50th Anniversary – Scarlett Inc.
The story of Scarlett Associates Corporation (SAC), aka Scarlett, Scarlett Machinery, and Scarlett, Inc. is not one composed of dramatic or grandiose events but instead is a story of modest milestones achieved over time as a result of hard work and perseverance. The concept for Scarlett began in October of 1966, with Wally Scarlett, then the sales manager for CO Porter Machinery Co., setting up shop in his basement office in Kentwood, Michigan. The initial business model was simple: represent a dozen or so open lines common to the woodworking industry. Within months, the company grew out of the basement to it’s first real home in Rockford, Michigan. The lines were expanded, and office warehouse staff, salesmen, and technicians were all hired to get the company officially launched and on the map.
Wally Scarlett’s dream was to engineer working systems and production lines, centered almost exclusively around the processing of rough lumber used by virtually all furniture companies in the Grand Rapids and surrounding areas. The production lines would marry the machines—represented by Scarlett—connected by conveyors and material handling devices—manufactured by Scarlett. The manufacturing facilities required for engineering and producing these lines led to the acquisition of and move to a larger building in Rockford. However, even though the concept was inspired, the execution proved to be another matter entirely. Combining the efforts of sales of machines by others and the manufacturing of products turned out to be a challenge too great for the young company. Valiant efforts to carry out this concept were insufficient to realize Wally’s vision, and the company sought to transform its concept to efficiently and effectively meet the needs of its clients. As a result, through consultation and analysis of clients’ existing production lines and manufacturing processes, the company soon turned it’s attention exclusively to the sale of woodworking machines targeted to directly serve its clients.
With the addition of sales staff and a satellite warehouse in Edwardsburg, Michigan, to serve the northern Indiana market, combined with the addition of essential new machine lines, the decision to concentrate on equipment sales paid off. The company’s growth was ignited, and Scarlett was on solid footing, headed for success. These early challenges served as learning experiences, and the resulting adjustments set up the future for SAC to compete aggressively in the woodworking industry of the Great Lakes States.
Wally Scarlett was just beginning to enjoy the fruits of his labor when, at only 57 years of age, he was diagnosed with a very deadly form of cancer. After a devastatingly short illness, he succumbed to the disease. Thankfully, just a year prior to Wally’s death, Jim Scarlett, his son, decided to leave Lansing, Michigan, and a career in pharmacy to move his family to Grand Rapids and join the family business. It was a difficult decision for Jim as he enjoyed the world of pharmaceutical drugs and was beginning a promising career in healthcare, but as it turned out, it was very fortunate that he had the opportunity to become at least somewhat familiar with the world of woodworking machinery prior to Wally’s premature death.
The young Scarlett company had only recently found its stride, and Wally was more than just a key man in that success; many believed he was its sole driving force. Most of those involved in the industry thought the company was about to face challenges so serious that without Wally’s leadership and experience, it would inevitably fail. Even within the Scarlett organization, many held that very same belief, and within weeks of Wally’s death, most of the Scarlett staff had left the company. These uncontrollable events led to a pivotal time for the future of Scarlett, and it was necessary to reduce the company size to become as manageable as possible as quickly as possible. Two salesmen, a secretary, and part-time bookkeeper became the new Scarlett. However, a mere three months later, one of the two sales people suffered a stroke and died. Marred by tragedy, Scarlett began to evolve, and so began the presidency of the next generation of Scarlett.
How does a 31-year-old pharmacist establish himself as a capable purveyor of a small, but now struggling, machinery company? As Jim took control of the company, the few people still on the job were concerned and in all likelihood were looking for more secure employment. Many of the lines carried were having serious doubts about the continued success of Scarlett. Needless to say, hard work and countless hours went into the next few years, but the experience was exciting and mostly gratifying, though truly exhausting, for the small crew. Despite all of the trials and tribulations, the surviving organization was abandoned by only one supplier, and with the loyal help of many of Wally’s old friends, business stabilized, and it became time to add staff and territory coverage.
In rebuilding the company, Scarlett gave up it’s claim to engineering and plant layouts, placing a new emphasis on the growing acceptance of imported machinery taking hold in the industry. Success with the Weinig line set the stage for more frequent trips to Europe and allowed the development of Scarlett import lines, mostly from Italy and Germany. The expanding business grew, and the company found itself in need of more space for both warehousing and administration. Scarlett moved from its beginnings in Rockford, Michigan, to southeast Grand Rapids into a 15,000-foot warehouse and office.
