Owner maintains a strong presence
St. Petersburg, Florida , January 18, 2002.
(as featured in The Business Journal Magazine)
The formula for being a small business success relies heavily on simply being
involved in the everyday affairs of your company, said Nancy Crews, owner and
president of Custom Manufacturing & Engineering™ (CME™)
"You have to be aware as an entrepreneur. You have to have consistency of purpose," Crews said. "You have to be working every day."
When she isn't traveling to pursue new clients or meeting with customers, Crews is
doing just that. Walking up and down the production floor of CME's 30,000-square-foot facility in St. Petersburg, getting to know 87 employees and occasionally helping out
on projects is all part of Crews' self-imposed responsibility.
CME is a defense-oriented company that Crews started in March 1997 as a spin-off from Lockheed Martin Corp. In order to maintain jobs in the community, local defense initiatives were developed after changes in U.S. foreign policy led to the closing of a Department of Energy plant in Largo.
Crews saw a unique opportunity arise in the aftermath of the plant closing and started CME. However, getting this company off the ground didn't come without gender-related obstacles and a hefty price tag.
Crews supplemented startup costs totaling about $1 million with more than $100,000 in personal funds combined with a grant from Lockheed Martin.
Crews quickly learned that being a woman in a male-dominated industry had some advantage in the form of government initiatives designed to help small business owners
in her position. CME is considered to be a woman-owned small business and a minority business entity.
CME serves both government and commercial advanced instrumentation markets and
is rapidly growing at a time when many businesses are experiencing a slowdown.
CME reported $7 million in revenue for 2001, a large increase from $2.7 million in 2000. Crews attributed the slight decline from $2.9 million in 1999 to being dependent on government contracts and the timing of when those contracts were awarded.
Crews declined to reveal any specifics on CME's debt, but she did say that while many companies are being forced to downsize and prepare for layoffs this year, CME hopes
to expand its business and grow to 100 employees.
"Hiring plans are in place using government-reserved money in a way that will help identify products. Having a combination of engineering design and manufacturing gives CME an edge," she said.
While hiring a larger staff is a sign of growth, it is a task that should not be taken lightly.
"There are always people issues to be dealt with," Crews said. "The largest problem is adding management. You must add people who share your vision. The management
team is important," Crews said.
Having a carefully constructed plan for the future and laying early groundwork also contributes to success, said Crews.
"We are seeing growth because of our strategy," she said. "This is a good time to be a government customer. A lot of people don't understand how to work with government businesses. We do. We are looking to diversify to help us ride the normal business cycles."
Crews said she hopes to lead her company in a large expansion into an untapped commercial market where they have already begun to flourish in areas unrelated to defense.
Al Meilus, president of Meilus Muscular Therapy and Sports in St. Petersburg, has a
contract with CME to make a robotic arm for lengthening muscle. Meilus said he believes that CME's small size contributes to its ability to provide a consistent and reliable customer service relationship that has been outstanding.
"We have a nice volume of orders," Meilus said. "If we run into a problem and call them up, they can recall three years ago ... that's hard to come by."