‘Growing with the Times’: REM Electronics Pivots
WARREN, Ohio – Starting as a consumer electronics business selling TV antennas and hi-fi equipment from a small storefront on Market Street in 1955, REM Electronics has pivoted many times through the years.
President Janet Dyer said her father, Robert E. Miller, who learned electronics while in the Navy, stepped away from his comfort zone and proposed to make parts for the automotive business growing nearby. At one point, the wire harness testers for Lordstown-made GM vehicles were manufactured by REM Electronics.
Now the circuit board electronics business is working on its latest pivot. Currently known as a full-service general line distributor and contract manufacturer of medical, industrial and automotive electronics, REM is moving away from the repair and distribution side and is seeking government contract work. The company specializes in designing and building custom electronic products.
REM has just completed a remodel of its website and is remodeling part of its 75,000-square-foot facility to bring in additional equipment, which will allow the company to continue to expand.
“We’re growing with the times,” Dyer said.
Despite the pandemic, the company expanded, doubling the number of employees to about 30. Dyer credits many of the employees, some of whom have worked there for more than 30 years, with the company’s success.
“I think we did well through the pandemic because we have so many people with so many years of experience that they know how to find anything that is difficult to find,” Dyer said.
Additionally, she believes the company continues to expand because of its ability to focus on customer service and support better than larger companies. Still, REM has to overcome obstacles such as hard-to-find talented employees and affordable health insurance, a must-have to hire and keep good talent.
Dyer said the business partners with Youngstown State University and the Trumbull Career and Technical Center, including through its apprenticeship programs, to find a pool of possible new employees.
On Wednesday, Dyer and many of the plant’s employees met with U.S. Rep. David Joyce of Bainbridge Township, R-14th, who came to hear about the successes and obstacles the small business faces.
Joyce was invited by the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Voices, a program Dyer participated in at Cuyahoga Community College. With more than 900 alums in northeastern Ohio, the group supports small-business owners by telling their stories, including their “pain points,” as they build and expand their businesses in the region.
“Small businesses are the backbone of America,” Joyce said, adding most people are going to work every day at a small business. “As a government, we put too many obstacles in their way. We should be doing more work to try to create an environment where they can grow and thrive. So that’s why I like to meet with them, to find out what their burdens are and to create legislation that will fix them.”
After Dyer shared REM’s plans for expansion and the hurdles they have faced, she said it speaks volumes that the congressman came and listened.
“It was exciting to have a national level official come into a small business and look and ask questions. That speaks volumes for him and for the fact that our name got put in there,” Dyer said.
Dyer told Joyce she is optimistic that a lot of exciting things are heading to the Mahoning Valley, but she wishes larger companies and smaller businesses partnered together more, like they did during the days of the steel industry. Dyer believes the Mahoning Valley has been trying to reinvent itself since then. But even with the latest manufacturing coming to the area, she knows there is a need for small businesses like hers.
“It’s an exciting time to be here,” Joyce said. “You feel an electricity here, and I’m not just saying that because of the Voltage Valley. But you feel an electricity that you don’t feel everywhere. People here are excited that things are changing, and all for the good.”
Investments and growth plans in Trumbull County by Ultium Cells and Foxconn have given people a reason for that excitement, according to Joyce, who told Dyer the president of Foxconn assured him the South Korean company is committed to doing business in Lordstown, despite recent unsettling news regarding Lordstown Motors.
“We’ll take it,” Dyer said, nodding. “We’ll take it.”
Dyer said she believes small businesses like hers have a part to play in that future. She has a name – REM 3.0 – for the company’s latest push to reinvent itself to stay relevant with the changing times. The company’s future focus will not just be on the Mahoning Valley, but also on the needs of federal contractors. After her father’s death in 2018, the company began to focus more on contract manufacturing and made changes to its distribution process.
“Any small business pivots,” said James DeRosa, vice president of operations, who has been tasked with researching and initiating many of the REM 3.0 changes. He said if you research any large company that started in the late 1800s and look at what they started making then versus what they make now, you will find a big transformation.
“We’re in a pivot mode right now, which I think is heavily geared toward leaving the idea of repair and distribution to less distribution and more contract manufacturing. … And now we’re going to sprinkle government into that, which is again not what it started as. It still pays homage to [our] roots,” DeRosa said.
Just like her father when he grew from consumer electronics to manufacturing and distribution, Dyer and REM Electronics are pushing past their comfort zone.
“Your comfort zone is a great place to visit, but nothing grows there,” DeRosa said. It’s a saying that he and Dyer both like to use, he said.
Pictured at top: U.S. Rep. David Joyce, left, poses with employees of REM Electronics, including James DeRosa, vice president of operations, third from left; President Janet Dyer, fifth from right; Vice President Dan Myers, second from right; and Maria Altobelli, human resources director, right.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.