Built on passion, Unist reaches 60 years
Adding new markets allows metal cutting lubrication equipment manufacturer to continue expansion.
Chuck Boelkins said celebrating his company’s 60th anniversary this year feels “kind of surreal.”
Boelkins is the owner and president of Unist, which makes lubrication equipment for the metal cutting, metal forming and metal stamping industries.
He bought the company from his father, Wally Boelkins, in 2008. His father purchased the company in 1968; the company began operations in 1957.
Chuck Boelkins said Unist’s first product line was a spray mist application system for cooling and lubricating cutting tools.
He said the company has stayed true to its roots, still offering equipment for applying lubricants or coolants to cutting tools in machining operations, but it also has expanded its offerings.
“In 1993, I started a business and developed a line of products for applying lubricants in the metal forming business, so for stamping or roll forming, and that was a private label product. I sold it through Unist. That’s how I got started, and that became another market for Unist.”
Boelkins said the products he developed were responsible for 50 percent of Unist's sales by the time he purchased the business from his father and that remains the case today.
“About 50 percent of our business is in equipment and lubricants for metal cutting and machining, and 50 percent of our sales are on the metal forming side,” he said.
He also said the company began focusing on providing environmentally friendly lubrication equipment, making it unique in the industry.
“We specialized in minimum quantity lubrication systems,” Boelkins said. “It’s an environmentally friendly concept. You use environmentally friendly fluids and only use what is needed. It eliminates the mess and waste of typical manufacturing methods.”
Unist has patented many of its products.
When Boelkins purchased the company in 2008, he said it had approximately 18 employees. Today, the company has grown to a workforce of 50.
Boelkins said that growth is due to adding new markets as well as developing the business’s distribution network and sales channels in its established markets.
He said a major new market for the company was the aluminum cans industry.
“We found a niche market in the aluminum beverage cans market,” he said. “We have systems that started in 2000 at Coors in Golden, Colorado, and we found we can significantly improve their manufacturing process in making their cans and reduce their cost.
“That industry is pretty tight, and over the years, our system has become the accepted standard for lubricating the aluminum before they make cans. About 90 to 95 percent of the aluminum beverage can plants in the world have Unist equipment in it.”
Unist sells its equipment around the world, but the North American market makes up the majority of its sales, approximately 80 percent.
Boelkins is proud to be the owner of a second-generation family-owned business.
“It’s kind of surreal, 60 years, it’s something my dad started and had so much passion for,” he said.
Boelkins said he didn’t necessarily set out to own the company, but he did always want to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He became a mechanical engineer like his dad and knew he wanted to be self-employed like his father.
He also explained he was one of six kids, and his dad was apprehensive about any of his kids taking over the company — not wanting to exclude anyone.
“That is why I started my own business, and my father helped me by marketing my products for me,” he said. “Ironically, by the time he was ready to retire, sales of the products I was building and selling were 50 percent of his sales.”
Today, Boelkins said one of his three children is working for him at Unist, and he said he is open to one of his kids taking over the business in the future.
“I have three kids, two sons and a daughter . . . I think if they are interested, it would be really cool.”
Boelkins said for now, he continues to focus on building the company.
“I’m very excited for the future. We have more innovation in our product lines going on now than in the history of the company.”