There's a reason why Taylor Devices President Douglas P. Taylor traveled to Japan in October and is planning to head back again this month.
"That's the only place where there's action," Taylor told the North Tonawanda shock absorber maker's shareholders Friday during the company's annual meeting. "Due to the lack of activity in the U.S. economy, we've been looking outside the country for much of our commercial business."
Taylor executives are scrambling because the slumping construction market, which has reduced demand for the company's seismic protection equipment, caused Taylor Devices to lose money last year for the first time in at least 14 years, while sales slid to a four-year low.
Although company officials said they were optimistic that a rebounding U.S. economy would prod developers to move construction projects off the drawing board and into development, Taylor said there's still a 30 percent chance that the improvement wouldn't happen fast enough to ward off another loss during the fiscal year that began in June.
"There's a lot of stuff on the horizon, but I'm not sure how much, and how fast it's going to filter down to our order book," Taylor said in an interview after the meeting.
So far, though, the current fiscal year is off to a decent start. While sales fell 18 percent during the quarter that ended in August, the company managed to earn a $73,700 profit. While Taylor Devices has gone two years without winning any multimillion-dollar construction projects, the company has been able to win a number of smaller jobs, including a contract to provide seismic protection equipment to a new Pixar studio in California and the International Olympic Committee's new headquarters building in Greece.
But with the company facing stiff competition from a less costly Japanese construction method that Taylor derided as less effective than his company's products, Taylor Devices has been facing intense pricing pressure, said Robert Schneider, who shares responsibility for the firm's industrial sales.
The company's military products business, which endured a 6 percent sales drop last year, has been hampered by resources that have been diverted away from projects Taylor Devices is involved with to go instead toward the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said John Mayfield, aerospace sales manager.
Still, Mayfield said the company could see new sales on military projects, including a new howitzer, a high-speed boat used by Navy Seals and the Virginia class submarine. The howitzer uses Taylor shock absorbers in the struts that anchor the gun to the ground, as well as in the gun site. The high-speed boat uses seat dampers made by the company.
"The defense market still harbors excellent opportunities," he said.