Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm
Better marketing, a new sales staff, an improving economy and the failure of two competitors have led to increased orders and significant growth for Milwaukee-based Pflow Industries Inc. The company’s revenues are up 20 percent so far this year as its orders have increased by about 50 percent. In 2004, Pflow had about $14 million in gross sales, a 15-percent increase over 2003.Located at 6720 N. Teutonia Ave. on Milwaukee’s northwest side, Pflow specializes in making vertical lifts, which are primarily used in manufacturing and shipping processes. Most of the company’s growth over the past several years has been in vertical lift manufacturing.
Pflow has changed some of its business practices in the past several years, according to company president Ted Ruehl. "We’ve made some big changes in our marketing and some changes in our sales department," Ruehl said. "Our goal was to go for big businesses. And it worked a lot better than we expected." Increased sales of vertical material handling lifts are driving the company’s revenue increases. Pflow’s lifts are made of steel, and the company struggled with steel prices doubling in recent years. "We went through some ugly times last year," Ruehl said. "We held our lower prices longer than we should have."
However, the horizon looks brighter for Pflow, as the company has a backlog of orders for its lifts. The company employs 81 people now and plans to add about five more employees by the end of the year. Pflow is planning to hire both engineers and laborers for its manufacturing facility, Ruehl said. Pflow’s management team is looking for ways to increase productivity between 60 and 100 percent, said Ruehl and David Dux, vice president of sales. "Our orders are up, and we’ve got such a backlog that we will have to get up (production) to decrease that backlog," Ruehl said. "Most of our products have an eight- to 10-week lead time. They’re all custom-built. Nothing is built to stock."
The company’s Cartveyor system, which moves shopping carts alongside escalators in multi-story department stores, was unveiled in 2001. To date, Pflow has installed more than 55 of the units in stores across the nation, including several in Target stores in Chicago. Customers who have purchased the Cartveyor system include Target, Wal-Mart and Great Indoors, Sears’ version of a high-end home interiors store. Pflow is planning to expand its product line.
The company is partnering with Westfalia Technologies Inc., an integration specialist headquartered in York, Penn., on several automated parking garages. One of the garages has been built in Hawaii, and three have been built in New Jersey, Dux said. In the automated garages, customers park their cars on specially designed pallets. The cars are then lifted up to 11 or 12 stories and are placed in slots. Westfalia supplies the technology to coordinate the car parking system, and Pflow has been contracted to supply lifts and related equipment, Dux said. Lifts for the garages have been designed differently than other Pflow lifts, he said, because of the weight and speed they need to handle.
"They need to lift the cars very fast and they need to be able to stop at the exact level," he said. The lifts need to accelerate quickly, but decelerate gradually because of the large weights of the cars and momentum generated, he said. Pflow’s sales staff is working on four or five other potential projects with parking garages in California, Detroit, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, Dux said. While some of Pflow’s new products are high-tech or use new designs, many of its construction techniques are old. Because Pflow’s lifts are built with steel, many old-fashioned techniques come into play, such as when a large I-beam comes to the plant somewhat warped. Instead of sending the beam back, workers will heat it with torches, then attach clamps to the steel beam and hammer it straight, Dux said.
In 2002, Pflow moved from its former headquarters at 5045 N. 35th St. to 6720 N. Teutonia, which formerly housed Kelly Dock Systems.
The building on Teutonia is on Milwaukee County bus lines, which Ruehl said is important to ensure its workforce can get there. Having a workforce with a diverse knowledge base is part of what has kept the company local, he said. "We kept a very old-fashioned industry in the Rust Belt, mostly because of the engineers," he said. "We chose not to move. Plus, I think the (workers) here are better than the ones down there (Mexico)."
Pflow Industries Inc.
Location: 6720 N. Teutonia Ave., Milwaukee
Revenues: $14 million in gross sales for 2004, projected to increase more than 20 percent for 2005
Product: Core products are vertical material handling lifts. New products include Cartveyor, a shopping cart lifting system, and a lift used in automated parking garages.
Web Site: www.pflow.com
Local Customers Include: Rockwell Automation Inc., Harley Davidson dealerships, Sendik’s grocery stores, Quad/Graphics Inc.; Kimberly-Clark Corp.; Johnson Controls Inc.; S.C. Johnson & Son Inc.; and Master Lock Co.