One of a kind
Each week we’ll be featuring a Marion County business in our Business Bio section. Learn about products, services and people here in your own county.
Nestled in what otherwise would seem to be a residential area of S. Coble St. is a global leader in manufacturing.
Yet despite Marion Manufacturing nearing its 40th anniversary many in the community can’t determine exactly what the company does.
When it opened in October 1979, the focus was tool and dies, but there was a sizable shift over the years.
Since then, Marion Manufacturing has made disc brakes for government airplanes, automation systems, and even two custom shoot-around sets with regulation basketball hoops.
Today, it is recognized as one of the world’s leaders in producing metal-forming and fabricating equipment, roll forming, panel machines, coil processing systems, and automated production systems — concepts often as foreign to the plant’s Marion neighbors as the customers who buy from the company.
What remained constant over four decades was the Richmond family. Jack and Joyce Richmond started the business. Their kids Tim, Allan, Dave, and Jackie, bought it 15 years ago.
Jackie has since left the business, while Dave manages the floor, Allan handles design, and Tim works with sales. Each has a specialty, and none are afraid to get their hands dirty when needed.
“If there’s a need, they’re right there working, side-by-side with you,” machinist Lonnie Matz said. “I’ve never seen that anywhere else in my life, where company owners get in there and get their hands dirty.”
Matz, who has been at Marion Manufacturing 13 years, and formerly worked as a machinist for Coors Brewing, Co. in Colorado.
While some machines are different, his job as a machinist is largely the same.
Originally from Hillsboro, Matz wanted to return to Marion County.
“I don’t plan on leaving again,” he said. “I had enough of the city.”
Maintaining a public presence in Marion is difficult because most of the company’s products aren’t consumer-oriented, Tim Richmond said.
“We make the machines so people can make the product, and it’s mainly specialty equipment,” Richmond said. “Everybody’s is different.”
One of the company’s machines, for example, creates tin roofing.
Local farmers do buy a few products, such as iron for repairing parts, but this is mainly a practice carried over from Richmond’s dad.
“When a farmer needs something fixed, it has to be immediate,” he said. “It was always his motto to help our local farmers.”
Although the company deals with a global market, lots of promotion isn’t necessary.
“That’s what’s funny,” he said. “We have no one working on sales outside Marion, no one beating on people’s doors. It’s all word of mouth.”
The business does upload video demonstrations, including one showing a pinheader machine making 32-inch nails out of rebar. It was created so a client could make carports without having to cut each nail by hand.
Since the video was uploaded onto YouTube, the company has sold five more, and Richmond has had six calls for such machines from other countries.
“I finally get to build five of something,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often. We don’t get to make multiples of anything, it’s always a one-off.”
One aspect that sets the business apart is training. While other companies have designated repair people moving from machine to machine, Marion Manufacturing teaches all employees to fix their own machines.
“They’re willing to take time and train people from here in town,” Matz said. “They will take a local kid and invest the money needed to train him.”
Of the company’s 25 employees, none has an engineering degree, and just one has formal engineering training.
Machinists need to be creative and envision how parts will look and fit together, Matz said.
“A lot of the time to make a part, first you have to make a fixture to hold it,” he said. “You have no way to hold onto this thing and it’s oddly shaped. What are you going to do?”
The company sometimes has to inject realism into customers’ expectations.
“They’ll want to know how fast it can run,” Richmond said. “That’s all good, but how fast can you box up soffit? Can you do that, get 20 parts out a minute and keep up?”
In a sense, it’s not so much equipment that Marion Manufacturing sells as it is the realization for how to improve other manufacturers’ processes — which may be why Marion Manufacturing’s client list includes Rubbermaid, Caterpillar, and Eagle Carports.
From a quiet, largely residential neighborhood, that’s an impact felt around the world.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2019