From his North Port office in 2000, the future looked bright for Atlantic Teleconnect Inc. president Ric Galberaith. The nearly bankrupt cable assembly company he'd purchased in 1996 had since tripled in size, with revenue of $7.5 million and gross profit margins of 25 to 40 percent. He also enjoyed the satisfaction of providing 145 local jobs, with more on the horizon.
"It was like riding a fast moving train," Galberaith recalls. "You just want it to go on and on."
Then came the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the subsequent tumble of the telecommunications industry-ATI's primary market. "I didn't see it coming at all. I woke up one morning and it's way down," Galberaith says.
Galberaith did what most businesses do during tough times-he trimmed overhead, tightened his belt and "preserved resources for when it comes back." He watched revenue decline to $2.6 million in 2003 and his workforce dwindle from 145 to 45. "It took two years to get the strong recognition that it was not going to come back," Galberaith says.
Last year, his core group of 10 managers worked together to turn the business around. Initially, they looked at the growing market for personal computer networks, but that proved to be a dead end. "We understand business to business," he said. "We didn't understand selling to the consumer."
With a strength in customized cabling, ATI decided to venture beyond its traditional, high-tech customer base to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), specifically the growing commercial market for GPS systems, which are now installed in everything from orange-picking trucks to golf carts.
"Our new business was kind of like grafting," he says. "We took what we knew and then we hired a couple of engineers and began building technology staff."
ATI reconfigured its manufacturing facilities to produce a variety of fiber optic and copper cables. "I call it 50 percent standardized with a twist," he says. ATI now specializes in customized, low-volume production, since it's generally cheaper for companies to have large-volume cables produced in Mexico or overseas.
And, not wanting to make the same mistake of putting all of his resources into one industry, Galberaith and his team looked at other growth businesses. Just about all machinery-high tech and mechanical-needs cable and a connector, called cable assemblies. "They have to get power and signals and to do that you need a cable harness," Galberaith says. "We just had to convince companies that rather than produce them in-house, it was better to let us do it."
ATI's sales force began making a lot of local calls-to companies like Sarasota Hoveround, the personal mobility vehicle manufacturer. "There's a big accessory market for (personal mobility) hitches and lifts," he says. "And all these things need cables." Focusing on the local market made sense, Galberaith says, because it enabled the company to develop strong customer relationships and to respond quickly.
The personal mobility market-scooters and motorized wheelchairs-is promising. "These boomers are going to have mobile units when they hit the wall," Galberaith says with a smile. "Exercise and diet are only going to take you so far."
Because what ATI produces may vary from day-to-day, he's cross-trained his staff to be more flexible. "Any one of us, myself included, can go in there and put together a cable assembly," he says.
The next step, he says, is to build a sales staff that is more technically oriented.
So far, all these changes have paid off. Galberaith says ATI ended 2003 with $3 million in revenue and he anticipates $5 million this year. And after two years of layoffs, there's a "help wanted" sign in front of his Commerce Parkway office.
Now, rather than fear change, Galberaith says his business is built to thrive and profit on it. "The key is to not sit there fat, dumb and happy, like in 2000," he says.