A Manufacturing Entrepreneur Reflects on 24 Years in Business
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Success in business and entrepreneurship can be boiled down to a single word: relationships.
It’s what has helped Brilex Manufacturing/Taylor-Winfield Corp. Group of Companies grow from a 5,000 square-foot manufacturing site on Crescent Street in Youngstown 24 years ago into a multi-dimensional manufacturing, engineering and design corporation with more than 300,000 square feet of industrial space.
“Everything goes back to relationships,” said Alex Benyo, who along with his brother, Brian, founded Brilex in 1996. Since then, the company has expanded several times at Crescent Street, added another building along Andrews Avenue near downtown that was once the home of the W.B. Pollock Co., and acquired Taylor-Winfield Corp., now named Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc.
Benyo presented his insights Wednesday during an evening discussion with Ron Emery, board chairman of the Youngstown chapter of Score, a nationwide business mentoring organization. The program, titled “Entrepreneurship in Manufacturing,” was made available via Zoom.
Benyo, 52 and now semi-retired from the Brilex Group, said that relationships cultivated early on in business have a way of returning later in the cycle and open up brand new opportunities.
When asked what compelled Brilex to acquire Taylor-Winfield in 2010, for example, Benyo replied, “Taylor-Winfield was our first customer. They wrote us our first purchase order.”
To many, the decision to acquire Taylor-Winfield might have been an odd fit, since the company wasn’t a traditional fabrication and machine shop like Brilex. But to Benyo, it made perfect sense.
Brilex is a contract manufacturer that fabricates components for the steel, power generation and metals industries. Taylor-Winfield designs and manufactures finished products such as material-joining equipment, automated systems, and induction heating equipment.
Essentially, the two sides of the business feed off each other, as Brilex produces the specific fabrications and machining necessary for Taylor-Winfield to manufacture its products, Benyo said.
“I’ve always felt that I’m certainly not the smartest person in the room,” Benyo said, especially when it comes to technical and engineering expertise. However, what he has learned is to have confidence in those who do have the knowledge and experience and create a business culture in which they can thrive.
“If you build the right culture, you treat people right, and develop the right business philosophy and systems, then you don’t need to be the person who understands that stuff,” he said. “You just need to make sure you take care of the people that do.”
Benyo recalled he and his brother first became involved in manufacturing and fabricating after college when they went to work for their father, who was a partner at Northeast Fabricators Inc. in Youngstown. When the brothers couldn’t persuade the other partner to sell them his stake in the business, they struck out on their own.
With a business degree in marketing and logistics from John Carroll University, Benyo felt that he could handle the financial end of the new company, while Brian was more attuned to the manufacturing operations of Brilex.
“We went against all the rules they teach in business school,” he laughs, noting the brothers opted for a startup in a very mature industry, as manufacturing activity in the U.S. was on the decline and foreign competition much stiffer.
“We were young, and probably pretty dumb,” he said. “We didn’t have a whole lot, but we were confident in our abilities.”
Acquisition and joint venture opportunities not only opened the door for diversified markets, they also provided a vertically integrated customer base for Brilex, Benyo said.
“The No. 1 core thing I look for is whether this is going to be a customer for Brilex and is it going to be able to feed Brilex with demand to replace what is falling away in our market,” he said.
But even with a captive customer base, complacency isn’t an option in the business, Benyo noted.
New opportunities have often arisen from old customers, Benyo noted, returning to the recurring theme of preserving long-standing business relationships. The company’s venture into the power-generation market, for example, came as a result of a purchasing agent who worked for one of the company’s early customers. When the agent accepted a transfer to a power-generation company, he suggested Brilex as the preferred manufacturer to fabricate components and equipment for the business.
The owners of the power-generation company were skeptical, but Benyo said that should Brilex be awarded the contract, it would purchase the former Pollock building on Albert Street and manufacture the parts there. Brilex won the business, purchased the building, and today uses it for customers in the power generation, oil and gas industries and those that require large assemblies.
There have been difficult times as well, Benyo noted, especially in 2008 and 2009 when the economy collapsed and the current challenges with COVID-19. “This year is challenging,” he said.
Yet Benyo said that as entrepreneurs, he and his brother have been quick to identify opportunities that have allowed the company to flourish. “I get bored very quickly doing the same thing,” he said. “Once an opportunity has turned into an actuality, I’m looking for the next opportunity.”
Management is not Benyo’s forte, he said, noting that he’d much rather pursue opportunities for the company and stay in action.
Score’s Emery said that he understands that there are two fundamental differences between a manager and a leader. “A manager controls, a leader inspires. Sometimes, a good leader isn’t necessarily a good manager.”
Benyo said that among the most frustrating elements of the business is how customer habits today are more geared toward price then quality. “It’s amazing how quick people make a decision about a purchase without investigating the reputation and the history of a company,” he said. “It’s frustrating when you’ve seen orders that you lose, only to find out that the company ended up not delivering on time or supplied a poor quality item.”
As for the future, Benyo said Brilex and Taylor-Winfield are likely to embrace more automation in its manufacturing processes. “There’s going to be more technology, since less and less people are coming into our industry,” he said. In addition, he envisions wages for skilled positions in manufacturing rising significantly over the next 15 years.
Although he spends less time with the business today and admits being a business owner with so much responsibility can be exhausting, Benyo still enjoys the chase for new opportunities.
“I’ve never had a challenge in the business that didn’t energize me,” he said.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.