machines in primarily the Cleveland and Columbus areas. In 1986 Mike was working for an OEM and decided to go out on his own. He and his wife Chris started their business as a part-time gig to supplement his full-time work.
Over the years, their company grew into a broad industrial repair, rebuild, and machine sales business. Since opening their doors, they have experienced the ups and downs that every business owner goes through. Recently, they were kind enough to share their challenges, thoughts, and keys to success with UP!
Challenges are inevitable in any business venture. No matter your niche or your business model, you will have to overcome adversity at some point. The Rossis encountered three primary challenges: finding qualified help, adapting to communication changes in the industry, and finding a convenient location.
As the skills gap in the manufacturing industry has increased, qualified help that has both the knowledge and the work ethic to represent your business has become difficult to find. For the Rossis, they wanted to stay away from “trunk-slammers” – people with minimal skill and experience who often do not present themselves or their company favorably. “We once had a subcontractor who changed in the parking lot of the client they were servicing for us – definitely not the image we want,” Mike says. “Our subcontractors and employees represent us. We decided to move to training our own employees to provide best-in-class service to our customers and build our own brand.”
Modes of communication have changed significantly since 1986 when Mike started Rossi Machinery Services as a part-time venture. “We started with a pager and payphones, and luckily that didn’t have to last very long because that was a bad model,” Chris says. “As soon as cell phones were available Mike started with that and it was huge. We started to realize really quickly that if we were going to be field service people, we had to have tools that allowed us to do things remotely. Today’s world really leans into this virtual use as well.”
How easy is it to get to your customers? Since the Rossis’ customers were spread across a wide geographic area, easy access to highways to reach those areas was important. Mike and Chris were able to find a good location with a complex that allowed them to rent the space they needed as their business grew. The complex managers allowed them to move within that location several times as they needed more space. “It was a good location convenient to the highway as well, and when we moved to Ashland, we found a good location with access to various highways so we can travel easily,” Mike says. “One of the reasons why the machine line we sell was attractive to us was because of our central location. We can support Cleveland and Columbus from where we’re located.”
A lot of unexpected expenses come up when you want to expand your business. Some of these are more obvious, such as the cost of vehicles and travel. However, some costs can sneak up on you and actually prevent you from going after bigger clients.
“Liability insurance is not cheap in this field because you’re working on really expensive and dangerous machines,” Mike says. “You think, ‘okay, I’m going to go after this big, great customer,’ but if you don’t have $2 million to $3 million in liability insurance, you’re not even coming in the door. If you’re not prepared for that, it’s a bit of a shock.”
When your business grows, you come to a tipping point where you need to hire more employees. However, those employees need healthcare and other benefits. The question becomes, how many benefits should you offer in order to attract and retain great employees? “In addition to healthcare, we also give stipends and incentives for bigger jobs,” Chris says.
Keeping track of all the financials is a vital part of any business, but it’s expensive to hire someone who specializes in accounting. Chris ended up going back to school for accounting and now manages the money side of the business. “When we started, I began in the dining room on a card table because it was just part-time. I graduated to the basement with my own office so I could keep an eye on the kids, and then when the business grew, I moved over to the complex with Mike. I can get most accounting handled; I do have another person that can go over trickier transactions to make sure I don’t miss anything. It’s unexpectedly costly to hire someone to do all that.”
Each company is different, but there are several keys to success that can apply no matter the industry or what’s important to you as a business owner.
At the end of the day, it’s important to have a clear vision for what you want your company to achieve and stick to your mission. For the Rossis, they established their mission before they opened their doors: “Our mission to the customer is to provide the highest quality products and services that will increase their ability to compete in this highly competitive industry, while working within their budgets.”
Rossi Machinery Services is a company built on honesty and transparency. Whether the client needs a rebuild or a new machine, Mike will go in and help the client make the best possible decision for them based on what works for their unique circumstances. Throughout the entire repair or rebuild process, they keep the client informed. “It’s not so much about us, it’s about getting them up and running and able to compete. Obviously, we want to make money too, but to be able to provide that to the customer is really exciting.”
As opportunities come along and your business begins to grow, don’t be afraid to evolve along with the needs of your customers. When the Rossis started out, they began as a strictly maintenance and rebuild business. However, as they saw their industry and customers grow to need new machines, they decided to add machine sales to their list of services.
While starting your own business may be a challenge, for the Rossis, it has been well worth it. Since opening their doors, they have focused on their priorities and kept their values at the forefront of their business. “We treat every transaction for every company as if it’s a million-dollar sale. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $30,000 sale or a $2 million dollar sale,” Mike says.
No matter what’s happening on the business side of their lives, Mike and Chris still maintain a healthy home life. It is sometimes said that couples shouldn’t go into business with each other, but for the Rossis, that decision made running their company even better. “At the end of the day, our kids are still our greatest accomplishment,” Chris says, “and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”