• Name: Sherman & Reilly Inc.
• Started: 1927
• Factory site: 55,000 square feet on 13 acres
• Employees: 110
• 2012 sales projection: About $30 million
Source: Sherman & Reilly
Gerry Burchard, of Dayton, Tenn., has worked at Sherman & Reilly in Chattanooga for nine years.
His father had put in 48 years at the company before him, and now his son has hired on, marking the third generation to work for the business that makes equipment for the power installation industry.
At 85 years old, Chattanooga-based Sherman & Reilly is undergoing a transformation aimed at recharging the company, said Mike Dunn, its chairman and chief executive.
Dunn, who with a partner bought the business about two years ago from its longtime owners, said there was a big concern about what would be next for the venture and its workforce.
"The business was starting to show signs of age," said Dunn, who formerly was involved in private equity groups in Atlanta.
But the new owners have invested about $3 million in the business, revamped its West 33rd Street site, and modernized the organization and its systems with the aim to drive innovation and product development, he said.
"We've found new and better ways to do things," Dunn said.
First-quarter orders are up 47 percent over the same period last year, Dunn said. He expects business to reach about $30 million this year.
"Business is improving," the CEO said. "We've got a more aggressive pursuit of what the opportunities are today."
Sherman & Reilly was established in 1927 as an engineering consulting firm that specialized in wire rope and cable applications. The early years were spent designing material-handling tramways. In World War II, the company was primarily engaged in making ship rigging for the U.S. Navy.
In the late 1950s, the company entered the business of making tools and equipment used by the electric utility industry in the construction and maintenance of power line systems.
It produces a complete line of bundle blocks, pullers, tensioners and reel trailers, along with other equipment.
"We were in the industry at the start of the grid," Dunn said. "Nothing is more critical to the country than the power grid."
Just in the last 50 years, he said, the company has produced about 2 million conductor blocks and tools alone.
Dunn said the nation's grid is now in a state of redevelopment.
"We determined this is a great opportunity to introduce new products," he said.
The business has put out five new products in its equipment line, rolled out a new parts and service division and reworked its website, according to the company.
"Part of our job was to energize the brand," Dunn said. "We've basically rebuilt the organization from the ground up."
Dennis Henry, an account manager for Cross Fluid Power Inc. of Greensboro, N.C., said Sherman & Reilly today is "trying to be the industry leader in technology."
He said his company has developed a controls package and the hydraulics for a Sherman & Reilly underground puller of conductor and cables.
"We'd done business with Sherman & Reilly before, but it's a totally different company," Henry said. "These guys are extremely aggressive."
With a focus on product safety, Dunn said the company's aim is "to get every lineman home. If we do that, we've really done our job well."
The CEO said it has focused on the ergonomics of its products.
"We took some of our legacy products and made changes in the fundamental design," he added, citing heating and air conditioning in equipment cabs as well as digital controls.
Inside its factory, it has cleaned up and reorganized the site, and its supervisors all use iPads so they, for example, can call up drawings from the shop floor.
Looking ahead, Dunn said he sees a chance to boost sales as homebuilding improves. Also, he'd like to do more business with TVA.
"We want to re-energize [the company] as a leading contemporary brand with a contemporary point of view," Dunn said.