Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Consistency is the foundation of virtue.” For a Wisconsin-based provider of custom aluminum extrusions and sawing services considered a cut above anyone else in the business, consistency has not only been wrought from material quality, dependability and durability, but also the 80 years of oversight from a family whose reputation in industry has been built upon a foundation of virtues that include adding value to the clients they serve.
From its humble beginnings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Howard Precision Metals has evolved into a leading supplier of aluminum goods, which includes sawing equipment seen by many as the most superior in the industry. It is a small company with a large reputation.
That all began in 1928 when the company was founded by Alva Howard. He had initially worked as a warehouse manager for a company known as Robert’s Brass, serving them faithfully for many years. As fate would have it, Alva was overlooked when the Roberts Family decided to entrust future leadership of the company to a new Son-in-law. Alva ultimately determined to take a different career path, but struggled to find work. He arrived at American Brass and was offered a job, yet was also informed it would be several months before they could move him into position. With a wife and children depending on his support, Alva didn’t have the luxury of time to wait. He borrowed $1,500 from his mother and went on to launch his own business – Howard Brass. It would only be several months later, in 1929, the stock market crashed and the nation confronted the grip of a great depression. Alva’s father lost his job, but decided to go and work with his son. The two battled for business through that economic era, with Alva not only taking orders, but also making the cuts according to customer specifications and delivering the goods wherever they needed to go. They not only survived the economic turmoil of that era, but also prospered. Alva’s two sons, Don and Bob Howard, matured, and in time, also took on duties at the business. Yet, Bob Howard determined to answer another call to duty, joining the U.S. Army. Upon his honorable discharge in 1957, Bob returned to Milwaukee where the company’s new efficiencies in copper prompted a name change to Howard Brass & Copper.
By the early 1970’s, Bob Howard had glimpsed into the future envisioning potential opportunities with aluminum applications. It took some convincing, but he talked his father into making the necessary investments leading to expansion and purchase of new equipment which included high-end saws. Bob Howard became particularly fascinated with the sawing side of operations. Over time, he developed his own variety of blades whose proprietary design creates a saw tolerance and finish recognized as one of the company’s most fundamental secrets to success.
The Howards soon transformed from red metals into aluminum and since 1996 have further honed their production capabilities, investing not only in new equipment that allowed for sawing of aluminum plate, and custom extrusions, but also investing in new staff. This was the very year that Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kim Anderson joined the company. Reflecting on equipment upgrades, Anderson says the company now has seven precision extrusion saws, six precision plate saws and two Berringer band saws which have been designed solely for the cutting of aluminum.
A Cut Above the Rest
“Bob Howard is the guy you call if you want to know anything about Aluminum saws,” says Anderson. “Although Bob is eager to help, many of his saws have proprietary design aspects to them that you will not find at other service centers. Even his used saws bring a pretty hefty price in the secondary market because our competitors know Bob has had his hands on the upgrades over the years.”
She says the Howard’s will frequently invest in what is considered “the Buick of the industry,” then rebuild it because they can’t get manufacturers to build them saws exactly the way they want. Having equipment that no one else in America has access to, has given Howard Precision Metals an advantage in creating tolerance and efficiencies that Anderson says, “no one can match.” This connotes to precision sawing of +/-.005, and a guarantee that the product will be square, which has helped their customers save both time and money.
Having survived and thrived amidst a growing market place of huge distribution chain, Anderson says the company recognizes itself as a small fish in a very large ocean, but it has defined itself well enough to allure customers from a variety of industries. “We are certainly not the biggest Aluminum distributor out there, but our vendors or franchise suppliers want Howard as a distributor because we add value to their product. Mills want to be aligned with service centers that represent their product with a positive image and Howard is known in the market for producing the tightest most consistent tolerances on cut plate and bar in the industry,” says Anderson.
Howard Precision Metal’s handiwork is found supporting industries involving everything from aerospace and machinery builders to hydraulic/pneumatic equipment needs, particularly in the packing and paper production sectors which are active in Wisconsin. In recent years, business has also increased through their processing of custom extruded shapes, of which many have saw finishes which are better than machine finishes. When these materials don’t have to be machined, the removal of that operation again goes back to eliminating time and cost for their clients.
The company specializes in aluminum goods, as Anderson says; they know what they can do and they concentrate on doing it better than anyone else. That concentration is also exacted in their communications with clients and commitment to service. “Our salespeople don’t spend their days putting out fires or making excuses… they’re free from problems and that enables them to better focus on helping customers find better ways to do things. Howard Precision Metals prides itself on doing what we say we are going to do. We simply don’t let our customers down,” affirms Anderson.
Today and Tomorrow
Having garnered the degree of respect for their capabilities, Anderson says the company is routinely contacted by machine shops and the occasional fabricator who have select needs, but in recent years, other contact has come from attorneys or designated representatives from private equity firms expressing interest in purchasing the company. While huge corporations continue to sweep up a variety of smaller operations, Anderson says Howard Precision Metals will remain a family affair. Don Howard’s son, Mark, has been working in and for the business for near 30 years. She hints of possibilities of his future leadership, but says, “For now, Don and Bob are very much in charge and thrive on growing the business.” In any case, much like the tolerances on their materials they manufacture, Anderson says Howard Precision will remain “a very tight organization.”
The company is poised to penetrate further in service of hydraulics/pneumatics, bar stock supply, and the production of extrusions. Anderson says the company will continue to grow slowly and steadily. Financial stability has allowed the company to be driven without constraints from the typical ebbs and flows in the metals distribution industry. For example, in 2001, when everyone was tightening their belts, Howard Precision Metals built new additions and a brand new 12’ plate saw. Furthermore, in 2011, when the economy was at a snail’s pace, they opened a new facility in Minnesota to provide better support to one of its largest markets.
In what has been the seeming pattern of the Howard’s history, Anderson says, “We do what is right for us, when it is right for us and the customers we serve.”