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November 16, 2012

Windber manufacturer stays competitive by diversifying product lines

JOHNSTOWN — It was a long-held belief that half of all start-up businesses fail in the first year and 95 percent fail within five years. Now it appears those odds have improved, with seven of 10 new businesses surviving at least two years and 51 percent making it to year five, according to updated figures from the Small Business Administration.

BCL Manufacturing is one such company that made it to five years

– and beyond. The company marked the start of its 18th year this month.

“When I started out, I had no orders, no money, no nothing,” said Bill Sipko, president and CEO of BCL Manufacturing Inc. “I pretty much went out on my own and solicited companies to manufacture products. I bought some small, inexpensive equipment, hired a couple good people and got the process going.”

That originated with two employees operating out of a 2,800-square-foot garage. Sipko had worked in metal manufacturing for nearly 20 years before venturing out on his own in 1994. BCL Manufacturing is a light metal precision fabricating company that builds a wide range of stainless steel, steel and aluminum parts and products. The company, which now boasts a work force of 39 employees, is housed in a recently expanded 26,000-square-foot fabricating and warehousing center in Windber.

“We had our share of being down and out. There was no easy ride. But with me, the tougher the struggle, the harder the fight, the better I did,” Sipko said.

Over time, BCL evolved into a subcontracting specialist with a niche in laser cutting, precision forming and robotic CNC welding.

“We all hit that economic slowdown with the recession in 2009-2010, so we set out to find some customers that were prospering in this economy and subsequently diversified our own product lines,” Sipko said.

BCL fabricates the architectural metal shelving used in Apple computer stores. Its metal enclosures house electronic data collection systems sold to Starbucks and McDonald’s restaurants across the country.

“They are the end users for what we’re making,” he said. “And if you think about it, those businesses are busy even when the economy is down.”

BCL is also a sole source product line for two longstanding customers.

The plant builds metal boxes that encase automatic car wash systems for one client, and, for the other, it makes metal examination tables used in the medical field.

“Over the past 10 years, these customers have doubled and tripled their sizes and we’ve grown along with them. We’re the only one that makes what they need,” Sipko said.

And that has introduced BCL to varied international markets.

“We don’t export; our customers do,” Sipko said. “But it’s a world market today, and I think you have to step outside the box and recognize there are other places that need products, too.”

In addition to expanding its physical plant, BCL has invested in high-speed forming machinery, software updates and the latest training for programmers and operators.

Sipko credited those and other workers with the company’s longevity and success.

“People are your assets,” he said. “I think that’s why I’ve been successful. It’s not because of the machinery or money, it’s because I’ve always had very dedicated people with me every step of the way.”

• Sixth part of a weeklong series highlighting local entrepreneurs.

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