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Measuring success by his customers’ growth, prosperity

The owner and manager of Spex Precision Machine Technologies believe so much in exceptional customer service that they chose not to have any customer service representatives. What they have is a front-line management team.

"All of our front-line managers, myself included, are our customer service team," said Michael Nolan, owner and president. "We all talk to customers on a daily basis while managing the business.

"For us, it keeps us in touch with customers. For customers, it means they’re talking to people who have the power to enact what they need done. That is probably the No. 1 attribute for success."

As a contract manufacturer for precision machine components, Spex manufactures products such as nuts, bolts and pins out of extremely hard metals to much tighter tolerances than one can find at a typical hardware store.

The business started in 1948 as a tool and die distributor, and Nolan and wife, Wendy, purchased it in 2000.

Nolan knows his success is measured by the customers who have grown with him through the years. And he attributes that success to his people.

"We have 70 of the most wonderful people working for us. They are behind everything we do. And we’ve done a lot of things right. We’ve pushed ourselves to go after more difficult work so there’s less overseas competition," he said. "And we do a lot of things that other suppliers won’t do. If our customer wants their parts in purple boxes, we pack our parts in purple boxes."

That has been his attitude since he purchased the company, and it has proved to be a key strategy.

Nolan recognizes his team of employees for the company’s success but says the one person with the greatest impact is retired now. Steve Saunders was vice president for over 40 years, and he was Nolan’s mentor in learning the business.

"When I purchased the company, Steve had been there for over 30 years, and anyone who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks does not know Steve," Nolan said.

As one of the previous owners, Steve chose to stay on as vice president. He was the first to buy into the need for change and the new vision created for the company, Nolan added.

"The funny thing was that all that time I thought I was teaching him about our new business, I was the one learning from him," Nolan said.

If you want to hear Nolan get excited, ask him about his school-to-work program.

"We have developed a program at Spex that is very close to me," he said. "We’ve had more than 30 kids who we’re honored to be their first employer. We’re in a position to teach them work ethic as well as skills.

"They get to interact with adults. We have five with us this year. Four are going off to college. To watch their growth and play a part in it is more rewarding than anything I’ve been a part of. It does great things for our company. It raises our level of professionalism. It lets the average worker be a teacher and a mentor. The employees and the students thrive on it."

Nolan said he was never worried about Spex succeeding-it had to succeed.

"My wife and I put everything into this. I mortgaged our home beyond what it was worth, maxed out our credit cards and put every single thing on the line to start this business," he said. "My wife put her trust in me. If this did not work, we would have had no place to work or to live. And we had two small children at home. For her to have that faith, and then to see it succeed as it has, has tightened our bond as a couple on every front."

9/28/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].

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