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Move opens doors for Armaclad plant workers

October 12, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Nick Turano didn't know a thing about making doors when he bought the bankrupt Hess Armaclad Inc. plant on Pa. 997 north of Waynesboro in June, but he did have years of experience in the manufacturing business.

Today, Armaclad Inc. - the name Turano gave his company - is well on its way to a successful future, said L. Michael Ross, president of the Franklin County Area Development Corp. That agency secured a $200,000 Small Business First loan for Turano.

Turano's first contact with Hess Armaclad came in March when he leased part of the rear section of the 117,000-square-foot plant for his Blue Ridge Mountain Cookery company, which was running out of room in its plant in Waynesboro. Blue Ridge Mountain Cookery's 25 workers moved with the manufacturing equipment.

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"The move cost me about $25,000," Turano said.

Bad news came within a month when Hess Armaclad President Jeff Rock said he was filing for bankruptcy.

The company, which specialized in the manufacture of custom-made storm and entrance doors, had about 60 employees. All of them lost their jobs when the plant shut down in April.

Turano, shaken at first by the news, started talking to Rock about buying his factory. He did his homework talking to Rock's accountant, his customers and vendors, some of his employees, and potential investors.

"The more I studied it, the more it seemed to make sense to buy it," Turano said. "It's just a business, whether it makes widgets or doors.

"Besides, the company was 129 years old. I hated to see that tradition lost to this valley," he said.

The fact that orders for doors continued to come into the office every day through the summer was a factor in convincing Turano he was making the right move by buying the company.

A family named Hess started Hess Manufacturing in 1874, making wooden doors in a small shop in Quincy, Pa. It moved to Waynesboro, then in the mid-1950s to its present site when Harold Hess, then the company's president, designed and created the first solid wood core aluminum storm doors. It was that product line that first carried the brand name Armaclad and which remains at the heart of the company today.

Turano learned in his research that Hess Armaclad had been woefully underfunded. He knew he had to put together the right funding package if he was to survive. He paid about $1.5 million for the plant.

A big boost came from the Hagerstown Trust Co. when it agreed to help finance the venture.

"The bank did an outstanding job for us. They were looking for a presence in Franklin County," Turano said.

"Hagerstown Trust wanted to come into Franklin County, and they were looking for a high-profile project," Ross said.

Turano called Hess Armaclad customers and promised to deliver doors on time.

"I had to save the customer base," he said.

He started to recall laid-off workers because he needed their skills and experience.

"It was not easy. A lot of them had found other jobs and were reluctant to return to a company that had filed twice for bankruptcy," he said.

Hess Armaclad had filed for bankruptcy for the first time in 2000. It managed to get back on its feet, but lack of capital brought it back to the brink again, Turano said.

He said he prizes his employees, many of whom had worked for the company for 20 or more years.

"I expect to call back more as business picks up," he said.

Armaclad Inc. specializes in three basic products in a niche market - storm doors, entry doors and sound-proof doors for use in buildings and homes close to airports. Only three other manufacturers produce sound-proof doors.

All Armaclad doors have aluminum skins. Every door is built and assembled in the plant. The customer base includes home remodelers, building contractors and the federal government.

The company sells through its own sales department and through independent sales representatives, Turano said. He hired Jeff Rock as director of marketing.

Turano got his start in the manufacturing business working for Durakon Industries in Michigan. He moved to the area when Durakon bought the Jerr-Dan Corp. in Greencastle, Pa., in 1985. He was hired to run the sales department.

Jerr-Dan started the EZ-Dumper line of tag-a-long trailers. Turano bought out that part of the business in 1989 and expanded it.

"When I bought it, the company had one distributor and $150,000 in sales a year," he said. "When I sold it in 1997, it had a worldwide distribution and sales of $7.5 million."

The next year he started Blue Ridge Mountain Cookery to make large portable and stationery grills. That business also grew quickly. Turano added a steel fabrication line which today makes up about 50 percent of the company's business.

Blue Ridge Mountain Cookery's employees work under the same roof as Turano's 37 Armaclad employees. Turano said that while the companies are separate entities, he hauls out one of his grills once a month and cooks lunch for all the workers.

"Tomorrow, I'm grilling strip steaks for them. It gives them a chance to get to know one another," he said.

Turano said before he bought Armaclad he was beginning to entertain thoughts of retirement. No longer.

"I'm really energized by this," he said.

When the deal was signed in mid-September, the prognosis for Armaclad's business for the next year was $3.5 million in sales. He's already topped $5 million, Turano said.

"I expect to hit $10 million before too long."

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