When the coronavirus pandemic forced many businesses to close and people to stay home, Mike Giaccone's company saw a surge in demand for its work assembling everything from grills to bicycles.
"We had a stable of businesses – Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe's, Academy [Sports + Outdoors] – that were considered essential and had to stay open," says Giaccone, the founder and president of Assemblers Incorporated. "Those stores' product categories include grills, patio furniture and exercise equipment."
"So the thing we do is what everyone wanted," he said. "Can't go to a restaurant? Grill out. Can't go to the gym? Buy a home gym."
Giaccone says sales are up by 18% to 20% in 2020 – remarkable for a year including a "mind-boggling" spring. Launched in 1998, the Chattanooga-based business employs field technicians who build items largely for displays in big retail stores, but also in homes.
"We're trying to keep our clients happy and everyone safe," Giaccone said. "We ask clients to follow CDC [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines, and our techs are required to report if anything happens."
When Lori and Jerry Petty decided to bring some gym equipment into their East Brainerd home in late June, they hired Assemblers to build it.
"Everything went great," Jerry Petty said. "Two great young men came in, unboxed and built it, gave [Lori] a quick tutorial and cleaned up afterward."
Lori Petty worked out regularly at a nearby gym for more than a decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to stop. The Pettys bought an elliptical machine and hired Assemblers to build it.
"They were in and out in a little over an hour," Jerry Petty said. "It was a great experience – worth every dollar."
The business got its start when Giaccone, a native New Yorker raised in Miami, was managing the Gunbarrel Road location of Lowe's in the mid-1990s. He had been thinking in terms of going into business on his own when a Fourth of July experience piqued his interest in the assembly industry.
"I wanted 50 grills built for display," he said. "I hired a local company and gave their guys 30 days to build those 50 grills.
"By the weekend before the Fourth, they'd built 30. They just left the other 20 [unassembled], and there wasn't a lot of effort to fix it. They had kind of an our-way-or-the-highway kind of approach," he said.
Giaccone says he gave Lowe's his notice and started what is now Assemblers. Before he could start in earnest, though, he had to answer one vitally important question.
"A good, solid tech should be able to build 20 grills a day. Eight to 10 wheelbarrows an hour, six bikes an hour. We have 600 to 700 techs who've been with us, year-round, from five to 15 years. They're the backbone of our tech corps."
— Mike Giaccone
"Could I build something?" he said. "With one of my other partners at the time, I bought a grill. It took us three hours to build it."
Undaunted, Giaccone forged ahead. He says his first day as an entrepreneur consisted of building 30 picnic tables.
"It was on concrete, out in the sun," he said, "but I was happy to have the work.
"I paid myself about $13,000 that first year, about what I'd invested," he said. "We're projecting $55 million this year. It's a pretty cool success story."
Today, Assemblers has a Chattanooga-based staff of 125 that supports more than 2,000 technicians across the nation. The company has another 1,000 technicians on call, Giaccone says, "and I could use 400 more."
"A good, solid tech should be able to build 20 grills a day. Eight to 10 wheelbarrows an hour, six bikes an hour. We have 600 to 700 techs who've been with us, year-round, from five to 15 years. They're the backbone of our tech corps," he said.
* Founded: 1998
* Employees: A Chattanooga-based staff of 125 supports more than 2,000 technicians across the nation. The company has another 1,000 technicians on call.
In building his own business, Giaccone hasn't forgotten what he learned when a contractor left him 20 grills short of what he'd asked for.
"Relationship is a huge part of the business," he said. "The first thing we do [in a store] is do a stock walk – looking for missing signs, low stock and cross-merchandising opportunities. We try to identify needs before [store management] knows they have those.
"Some people blast us for this," he said, "but the customer's always right. An upset customer is our problem. Our approach is, 'You're right. I'm wrong. I'll fix it.'"