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Jerry Geraci decided 26 years ago that he might as well work for himself instead of working for others.
Geraci, who will be 68 years old next week, spent 13 years as an engineer at Alliance Tool and Die Corp., founded in 1947 and acquired in 1979 by what is now Gleason Corp.
From there he went to Jasco Tools Inc. for eight years, starting in the cutting tool business before starting up the machine components business for John Summers' company.
"It was a very stressful time for me, building a business from scratch, because they had no support or experience whatsoever in that business," Geraci recalled.
"After doing it for seven or eight years, plus all the responsibilities associated with the company from cutting tools, I said, 'This is crazy; I could do this for myself' and at least reward myself financially for doing the same thing I was doing for him."
Presented with the opportunity to take on a multimillion-dollar contract, Geraci left Jasco in 1986 and founded Maris Systems Design Inc. in Ogden.
Geraci serves as CEO at Maris, a designer and builder of custom machinery, automation systems and tooling and fixturing.
Maris has done work for large companies such as General Motors Co. and Delphi Automotive LLP.
They and other big businesses have driven growth over the last three years. GM spent $100 million in 2011 to enhance four product lines at its Lexington Avenue site to make fuel-efficient car and truck engines. That helped Maris generate revenue of $10.6 million in 2011, more than doubling its $5.2 million in revenue for 2010.
Maris also contracts with local manufacturers such as G.W. Lisk Co Inc., a maker of solenoids, industrial and mobile products, and flame arrestors in Clifton Springs, Ontario County.
"They typically build automation equipment for us, or test stands," said Donald Cummings, G.W. Lisk's manager of manufacturing engineering. "They're machine integrators. We use their equipment in our assembly operations."
Maris does high-quality work, Cummings said.
"We consider them to be an innovative company," he said. "They're aware of the latest things going on in technology, so when we ask them to design projects for us, we feel we're getting pretty good ideas and pretty good engineering work.
"Their follow-up support is very good. And, like anything, we do evaluate different companies on price, and they've been very price-competitive."
Revenues for the fiscal year ending in May were $7.5 million, down 29 percent from the year before.
"There wasn't much going on in local business from any of the companies in our customer base," Geraci said. "In our business, it's a very hilly, up-and-down thing."
Maris has 33 employees.
"When we were doing a large amount of sales a year and a half ago, we had 20 to 25 contractors working for us both in-house and out of house," Geraci said. "In-house people would assemble machines. Out-of-house designed sources for mechanical controls.
"You pump another 20 or 25 onto 30 and we're a 50- or 60-man shop when we're exceeding normal sales."
Geraci got a strong start in the early years of the company because of the multimillion-dollar contract that accompanied him. Business slowed after a couple of years before Maris regained its footing.
"The first couple of years were easy because we brought in a couple of good contracts," Geraci said. "But after that, it was tough establishing a client base.
"It took four or five years and then just slow, gradual, progressive growth. I've never been one to care about building a huge business. Moderation has been my philosophy-and a huge concern about hiring people and then having to lay them off because we got slow."
The biggest challenges are maintaining and increasing sales and finding qualified engineers in areas such as mechanical, controls, design and vision software, Geraci said.
"Those are very hard to come by," he said.
Maris focuses its distribution on New York and surrounding states but sometimes ships and installs equipment in China, Mexico and Poland, Geraci said.
The company was started in a 7,500-square-foot building on Turner Drive and has been there since. Geraci added 2,500 square feet in 1998 and 3,750 square feet in 2005.
"We're looking to increase our sales more than we normally would because the facility can handle the extra work," he said. "Now it's a matter of increasing the sales and bringing on qualified, experienced help. That's our goal."
The Rochester Top 100 program is presented by the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and KPMG LLP. Launched in 1987, it recognizes the fastest-growing private companies in Greater Rochester. This year's Rochester Top 100 event will be held Nov. 6. For more information, go to rochesterbusinessalliance.com.
Designs and builds custom machinery, automation systems and tooling and fixturing
2012 ranking: 2
Top executive: Jerry Geraci, president and CEO