Chris Gabrelcik started Lubrication Specialties Inc. in 1997. For a decade, he just focused on making a decent income and spending time with his family, including his six children.
The president and CEO found a niche focusing on specialty products, making high-performance additives and engine oils for industrial and commercial applications, such as the flagship product, Hot Shot’s Secret Stiction Eliminator.
While he’s happiest in working on R&D projects, as his children grew older Gabrelcik started worrying about the fact that there weren’t many jobs in Morrow County.
“That changed my way of thinking to, how can we bring on more people and build out the infrastructure where each person pays for themselves?” he says.
As Gabrelcik created new business units, like a real estate development company to provide affordable housing for employees, and bought two existing companies, LSI became the county’s fourth-largest employer, even though it has less than 40 people.
An unconventional learner
Gabrelcik knew a lot about oil and lubricants, but he’s never had any training in management. But with his new goal of growing LSI, that became his primary job. It wasn’t easy for him to pick up.
“My daughter gave ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni, and I’m reading this book,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy must have a camera in my office.’ So, I went in and sat down and showed everybody the book. I said, ‘Hey, I just read this book. It sounds like it’s going to solve a lot of our problems. Let’s follow the guidelines that it put down.’”
That’s been his formula as the growing company faces new challenges. When he wanted to learn how to buy a business, he went to the bookstore and bought “Mergers and Acquisitions for Dummies.”
While Gabrelcik doesn’t consider himself an experienced buyer, he has bought two companies — Fluid Recovery, a small company that recycles antifreeze, and Frantz Filters LLC.
The Frantz Filter system was developed in 1953, but the company, in its third generation, wasn’t being managed well. Gabrelcik saw an opportunity to re-engineer and re-introduce the company to the public.
He’s constantly looking for opportunities like that. For example, LSI wants to start putting how-to videos together on diesel engines. Gabrelcik’s first thought was: Is there a production company nearby that we can buy and then merge in with the rest of our family of companies?
“I think that way because it just seems like a faster way to get the job done,” he says. “I’ve been accused of not having a lot of patience.”
Seeing both sides
Gabrelcik is aware he sometimes needs to temper his ability to see opportunities, and also take time to think about what could go wrong.
“When I was looking at those companies that we bought, I was looking at all the great things that we can do with this,” he says. “You’re looking at the potential and you’re looking at the top end. (But) maybe you avoid or don’t look at what could go wrong and later on, it’s like, ‘Boy, I wish I’d seen that one coming.’”
If business owners find that as hard to do as Gabrelcik does, then have somebody else put a second set of eyes on it.
“If I was looking at a company today, I would hand it off,” he says. “After I went through it, I would hand it off to somebody, just a friend, and say, ‘What do you think about this? What could go wrong?’ Because it’s really the surprises that poison the well little bit.”
Having that devil’s advocate pointing out the challenges before the deal goes through would be helpful to many business owners and entrepreneurs, Gabrelcik says.
“You’re looking at all the possibilities: ‘This has synergy with this. We could sell this product with our current customer base, and just think, if we could get 1 percent of them to convert to this.’ You’re not thinking about what if this happens and this happens; what about that, what about this. You need somebody that’s skeptical to point that out to you,” he says.