Share this article

print logo

Buffalo company seizes upon a bridge to growth

When Patrick Revenew heard his country club needed to replace a bridge on its golf course, he knew just the company for the job: the one he works for, American Douglas Metals in Buffalo.

American Douglas ended up delivering a bridge that an emergency vehicle could drive over – a project requirement – and could be installed easily, while blending into the serene surroundings. Members liked the results, and the Rochester-area club bought a second bridge from the company, much to the delight of Revenew, American Douglas’ corporate vice president.

The green-colored bridges are made of aluminum, which draws on American Douglas’ expertise. But this was still new territory for the company. For years, American Douglas has worked as a contract manufacturer, steadily filling orders for metal products for all sorts of customers. While that work continues, American Douglas now also has a product of its own, called Bridge-in-a-Box, and is eager to sell it for golf courses, recreation trails and parks, to name a few applications.

American Douglas wants to make this a breakthrough year for Bridge-in-a-Box. Company officials are ramping up their marketing of the product, making contacts and generating inquiries. It still comes down to converting prospects into sales, but the bridge represents a growth opportunity for a longtime manufacturer, the type of diversification smaller companies need to reach the next level.

“It’s a proud moment in our history for us to advance beyond being a sub-supplier, to being a branded product manufacturer,” Revenew said.

American Douglas was founded in 1976 by Dwight Hanny and Stephen Powers and their spouses. Its origins were modest: just a sales office for buying and reselling metal. As the company grew, it added locations in Florida and Georgia, and expanded into metal processing and fabrication. American Douglas now makes components for a wide variety of uses, including recreational pools, windows, goalposts and safe-patient handling systems.

The company molds aluminium using an extruder, which heats up a billet to about 950 degrees and pushes it through a die to form a certain shape. American Douglas uses its machinery and equipment to produce subassemblies for its customers, and gives them input on design improvements. The third-generation family-owned company has 53 employees, including 32 who work at its 87,000 square foot plant on Bud Mil Drive, just west of Bailey Avenue.

Chance encounter

Revenew joined American Douglas in 1998. Prior to that, he worked for a company, now part of Alcoa, that advocated for state transportation officials to use aluminum in bridges. With his background, he was confident American Douglas could build a viable aluminum span for the Ridgemont Country Club in the Town of Greece.

The people spearheading the club’s bridge project were considering lots of materials for its new bridge, but not aluminum, until Revenew persuaded them, said Jim Cucinelli, the club’s president. Ridgemont needed a bridge wide and strong enough for ambulances to drive across, so that they would have immediate access to the course, rather than taking a roundabout route. American Douglas’ new bridge – 10 feet wide, 23 feet long, with the heaviest single part weighing only 160 pounds – was installed in spring 2014. “We installed this bridge during active play,” Revenew said. “We were literally in and out of there in less than a day and a half.”

About the same time, American Douglas officials were thinking about how to drum up more customers for their bridge.

“We knew we had this good product and we had the expertise on how to design and manufacture it, but we were very naive and new to marketing our own product,” said Kevin M. Blake, the general manager.

A solution surfaced. In February 2014, American Douglas employees went to a Larkinville bar to watch the U.S.-Canada Olympic men’s hockey game. Also there was John W. Murray of Insyte Consulting, a nonprofit which works with manufacturers. Blake and Murray met, chatted, and discovered a potential connection for their two employers.

Murray later made a presentation at American Douglas, and the company signed a contract with Insyte for marketing help. Robert J. Kosobucki, a senior consultant at Insyte and a licensed professional engineer, was assigned to work with American Douglas. The bridge impressed him right away. “It was a really cool product,” Kosobucki said. “When I saw it, I knew it.”

Simple as a deck

Kosobucki focused on how best to bring the product to market. “My goal was to get this specified in such a way that someone could buy this online and put it together themselves,” he said.

Blake considered the product’s ease of installation, cost, durability and low maintenance as selling points. Installing the bridge also requires pouring concrete into forms to create a foundation.

“The idea is to sell it to anybody who, instead of having to hire a civil engineering company to design something for you, it’s as simple as putting together a deck,” Blake said.

Revenew said the bridge generated positive buzz at his country club, and other golf courses in the region have inquired about it. He talked up the bridge during a trip to the Golf Industry Show – which attracts golf course superintendents and architects from around the country – last month in San Antonio, Texas. American Douglas plans to display a full-size bridge at next year’s show, in San Diego, Calif.

American Douglas’ sales push for Bridge-in-a-Box didn’t really start until late last fall, which is a slow period, Kosobucki said. He expects activity will pick up in the spring. “Last year was laying the groundwork,” he said.

Kosobucki advised American Douglas to sell the product itself, rather than use sales representatives. The company also developed a certification system for installers, as well as a manual for do-it-yourselfers. Kosobucki believes the product has national appeal, and those approaches will make it more accessible for sales.

And it’s not just for golf courses. The New York State Snowmobile Association has show interest in it for snowmobile trails, and the Town of Greece is considering the product for bike paths, Revenew said.

Grant help

The cost of the bridge ranges from about $8,000 to $25,000, depending on its size and whether the span is just for pedestrians or also for golf carts and cars, Revenew said. American Douglas does not disclose its annual sales, but expects the bridge could increase its gross revenues by 25 percent on an annualized basis.

American Douglas received some help with its Insyte expenses: a National Grid grant, through its Manufacturing Productivity Program, covered half the cost of the consulting services.

Dennis Elsenbeck, regional director for National Grid, said the grants provide a boost to manufacturers by making consulting services accessible, which in turn benefits the region.

“Having this type of creativity in this community, we’re no longer relying on foreign manufacturing,” Elsenbeck said. “We have them right here in Buffalo.”

More to come

Working with Kosobucki was a learning experience for American Douglas. He taught its employees how to collaborate as a product development group, conduct competitive analysis, and follow through on bringing a product to market, Blake said.

While the company’s top priority is successfully launching the bridge, Kosobucki also helped American Douglas think up ideas for more products. A half-day brainstorming session that also included friends, clients and business associates of American Douglas generated 138 possibilities, which were narrowed to eight leading choices, Revenew said.

“The whole idea is, we didn’t want the company to be a one-trick pony type thing,” Kosobucki said. “What’s next? So you can keep the process going.”

Blake said he welcomes the opportunity the bridge presents to American Douglas. “I think it will bring visibility to the company, more recognition,” he said. “It sets us apart and shows how we can be innovative.”