Airline Hydraulics Corp. has been growing the past few years, helped in part by strategic acquisitions.
Company CEO Mark Steffens says it's learned to stay within its lane — that the value-added distributor of fluid power, automation, and machine safeguarding products doesn't want to get too far outside its wheelhouse.
"People sometimes see the squirrel run in the room and then they chase it," Steffens says. "We had those moments in time in our business when we did stuff like that and we learned a lot from that."
The company has made some 15 acquisitions in his 25 years with the business. Most of the recent acquisitions have been related to automation — one in Maryland that was a controls-type acquisition, one in the New England area that was a pneumatic acquisition. He says the company is trying to get into these marketplaces deeper with very specific customers.
"So, Maryland for us is a heavy concentration of material handling OEMs," he says. "People are doing stuff for Amazon and FedEx and we're deep in that space. The most recent one we just did was a repair one up in Buffalo. It was a service and repair business. Obviously, you get parts into the field and you want to be able to have some means of repairing and servicing those products, so we want to add to that aptitude. We want to do more predictive and preventative maintenance type stuff on that front versus just purely reacting."
It's most recent acquisition of Trola-Dyne, a manufacturer of low-pressure oil or lube skids, gives it more exposure to the power gen industry. Steffens says this acquisition involved a process that the company had never used with any other acquisition. That is, they had a person that they seeded into their business for nine to 12 months who was able to get the acquired company acclimated to Airline and also learn about the nuances and value that Trola-Dyne brings on a day-to-day operational basis.
"We did that for the first time with Trola-Dyne," he says. "It was an up-and-comer in our business. He's now taken over all of our direct labor and manufacturing, so that was a steppingstone for him to prove his worth. His goal was to be out there for nine to 12 months, which he did, and then he found his successor and his successor was doing a great job and lock and step with the culture of the organization and the work that we're sending out there."
Steffens spoke at last year's Philadelphia Smart Business Dealmakers Conference about the company's acquisition strategy. Hit play on the video to catch the full conversation.