Stamping grounds

In mid-2005, Capitol Stampings Corp. was struggling and in receivership. The company’s previous owners tried to find a buyer, but were facing the very real prospect that their firm might have to shut the doors to its 180,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and lay off its workforce of about 130 people.

Today, the company has a leaner and more efficient work force of 100, new owners and a bright future in Milwaukee’s 30th Street Industrial corridor.

Gary and Jean Wendorf, who own several manufacturing companies in Hartford, bought Capitol Stampings in September 2005 for $6.8 million. Gary Wenzel, who previously operated several metal stamping companies, owns a piece of Capitol Stampings and is now its president.

The looks on the faces of the employees’ faces during a plant tour in 2005 helped convince the buyers to make their decision, Wenzel said.

“You could see people who knew we were (potential) buyers, and they had a look on their faces that said, ‘Help us,'” he said. “If we didn’t buy the company, it was done.”

The Wendorfs, who own a contract metal fabrication company named Steel Craft Corp. and a powder coating company named Hartford Finishings Inc., both in Hartford, thought Capitol Stampings would complement their other companies.

“We had a gut feeling. We thought we could make it go,” Wenzel said. “What we saw excited us because Capitol Stampings has so much more to offer than stampings.”

Wenzel oversees day-to-day operations. He and the Wendorfs meet regularly for strategic decisions about the company.

Since the purchase, the new owners have spent about $1 million in the facility, investing in new machinery, plant lighting and new software and controls for existing systems.

The company also has expanded its services beyond just metal stamping, Wenzel said.

“Value-added is how we sell ourselves,” he said.

Most of Capitol Stampings’ business is in supplying stamped metal products and finishing for original equipment manufacturers in the lawn and outdoor powered equipment business.

When the company was bought in 2005, it was mostly known for making metal-stamped pulleys, Wenzel said. However, he and the Wendorfs saw more capabilities there, including assembly, riveting, robotic welding, resistance welding, parts washing and deburring. The company had not previously used those capabilities to increase its work with clients, he said.

“That’s why we were attracted to Capitol,” Wenzel said. “We just improved it.”

Changes needed

The company’s number of employees needed to be reduced to return it to profitability, Wenzel said. The firm also needed to adopt elements of lean and cellular manufacturing.

“We looked at the workforce and the cream of the crop came out,” Wenzel said. “There were some people that didn’t like what was expected of them. We were looking for their input (on how to improve operations). Those who came up with improvements, they’re still here. What we did was re-estimate the base line of employment at this company. Now we can build it and grow the business. It doesn’t look like you’re creating jobs, but you’re creating better jobs and improving the company from a profitability point. We’ve now defined jobs … and how you get to the next level.”

The factory floor at Capitol Stampings has been laid out to be more efficient now, Wenzel said, eliminating bottlenecks and areas that slowed production.

One of those was a washing function for some metal pieces that was replaced with a lubricant. The lubricant performed the same function as the part washing station, and eliminated a messy and time-consuming step, Wenzel said.

Capitol Stampings also has taken advantage of its relationship with Steel Craft Corp. and Hartford Finishings Inc., and can now deliver a completely manufactured part to OEM customers that is ready to be installed on a lawn mower or other piece of equipment.

“We’re like a satellite company,” Wenzel said. “Gary, Jean and I meet twice a month for breakfast. We talk about all of the companies. But (with their involvement) I can offer more than stamping, including fabrication, punching and laser work.”

Capitol Stampings has been able to align itself with several Asian vendors, Wenzel said, to serve OEMs that require purchasing from China. The result can be parts purchased in China, then brought to Capitol Stampings for finishing before they’re shipped for final assembly.

“It’s unique for a company like ours to go to China, but it’s another value-added,” Wenzel said. “We don’t want (our clients) to buy from China, but if they have to, we can still do work here and feed these people.”

Turning a corner

Sales increased at Capitol Stampings in 2006 and 2007, Wenzel said. The company won $1.5 million in new business in 2006 and $2 million in 2007. The sales increases are even more impressive, Wenzel said, because the company was in the midst of reorganization for most of that time.

“The first year (2006) we broke even, which was miraculous,” he said. “For the first six months, we didn’t actually try to sell because we had to get our house in order. And (in 2007) we’re showing a profit. There’s a lot of room to go, but it’s an incredible feat when you think about it.”

The year ahead looks promising for the company, Wenzel said. Capitol Stampings is bidding on several jobs now, and if the company is awarded one or more of them, it will need to hire a significant number of new employees.

The company also is working to diversify the companies it supplies.

About 85 percent of Capitol Stampings’ business is with lawn and garden OEMs, Wenzel said, a market that has been relatively flat in the past two years. The company has gained market share in the category through its value-added services, he said, but needs to diversify.

The remaining 15 percent of the company’s business is in electric motors, the food industry and window hardware. The company is still identifying other markets where it could achieve growth, Wenzel said.

“Part of what we saw is that even though we have the value added component, we really recognize that for us to grow we need to diversify the markets we’re in,” Wenzel said. “Our business plan is weighted heavily in gaining market share in non lawn and garden markets.”

Capitol Stampings Inc.

Address: 2700 W. North Ave., Milwaukee
Employees: About 100
Industry: Stamped metal products and finishing
Growth: Receivership in 2005, broke even in 2006, slight profit for 2007
Owners: Gary and Jean Wendorf, Gary Wenzel
Web site:

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