Time marched on, and the business grew to include a retail division for professional cabinet makers called “Cabinet Makers Supply Co.” and a chemical division for lubricants used in processing wood products. Soon after, Scarlett acquired Honeyville Machinery, Inc. (HMI) in Topeka, Indiana, promptly bought another warehouse, and moved HMI to Elkhart, Indiana. Next, Scarlett began expanding coverage in Northern Ohio with the start up of Mid-Ohio Machinery Company, which solidified the formal territory coverage of the area.
At this point, operations were smoothing out nicely, and the company was experiencing steady success and solid growth. The import business was doing well, and Scarlett turned it’s attention to the fast-growing Asian market and began a partnership with a Canadian machinery distributor to expand both Scarlett’s machine lines and territory.
As a joint venture, the newly formed Cantek line was distributed by Scarlett across the Eastern United States, and the development of a dealer network expanded the Scarlett reach to several additional states. With the ever-expanding responsibilities in both the sales and service divisions of both the original, core business and the new multi-state endeavors, James Scarlett, Jim’s son, joined the company. Having learned the business at the supper table, and having obtained a degree in Engineering, James was a natural fit to help the company in it’s expanding service department. At the same time, the company’s focus was also changing from a large distribution company, offering many lines and services, to one of a specialist, concentrating on CNC controlled equipment almost exclusively. The new emphasis was described by some as organized chaos because not everyone on the Scarlett team was in favor of the new philosophy. Finally, the company reached a crossroads that resulted in long-term sales staff leaving the company and a new generation being brought in to refocus Scarlett’s sales efforts. Chris Timmer, an engineer and colleague of James, joined the company in a sales and administrative role. With a strong new sales force in place, everything was beginning to hit on all cylinders. However, the effortless operation did not continue as Scarlett was faced with the unprecedented recession that struck the US. Scarlett’s target market was hit with alarming impact. With the financial crisis in full force, the entire industry was contracting at warp speed. Scarlett reacted in kind by moving to smaller quarters and terminating all support staff.
The recession resulted in tough times for all, but the effect was especially devastating for the woodworking and home building industry. With very little business to pursue in the woodworking industry, Scarlett turned its attention to the nonferrous metal industry, and there found a glimmer of hope for these darkest days. As time went on, Scarlett’s aluminum customers became its chief prospects, and the non-ferrous business grew nicely, eventually allowing the company to add back support staff and again start the process of rebuilding.
At this point, James and Chris were both minority shareholders and were anxious to make their mark on the industry as they envisioned it. After a brief negotiation, the majority of Scarlett’s stock was sold to James and Chris, and Scarlett was reborn with new vision. The formerly devastated woodworking industry was showing signs of life, and the metal business was remaining steady. Ryan Scarlett was moving back to town, and with a graphic design background, he was hired to oversee Scarlett’s new website design and to coordinate the company’s entry into social media marketing. The service department had grown to be a job in and of itself, and Carl MacConnach was hired to take over the never-ending requirements of supporting the CNC routers. With Carl overseeing the demands of the service department, Mark Scarlett and Craig Smith joined the team to provide adequate coverage throughout the territory. The growth of all aspects of the business now required a larger, more suitable building for the expanded selection of services being offered. Scarlett moved just one block, but it was an important block, and the new location provides a much more workable space with a 15,000 square foot facility and runs effortlessly with Linda Harkness coordinating Scarlett’s office staff and serving as office manager.
The new warehouse and offices are a welcome addition and have afforded Scarlett the opportunity to expand beyond the traditional markets of nonferrous metals and woodworking machinery into the field of additive manufacturing, better known as 3D printing. Scarlett has partnered with 3D Systems and has committed to a demonstration machine for application analysis throughout the region. Mike McClean heads up this new division and provides sales and application services. Keeping the traditions of Scarlett, Inc. moving into the next generation also requires a continued emphasis on 50 years of offering the finest lines of woodworking machinery available to the industry, and Art Miller and Matt Ledger are now part of the Scarlett sales team, working in Northern Indiana and Eastern Michigan, respectively.
2016 brings us to the 50th anniversary of our family-owned company, and we are very proud of all those who went before us and those who currently contribute to our ongoing success. Companies that achieve this monumental milestone are few, with less than 5% of all companies reaching a 50th year. Scarlett wishes to thank all the customers and suppliers who have partnered with this exceptional company and who Scarlett depends on daily to ensure our continued success as we begin another 50 years of serving our communities.