SOUTHERN RAISED AUGERS
The following article appeared in the August 2013 issue of The Utility Source and is used here with permission.
The following article follows how a small machine shop was pulled into in the utility construction industry and grew to become one of the world’s largest manufacturers of drilling tools. If you buy or use drilling tools you’ll want to read this story and if you don’t, it’s still interesting to see some of the factors that helped another company grow.
Jeffrey Machine Incorporated started out as a small machine shop in the 70’s in Birmingham, Alabama. In the beginning there was never any thought about becoming an auger manufacturer. Their initial focus was to be the best tool and die machining company in the area. They were pulled in the other direction after some local utility contractors discovered the machine shop in their area. Because it was close, the crews began to regularly use them for quick repairs on tools and machinery. With lots of hard rock in that part of the country, damaged augers were common. Jef- frey Machine did good work on the repairs, they were easy to deal with, and so word got out.
Their auger rebuilding and repair business started to grow. Owner Frank Sager’s son, Jeff (namesake for Jeffrey Machine), eventually took over that portion of the business. Due to the fact the re- paired augers were often better than the original tool, customers encouraged them to start mak- ing their own augers. Compared to tool and die machinery, making augers would be comparatively easy. Repairing the augers had made them aware of the most common types of damage. Applying their machinist’s skills and knowledge, they could easily strengthen the areas most prone to fail.
Taking on the challenge and working closely with area contractors, Jeffrey Machine combined their own skill set with the contractors’ experience. That winning combination began to result in a superior product. Every order for a new tool was treated just like any other machine shop order. They’d question the buyer to find out everything pertinent about the intended usage. A tool would then be specifically designed for that contractor. Quite often, Jeff would accompany the tool to the jobsite to insure it performed as expected.
By the late nineties and early 2000’s, Jeffrey Ma- chine had to make some serious growth decisions. The business had grown to the point it stressed the capacities of component suppliers. For ex- ample, they initially had another company to cut and press the flighting (the spiral portion of the auger) and by this stage they were keeping three separate companies constantly busy just on the flighting. It caused a serious bottleneck whenev- er one or more couldn’t produce quickly enough. To continue to meet the growing demand for their augers, the Sager family decided to invest in a larger facility with space for future growth if necessary. This would provide the room for the machinery to take control of more of their own supply chain.
Rapid growth can kill a company and often it’s caused by too much debt. There had been dis- cussions about going public, but they wanted
no chance of losing control. They knew that the real value they had to offer was their accumulat- ed knowledge. It was that and the personalized customer service to disperse that knowledge to the individual customer’s need that was most important. The high level of service would be exposed to too much risk should they lose control to outside stock holders. That was the real driver of their growth and it had to be protected. For- tunately, the Sager family had managed finances well enough to be able to fund the expansion without needing to go public.
The expansion decision was a good call and allowed them to be more responsive to their growing base of customers. Most of their busi- ness continued to be word of mouth, but as they became involved in various associations and trade shows, word began to spread to wider regions. In 2003 they increased their advertising and online marketing efforts, making them visible to a worldwide audience and their message was well received. By 2006 they quadrupled their build- ing size to accommodate ever larger specialized machinery. One example of the state of the art machinery they began to fill their plant with, a huge megaton flighting press was built to their specifications. As tool and die machinists with auger manufacturing experience, they were able to engineer proprietary changes into the press to cause it to outperform anything available.
At the start, the young Sager hired many of the trusted friends from his youth. They’ve developed a tight knit group that works well together. Their friendly cooperation and southern charm have won over customers from around the globe. As with any group of people, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Several years ago Jeff’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. While he spent time with her at a hospital in Texas, several key employees decided to leave and start their own competing company. His wife passed a short time later. That was a one-two punch that would have destroyed many people, but the family and remaining friends gathered around and provided the encour- agement and support necessary to continue the company’s mission. The old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has certainly proven true in this situation. They’ve grown bigger and stronger as a result, and the commitment to the customers is more solid than ever.
Last year when many other companies were pull- ing back due to economic uncertainties, Jeffrey bucked the trend by forging ahead with a signifi- cant purchase on a new custom designed rolling press. Why? Customer service. The added capac- ity would help them shave time when contractors needed it the most. It proved its value within weeks of being setup on the shop floor. A large utility contractor called with a serious problem. Their crew was stopped dead in their tracks due to some hard rock that their drilling tool couldn’t penetrate. They needed a core barrel with rock cutting teeth and needed it immediately. With the added capacity provided by the new rolling press, the tool was manufactured and delivered to the jobsite within six days. It cut perfectly and the contractor was able to meet their obligations to the utility.
So from a small machine shop to one of the world’s largest drilling tool manufacturers, the unique way this company has grown has led to a plethora of industry improving innovations. One that’s rocking the industry right now is a totally redesigned rock cutting system called the Drag- on’s Tooth that in at least one instance cut 2500% faster than traditional rock teeth.
If you use augers or drilling tools and you would like to get some more information on this company you can visit their website at www.jeffreymachine.com. Phone is 1-205-841-8600. Email is [email protected]