The Century Club 2016
From linen services to packaging and construction companies, and from selling furs to machine bearings, DBusiness pays tribute to companies that are 100 years old or more.
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CHRISTOPHER DUCOMB, LEFT, AND HIS COUSIN, STEVEN DUCOMB, GREAT-GRANDCHILDREN OF FOUNDER WILLIAM CRAWFORD DUCOMB, BELOW, ARE THE ONLY REMAINING FAMILY MEMBERS WORKING AT THE COMPANY.
W.C. DuComb Co.
RIDING THE AUTO WAVE
When asked how many employees his family’s firm has, Chris DuComb stands up from a conference room table and starts counting heads in the open-plan office of the W.C. DuComb Co. He counts 15.
That’s a fine number to maintain the “lean and mean” profile that enables the bearing, electric motor, and power transmission parts distributor to be nimble — a key to helping it pass the century mark in 2015, says Jim LaHaie, company president.
“We make decisions fairly quickly here,” LaHaie says. “That way we can be sure to address the customers’ needs.”
The DuComb board demonstrated LaHaie’s point when it quickly appointed him president in 2015 after the untimely death of Bill DuComb, who led the company for almost 30 years. The death quashed any thoughts of company hoopla surrounding its centennial last year.
The swift change brought another DuComb back to town to get involved, too: Chris DuComb returned to the Detroit area from New York, where he was a hedge fund marketer. He’s calling on those marketing skills to drum up new accounts for the family firm, even as he attends Lawrence Technological University in Southfield to earn a degree in mechanical engineering.
Chris DuComb and his cousin Steve DuComb, who also briefly pursued an engineering degree, are the remaining family members actively working at the business, although others are on the board — including their 95-year-old grandmother, Josephine “Tottie” DuComb, daughter-in-law of company founder William Crawford DuComb.
“Dad said (go to) community college or work at the company,” recalls Steve DuComb. He’s now worked for the family firm 16 years, got a degree in business management along the way, and is operations manager, with responsibility for the company’s information technology. “I finally figured out I really liked doing it,” he says.
A PAGE FROM THE COMPANY'S PARTS CATALOGUE FROM 1931.
“Bill said, ‘When I go into management, you’re going with me,’ ” recalls LaHaie, who became Bill DuComb’s right-hand man. They invested about $250,000 in the company’s 16,000-square-foot physical plant during the last three years, along with remodeling the office, replacing the roof, and improving the parking lot.One thing the company is good at is collegiality. An example: The late Bill DuComb, Tottie DuComb’s son, and LaHaie had worked together since 1981, when both did outside sales. As a family member, ascendancy in the company was all but guaranteed for Bill DuComb, but he wasn’t about to leave his sales partner behind.
The company also updated its computer system and installed a backup generator. “We wanted to be very self-sufficient here,” LaHaie says. “I tell my customers (that they) can rely on us to be open and running.”
Among those customers at the OEM-dependent company are Coe Press Equipment in Sterling Heights, Comau in Southfield, and Nagel Precision in Ann Arbor.
That kind of attitude, along with a sales force that LaHaie says generates more sales volume per person than any of the firm’s competitors, helped the business record $16 million in revenue in 2015.
“We ride the wave with the cars, up and down,” says LaHaie, describing the company’s dependence on the boom and bust cycles of the Detroit automotive sector.
The company president plans to add one more inside salesperson and an additional outside sales professional this year. With the increase in its sales force, and perhaps with Chris DuComb’s successful marketing strategy, “We’ll go out and gain more business and increase our market share in the area,” LaHaie predicts.