What a difference a few years make.
In 2013 Kingsbury Corp., an Optimation Technology Inc. company, was partnered with Eastman Kodak Co. on an agreement to make touch-screen sensors for a market that is hailed to reach nearly $32 billion by 2018.
Kodak was to provide conductive film and chemicals used to make the sensors while Kingsbury would do the manufacturing.
By early 2016, Kodak had pulled out of the silver metal mesh technology for the touch-screen market, effectively killing Kingsbury and its future, as Kodak was one of the largest customers of the firm. Kodak had been advancing
both silver and copper mesh technologies and decided to focus on copper, Kodak officials announced in March 2016.
Kingsbury Corp. was formed five years ago as a separate company from Optimation Technology. It cost $3.1 million to acquire the firm.
At the start of 2015, William Pollock, CEO and founder of Optimation Technology and sole owner of Kingsbury, was forced to make some tough choices.
“Kingsbury is a very sad story and very dead,” Pollock said. “What happened was we built a $20 million manufacturing line in Rochester and then Kodak hired us to build a twin line in Xiamen, China, and then Kodak decided to get out of the business.
“And then they decided not to pay for the completion of the line there so they got out of the business. So this line would have no business and the one there they didn’t want to pay for.”
Pollock and his management team had to lay off 65 people to stabilize the company. They closed eight brick-and-mortar offices around the country and shifted employees to work from home to save on costs.
“It wasn’t being successful so off it went. So that caused the end of Kingsbury, and it was hard,” Pollock said. “Because we didn’t get that money and weren’t paid, we didn’t pay the rent (so) the landlord came in with 100 guys and they just cut all the wires and pushed all the machines on the street— so they destroyed the company.”
The firm cut $600,000 a month in operating expenses.
“(Kingsbury), as an ongoing concern doing something else, could have been sold and we could have paid the debt,” Pollock said. “So it’s a total loss.”
“The other piece on the Optimation side was that one-third of our business came in from oil and gas, and oil-gas ended rather abruptly also.”
Pollock founded Optimation Technology in 1984. The firm specializes in engineering, automation, construction and maintenance services from the conceptual stage through prototyping to full production-scale operations. The firm is based in Rush.
Pollock sold his majority stake in Optimation Technology to fund Kingsbury.
Today Optimation, which for years ranked among the region’s fastest-growing companies, employs some 200 people—180 in Rochester—and plans to add 24 people this year.
“All the employees have been through unbelievable sacrifice,” Pollock said. “They’ve given and given and given, and now we’re starting to try to recognize their sacrifices.”
The growth of sales is expected to be 25 to 30 percent by year’s end.
The original intent was for Kingsbury to be a partner of Optimation and support the firm as a manufacturer.
Kingsbury moved to a $4 million site on Lexington Avenue, which included the cost of moving assets and establishing the manufacturing facility. The assets were previously located in Keene, N.H., in an old toy factory.
Pollock took over the sales team at Optimation and the team buckled down.
“The first challenge was you’ve got to sell something, so forming the sales team and selling that was the only thing you could think about,” Pollock said. “And once you get that going, now the challenge is hiring the right people.”
Writing blogs became a mandatory practice for employees. Within a few months the company had 100 new clients based on its targeted outreach.
“I took over as head of sales and we amped up our sales team,” Pollock said. “Everybody in a company on the sales team has to write a blog every week, and my hits on LinkedIn went from like three or four a week to 30 and 40 a week, but that gets you connections that start bringing work.”
The focus paid off. The team acquired 100 new clients with projects ranging from $3,000 to $4.5 million. The diversification is strengthening the company.
“We’re growing the Optimation part back,” Pollock said. “The challenge has been for us—when you want to grow the company you need cash. We’re cash-strapped, so you can only grow so fast. And a lot of our major clients like to pay in 90 and 120 days, which doesn’t help the cash flow a lot but we’re making it through. Right now we’re more diversified and we’re growing.
“We’re growing, we’re resurging; it’s fun again.”
Adding new clients
Some of those new clients include Nunda, Livingston County-based Once Again Nut Butter Collective Inc. and Michigan-based Gas Technologies LLC.
Once Again Nut Butter sought out Optimation for help with the firm’s new organic peanut butter plant.
“I recognized that they had a lot of expertise there and a lot of transplanted ex-Kodak people that really knew a lot about all sorts of manufacturing, manufacturing processes and could do equipment installs and refurbishing,” said Robert Gelser, president and general manager of Once Again Nut Butter. “They fit a void because it’s as close to having that expertise under your roof as it can be without actually hiring people full time.
“From Bill Pollock all the way down through everybody in their organization, (they are) very customer-oriented and have good communication.”
Gas Technologies is working with Optimation on the fabrication of its methane to methanol plants. The company focuses on converting natural gas to liquid fuels.
“Their capabilities were right in line with what we were trying to do,” said Walter Breidenstein, CEO of the firm. “So far we’ve gotten some positive results. Bill does a great job of communicating. He’s directly in communication with me, which is rare for a larger company to have the CEO being involved as closely as he likes to be.”
Optimation offers something that others do not: a full solution.
“A lot of companies can do fabrication; it’s hard to find somebody that can do it under one roof,” Breidenstein said. “They’re trying to be a full end-to-end solution where they can do the electrical panels, they can do the welding of the vessels, they can do the engineering in house—so that’s a positive. That’s rare to find.”
2017 is primed to be a good year for Optimation, Pollock said. The new administration in Washington has helped the manufacturing world.
“The truth is, part of what looks like it’s going to be a good year for us is there is increased interest in manufacturing right now,” he said. “The current climate is helpful because people are optimistic about manufacturing again. There’s still an increased mindset that we’re going to build new factories and upkeep the factories.
“You can call it the Trump bump if you want, but you ride it; you ride the wave.”
Manufacturing will continue to be relevant.
“I think U.S. manufacturing has a decent future,” Pollock said. “We provide automation and the future of automation is it evolves as you have more cloud computing … but on the other hand, if you’re going to be viable in this economy, you’ve got to make something.”
The focus now is the future. With the changes of the last few years the vision has become clearer.
“What we hope to do is sell some larger projects that will be a flywheel to help us into the future,” Pollock said. “In 2017 the biggest challenge has been managing the cash and growing the company. We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a challenging year of growth, but that’s also big fun…We watch our dollars more carefully so we can do more things.”
Looking back on the past few years, there are some lessons to apply to Optimation today, Pollock said. Namely, understand partners and their objectives.
“The lesson is, you’ve got to be careful who you work with,” he said. “The big lesson I’ve learned from all this is it’s really about relationships. What got us through this time is the people who I know who lean over backwards to help you out.
“The lesson at the end of the day is be nice to people. Don’t kick somebody when they’re down because they might rise up and be your boss,” he added.
The future is bright for Optimation, Pollock said.
“Even Apple goes through bumps; even Google and Amazon,” he said. “We’ll get back to where we were and bigger than we were, and we’ll be more diversified. There’s a lot of good stuff that’s going to happen.”
3/10/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.