Every entrepreneur’s journey is unique. Some small business owners start as sole proprietor. Others form partnerships. Still other small business owners start in entry level positions and work their way up to ownership. Amy Engelsman, owner of Proos Manufacturing Inc. in Grand Rapids, worked from a summer position in her family’s manufacturing business to the 3rd generation owner of a 90-year-old family business. Now, she is striving hard to ensure that the business will continue to provide job security and growth for the Michigan community for years to come.
Neal Proos started Proos Manufacturing as a casket hardware manufacturer back in 1919 in Grand Rapids. As the business expanded, Proos moved into other areas and soon transitioned into a full tool and die shop. Today, they are a provider of manufacturing and engineering solutions for a variety of customers in many different industries including automotive, industrial, office furniture, medical, Department of Defense and alternative energy. Amy Engelsman joined the company in 1987 when she worked at a temporary summer position while she was attending college. After the first summer, Engelsman returned to college and decided to change her major to Production and Inventory Control Management.
After graduating, Engelsman came back to the family business and began working her way up. “I started in general accounting where I moved the company to implement a new Material Requirements Planning [MRP] system,” explained Engelsman. Gaining an integral knowledge of all the operations of the business, Engelsman continued to work in a variety of different areas for the business. Soon, she became the first woman CEO in the company’s history. Engelsman formally purchased the manufacturing operations from her father in 2004 and acquired the rest of the business in 2010.
Over their recent history, Proos has concentrated primarily on the automotive industry. In 2005, seventy percent of their business came from the automotive sector. The long life cycles and close proximity to this industry allowed Proos to learn some important skills as well as the gain security from their high volumes. In 2009, the automotive sector was beset with significant setbacks. At this time, Engelsman happened to meet a Michigan representative of the SBA while at the WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) conference in Detroit. She recommended that Engelsman contact the MI-SBTDC when she got back to Grand Rapids. Engelsman contacted Stan Pruski, a Growth Group consultant with the MI-SBTDC Region 7 office. They began to talk about Proos and where the business could be improved. Pruski and Engelsman identified the strengths and weaknesses of the business and how Proos could capitalize in certain areas.
“It was great working with someone who acted like a partner for us, helping us identify problems and bringing them to the surface,” said Engelsman. “It was very educational and really provided another perspective for us.” In addition, Engelsman updated the company’s business plan which helped them set goals and refocus the company on their core business. Engelsman presented the plan to the managers in the company to help better communicate the goals of the business throughout the organization. “The SBTDC helped us get back to the basics.”
Because small manufacturers face different kinds of issues than other small businesses, Pruski directed Proos to the MI-SBTDC’s Manufacturing Assistance Team (MAT) who specialize in assisting small manufacturers. With the help of MAT, Engelsman also began looking closely at the company’s financial information. MAT consultants, Theresa Sickles and Tom McFadden, guided Engelsman through the process of restructuring their costs and coming up with formal sales forecasts and cash flow statements. Composing these statements has allowed Engelsman to better budget their financial allocation. “We now know long before we get the actual numbers what our financial information is going to look like. We can then identify problems easier if our numbers are off,” replied Engelsman. Sickles and McFadden also assisted Engelsman with organizing the financial information of Proos for presentation to lenders.
“The help with our financial information really made a big difference,” recalls Engelsman.
While Proos has relied heavily on the automotive industry for business, Engelsman points out that the skills that they have attained from working in this sector is allowing them to look into other markets such as medical and industrial. In the future, Engelsman wants to continue to push the business. “We are going to be the leader going forward and we want to be at the forefront of our industry,” explains Engelsman. “Most importantly, we want to continue to make our customers successful.” In addition, Engelsman provides some additional insight for small business owners, “Having a financial plan and creating a budget will help you through business cycles,” she notes. “And network with other business owners. They can help you with problems that they may have encountered before.” She also recommends the SBTDC and its resources. “Our experience with the SBTDC has been great.”
For more information on Proos Manufacturing, visit their website here.