From shed to factory
It took less than six years for the Martinez brothers to increase their payroll by a factor of ten, turning a hole-in-the-wall company into an industrial gem. How did they manage that? One step at a time.
Everything started in a plain and simple shed. Gilles and Pascal Martinez had sworn to one day launch their own business. The “Métal Laser” company, located in an industrial park at the village of Rousset, in Provence region of southern France, was the culmination of the plan.
They started out in 2004 as a trio — the two brothers and one employee.The shed was in sore need of repair, poorly illuminated and with no heating at all. They first had to have a concrete slab poured so they could set up their very first machine: a TruLaser 4050 with a five kilowatt laser, the highest-performance machine available at that time. From the very outset the young businessmen placed their bets on flexible machines. They wanted to be able to cover a broad range of orders. They knew the market for processing sheet metal since Gilles and Pascal Martinez had worked for several years in a laser-equipped job shop.
That ramshackle shed has in the meantime been transformed into a modern factory building and office complex, offering a total of 2,200 quare meters of floor space. Machinery has been added continuously. Following in rapid sequence were a TruLaser 3050, a TruLaser 4050 with a six kilowatt laser, and press brakes such as the TruBend 5170. “At the outset, the most difficult thing was keeping our employees on board. The working conditions were just that poor,” recalls Pascal Martinez. “But, our lenders and machinery suppliers have always provided support.”
Today Métal Laser employs a crew of 35 and the executive staff has been expanded by hiring a technical manager. “We could no longer manage the company and tend to the customers the way we wanted to. As a consequence we had to learn to delegate,” explains Gilles Martinez, the younger of the brothers.
An appealing formula for success
Here is the first hint of an explanation for their success. Nobody is able — almost in passing and in the face of strong competition — to expand the payroll tenfold in less than six years without adhering to a special formula. And they achieved this in the Provence region, one hardly known for its flourishing industry.
The Martinez frères success formula could be summarized in a single sentence: “We never turn down a job.” Examined more closely, it appears that Métal Laser’s success results from the fact that these brothers pounce on every opportunity that comes their way. Aside from a few small industrial outposts round about Aix-en-Provence, the region known as “Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur” is not home to any major industries with strong growth rates. Instead, food processing, services, tourism and the construction industry set the course for economic development in this picturesque countryside.
Capitalizing on the residential construction market
It’s not without good reason that many dream of retiring to Provence. Residential construction and urban development are booming, matching the rates of population growth. Métal Laser has made good use of that. “There is a close-knit network of metalworking companies, with order books usually kept filled by the construction industry,” Gilles Martinez summarizes. However, the ever shorter lead times dictated by a building industry often force metalworking operations to farm out some of the work.
“We’ve made a conscious decision to return an offer for each and every inquiry,” Gilles Martinez explains. “We submit a proposal for even the smallest steel sheet that needs to be bent and drilled and we offer delivery as soon as possible.” How they achieve such quick response times — something much appreciated by trades people and middle-market companies — is hardly a secret. Métal Laser works three eight-hour shifts to keep delivery times short. “It also helps for a company to have two head honchos — one is always on site if the other goes on vacation for a few days,” Pascal Martinez explains with a smile.
Always open for new ideas
A further success factor is the innovative spirit exhibited by the Martinez brothers. They had a surprise up their sleeve as they invited their customers to the dedication of the new site in June of 2009: a TruLaser Tube 7000, letting them cut round and rectangular tubes both quickly and easily. “Most of our guests immediately saw the productivity built into that machine,” remembers Gilles Martinez. The TruLaser Tube can, for instance, be used to make up a tubular frame by cutting three notches in the profile. Then the frame needs only to be bent into shape by hand and the joints welded. That does away with the conventional 45-degree cuts which, when filling a large order, kept one employee busy full-time.
A fine reputation is their advertising strategy
This kind of performance and innovation did not long go unnoticed both within the region and beyond. Word-of-mouth propaganda functioned perfectly. They almost blush with embarrassment when the Martinez brothers admit that this is “the company’s only advertising strategy”. Yes, there is talk about setting up a website. But in this very down-to-earth company, everyday business takes propriety and the customers are always at the head of the line. The Internet will have to wait.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2010.