We are beyond excited to be celebrating our 20-year anniversary this month. We want to thank all of our customers and employees who have supported us in our growth thus far. We are honored to have earned your business and loyalty.
We interviewed our founder, Dennis O’Shaughnessy on what has changed over the past 20 years and where the company is going from here.
What prompted you to start Mechanical Equipment?
I was working as a Regional Sales Manager for Perma-Pipe (a company which we now represent). It was a great job and I learned a tremendous amount from my supervisor who later became the President of the company. But after twelve years of hotel beds and airplane meals (three and a half million miles), I wanted new challenges.
The company was extremely good to me and I hated to leave but I needed something else. I had done very well for Perma-Pipe and increased sales significantly in my region, so they really didn’t want to lose me either. So, my boss suggested that I become a manufacturer’s representative for their product! I loved the idea of getting back to direct customer sales, rather than management, and it seemed like an ideal solution for both Perma-Pipe and myself. It checked all the boxes I needed to have some new and exciting challenges. I left on the best of terms and will be forever grateful.
What’s the most satisfying achievement for Mechanical Equipment in the last 20 years?
I would have to say the positive impact that our company has had on the lives of our employees and our customers. Like most business owners, your colleagues become a personal responsibility for you. I really do feel like the people I work with inside our company, and those that I’ve been fortunate to get to know on a personal level outside the company, are like my work family. I don’t want to let anyone down or disappoint them. Of course, that isn’t always possible, but when it does happen, I can’t help but take it personally, even though I try to tell myself it’s just business. I’m happy that Mechanical Equipment has had a positive effect on their lives, and hopefully they feel like their lives are better for having worked here. I think they’d agree that Mechanical Equipment is a fun place to work!
What was a major turning point for the company where you grew, changed direction, or offered new services?
When I started Mechanical Equipment (there was no we then, just me) I only had two lines: Perma-Pipe and Advanced Thermal Systems expansion joints. I had a 10’ x 10’ office that Perma-Pipe let me use in exchange for training my replacement. Unfortunately, my two products were only on a small percentage of all the jobs that bid each year so I needed to find other product lines to represent, so I could generate a more even cashflow. Through help from customer suggestions and other rep firms that I had relationships with from my days at Perma-Pipe, we were able to generate interest from some manufacturers that wanted new or better representation in this marketplace. That was the significant turning point.
Everything changed as we started signing up other products. After we demonstrated that we could be successful with them, other manufacturers took notice and reached out to us to represent them. Our ability to sell a better product and more importantly service our customer’s needs with those products really took the company up to the next several levels. At times, it felt like I was hanging onto the tail of a runaway animal, but it was also very exciting! Now we have offices as well as 6,500 square feet of warehouse with a million dollars’ worth of inventory.
How has the industry changed since you started?
This is going to make me sound old but when I started at Perma-Pipe in 1987 the internet and email didn’t exist! Cell phones were just coming into the business world and were super expensive because you paid by the minute, so they were mostly used by upper management. I had a pager and would return calls from the airport when I got off the plane or from my local rep’s office wherever I happened to be that week.
So, most of our communications and business was conducted by phone and then confirmed in a letter that we mailed at the post office and received 3-5 days later. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of advantages with the rapid way that we communicate now, but nobody can deny that business and business relationships have become less personal.
Has there been anyone or any company who helped you most along the way?
I definitely need to recognize hundreds of people that made Mechanical Equipment possible. I really don’t want to name people because I’d be afraid that if I left someone out, they’d have hurt feelings. However, I do want to thank a few key people that were responsible making Mechanical Equipment possible.
My former boss Fati Elgendy. Fati took the raw talent in me, and taught me how to be a successful sales person, sales manager, and business man. He also taught me a great deal about life, during many long discussions after hours, and about any subject you could imagine. I learned the most in my professional career from him and I will be eternally grateful to him. Without a doubt, he is the smartest person I have ever spoken to, the finest “pure” salesman that I’ve ever worked with, and he was also the person that came up with the idea of putting me in business as a rep and created a flexible plan to enable my success.
I owe a huge thank you to my late parents, Bernie and Midge O’Shaughnessy. They loaned me money in order to establish credit with factories, banks, etc. I was very confident that I could and would succeed, however nobody provides the unwavering support like a parent. They talked me up when I got down, encouraged me when I got discouraged, and provided constant reinforcement whenever I had doubt. They kept me grounded by always reminding me that life can change on a dime, so never, ever take your good fortune for granted. To this day, I say thank you to every customer, for every order, no matter the amount, I am truly grateful.
Thank you to the factories that we represent. Without their belief and trust in Mechanical Equipment, we’d have a hard time growing the business and in turn our lives. I am humbled that they have allowed us to share their name on our letterhead, and for the support and good fortune they have brought to our company.
Thank you to our customers! None of this is even possible without them! When I first interviewed for my job at Perma-Pipe, I met with the owner of the company, Mr. David Unger. A wonderful, generous and unbelievably kind man that treated me like family. During my interview, he asked me “as a salesman, do you think you represent your company to your customer, or your customer to your company?” After thinking about the question for a moment, I told him that I felt that I represent my customer to the company, because without the customer, the company doesn’t need me! That truly is how I feel and how any successful sales person in any industry feels. Everything starts with a customer! You can’t make a sale, process an order, employ people to support the transaction or create a financial transaction, without a customer!
Finally, thank you from the bottom of my heart, to all of our employees! These people treat Mechanical Equipment as if it was their own company, and frankly, they have made it so. All of them bust their butts’ day in and day out for me and they’re the ones that deserve all of the credit. From estimating (putting out what I believe are the most detailed, complete and consistent quotations in the industry), to the inside sales support staff making sure your orders get shipped correctly and on time, to our inside sales team taking care of all the parts orders, and to the warehouse staying late for last minute emergency orders and deliveries. Everyone that touches a part of our business at Mechanical Equipment, does so with passion, dedication, and pride to do the best they can do every day. I am so fortunate to have assembled such a great team! As Leo Burnett, the founder of the greatest advertising agency in the world once said when he started his business, “Reach for the stars. You may not always catch one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either!”
What do you see for the company looking ahead? What should/could customers get excited about?
It’s hard for me to say, simply because even in my wildest imagination, I honestly never dreamed we’d be where we are today! I think the sky is the limit for Mechanical Equipment as long as we stay on our current path, and maintain the positive and grateful attitude we have now. Well known factory names continue to contact us, requesting representation in the Illinois market and that means continued growth. What business doesn’t want positive, controlled growth, right?
But we’re selective. We want to rep the best product lines and in turn do a great job for them. My strategy has always been to have no more than a dozen main product lines, and to become the industry leaders in product and system knowledge for those brands. Hopefully, we will continue to enjoy the relationships that we’ve developed with our customers over the last 20 years and continue to add more customers to the list!