Manufacturing and Small Business & Startups

Proficient Machine moves into new home

August 27, 2012
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Proficient Machine & Tool, which designs and builds custom machines and fixtures, recently began operating in a new location that isn’t far from its old location or its very first location.

The company bought a 32,500-square-foot building at 8074 Clyde Park Ave. SW in Byron Center — nearly across the street from 8197 Clyde Park Ave. where it had been manufacturing for the past seven years.

The move doubles Proficient’s industrial capacity; the firm also plans to add up to three more workers to its current staff of 29. It’s a move company owner Bill Sorensen felt was needed because Proficient makes a lot of stuff — much of it from scratch — and had to have more space to keep doing that.

The firm builds very large presses, electronic burn-in stations, automated test stations, orbital forming machines, routers, barcode readers, simple and complex workstations and more. Proficient also designs the software to make all of those things work properly.

The company has diversified its product line since Sorensen took over.

“There was some diversification when I first got here,” said Sorensen, who bought the company in 2005, 11 years after it opened. “But just the whole economy after I got in here and doing what it did, we had to find some way to make sure we could survive. What’s kind of kept us alive is diversifying.

“We were heavily concentrated with one customer before I got here, and they continue to be our number one customer. But now we get to do a little more diversification. That’s kind of nice. It has a little better feeling. And they, as well, wanted us to be that way. So it’s nice to have their support, as well,” he added.

Proficient Machine & Tool serves a variety of industries that cover much of the country’s production. The company has clients in the automotive, medical, graphic design, retail, office furniture, home improvement and agricultural fields.

Because the vast majority of what Proficient builds is customized for the client, the company doesn’t follow a standard pattern or outline. Sorensen said 99 percent of its products are new.

“We don’t do a whole lot of repeats because everything is custom. We do have a couple of contracts with a customer that we build a workstation for and that is our highest runner. We’ve built several hundred of them over the past three years for them,” he said.

“We just renewed our contract with them and that’s our only repeat thing we do. Otherwise, it’s all custom, one-of-a-kind stuff.”

One of the products the company has designed and made for a specific customer is an 8-ton press that is pictured on the firm’s website at proficientmachine.com. Sorensen said the machine served the customer well for years and now has been put in its parts area.

“Now, there is a need for a similar product to be run, and we’re actually going to retool it. It had lasted them a long time,” he said.

Proficient began operations in 1994, doing custom work. When Sorensen bought the firm in 2005, it had six employees, which included him and his wife. The company has grown each year — even during the bad ones — for the last seven years Sorensen has owned it.

Shortly after Sorensen took over the reins, he moved the company to 8197 Clyde Park, where he leased space. But it soon became apparent that Proficient had outgrown that rented building.

“It took us a while to take that big step,” he said, of buying a building.

Sorensen said Drew Miller, managing director of CB Richard Ellis of Grand Rapids, helped him find the firm’s new home after they searched the industrial real estate market for several months.

“Drew Miller regularly apprised us of available opportunities that met our criteria. More importantly, he understood our needs and did not pressure us to consider alternatives that did not truly suit us,” he said.

The new building gives Proficient more than twice the square footage it had before. Sorensen said owning is more cost efficient with interest rates being so low.

“Right now, with the way the economy is and between mortgages and rent, it was a no-brainer (to buy),” he said. “It’s set up nice for office and it has a nice flow to it for our process. … It just lays out very nicely for us.”

Sorensen said he also wanted the company to stay in the same neck of the woods. “We’ve pretty much been in this area. All three facilities that we’ve occupied have all been within a mile of each other. We like this as a central location for customers. It’s a nice area and I like the township,” he said.

Proficient began operations in its new building last week, so Sorensen’s next mission is to find three quality employees to add to his staff. But he said finding the right manufacturing personnel isn’t as easy as it was years ago.

When the Business Journal asked Sorensen how Proficient has managed to grow every year since he bought the business, including during the Great Recession, he had an immediate answer.

“Well, the number one thing is the good Lord. He gets most of the credit,” he said. “Number two is just surrounding myself with an awesome team of family and workers. The employees are top notch. They all want to do a good job.

“Our biggest contributor that we feel keeps us growing and keeps customers coming back and gets us new customers is the quality work we do for them and the customer service we give them.”

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