August 28, 2014

Elyria
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CRISIS: Manufacturer hopes home, auto industries spring back

Tucked way inside a 34,000-square foot building on Abbe Road, Richard McBride spoke from the heart, choosing his words carefully to explain how the state of the local and national economy has affected his family’s business.

The Reliable Spring and Wire Forms Co. has been around for decades, making small parts for the home-building and auto industries. McBride fondly remembers the days when sitting inside a boardroom at the headquarters of one of the big three automakers meant walking away with a lucrative deal. The feeling was exhilarating.

However, with the industry so cash-strapped, McBride, president of the company, said he isn’t looking to close too many more big deals with auto companies.

“It’s been awful,” he said. “For the past eight years, every year has been worse than the one before. It was like the perfect storm. The home-building industry has been hurting, and the auto industry is hurting. It just all came down at once.”

Standing in the middle of a storm has a way of teaching any seasoned businessman tough lessons, and McBride said he has been schooled on a number of things.

“At one time, we were almost the stepchild to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, not all at the same time, but we cut our teeth on those companies,” he said. “The bottom line today is some industries are dying and are very weak. Diversifying is what saves a business.”

In recent years, McBride said product innovation has worked to keep the business afloat. Palm-sized rings are now found throughout the plant; they are being made for a Canadian company that uses them in the manufacturing of the same security devices found in hospital nurseries.

Meanwhile, tiny pieces of metal created at Reliable are sent to the military and turned into hood props for military vehicles.

“These are not what I would call big deals, but they are profitable and I plan to go after more of them,” McBride said. “Before I wouldn’t mess with an $8,000 or $10,000 deal, but I’m learning that the smaller deals can be more profitable.”

Reliable Spring once boasted a strong staff of more than 50 employees. Now, that number is down to roughly 16 hardworking souls, McBride said.

Downsizing has helped streamline the business to where it should be, and a glimmer of hope — marginal profits — can be seen on the horizon.

“There are days when I wonder why I’m here,” McBride said. “But I’m hanging in there because the fun comes when we see people in the shop working on new things.”