ER Wagner investing in equipment and people

ER Wagner Manufacturing Co. Inc.
4611 N. 32nd St., Milwaukee
Industry: Engineered products and solutions
Employees: 215

ER Wagner Manufacturing Co. Inc. was established in 1900 after ER Wagner wrote a letter to A.O. Smith in 1899 offering to purchase the baby carriage business from him.

Today, 115 years later, ER Wagner is undergoing what president and chief executive officer Lew Schildkraut calls the “ER Wagner Renaissance.”

“We’re not trying to compare old versus new, but we’re doing things differently,” he said.

For example, the manufacturer of engineered hinges and stampings, continuous hinges, casters and wheels, and precision machined tubular products began heavily investing back into the business over the past four to five years, according to Schildkraut.

The company outsourced (locally and in the Midwest) a lot of its manufacturing from 2005 to ’08, at a time when “business was sliding,” but Schildkraut said a new executive leadership team that includes him has since started the process of insourcing a lot of that work back into the business.

“I coined the phrase, ‘We’re bringing manufacturing back to ER Wagner Manufacturing,’” said Schildkraut, who joined the company five-and-a-half years ago as vice president and chief financial officer. He became chief executive officer and president in 2013.

ER Wagner makes continuous hinges; casters and wheels; tubular products; and engineered hinges and stampings.

ER Wagner has also invested an average of $2 million per year in capital equipment over a four-year period.

Schildkraut said the company paid cash for those assets out of profits from the business.

Most recently, ER Wagner received a $5 million loan for new equipment, with 60 percent from BMO Harris Bank and 40 percent from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp.

The company is in need of new equipment in order to replace aging equipment. Schildkraut expects some of that older equipment to be retired over the next 12 to 24 months.

The new equipment allows ER Wagner to offer customers more advanced precision engineered solutions and to increase capabilities and efficiencies.

Schildkraut said the company’s vision is to grow sales by 10 percent per year, meaning over the next five years he expects sales to grow by 50 percent.

He also anticipates hiring 20 to 30 positions at all levels in the next three to five years.

Currently, the company has 215 employees total, with 150 to 160 in the Milwaukee facility and the rest in Brookfield, Ill., at its continuous hinge product line facility.

ER Wagner previously had a casters and wheels facility in Hustisford, but the facility was sold and the operations were consolidated into its Milwaukee site last fall.

In Milwaukee, ER Wagner operates three adjacent buildings totaling 160,000 square feet.

About 50 percent of its business is for the automotive industry and the other half is for a variety of industrial markets and accounts.

The company’s manufacturing process consists of stamping, cutting, forming, welding, finishing, machining and assembling. The company also utilizes outside services for coating or heat treating.

Schildkraut said ER Wagner was adversely affected by the economy in 2008 and 2009, like a lot of other companies that sell to the automotive industry.

“A lot of them didn’t make it, so we’re proud to have made it through that successfully and continue to be a thriving organization,” he said.

ER Wagner’s manufacturing process consists of stamping, cutting, forming, welding, finishing, machining and assembling.

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