The Credit Junction is proud to work with great businesses across the country. Hear from Jack Curtin, CEO of UniTorq, to learn about how the company has grown since inception, and how The Credit Junction has helped along the way. Click here to hear the full audio of the interview.
Over the past 25 years, UniTorq has grown into one of the largest pneumatic actuator brands in the world. They offer one of the broadest product portfolios in the industry, with pneumatic and electric actuators, accessories, and controls for a complete solution from the valve up.
Learn more at https://unitorq.com/.
TCJ: Tell us a bit about UniTorq and the products and services you offer to your clients.
JC: UniTorq was founded in 1986 as a primary distributor from manufacturers to the industrial end user, which would include chemical companies, refineries, food processing… anything in the industrial processing industry.
As the business evolved, the software got stronger and the content of instrumentation became stronger. We were one of the first companies that introduced this product into the United States in 1991, and we have consistently stayed in that marketplace. In the 90s, we had a number of individual competitors that did the same thing – they would go to Europe primarily, and get product and rebrand it and sell it in the United States. There were maybe six or seven competitors in the 90s. Now, those six or seven companies have all been purchased by larger Fortune 200 companies, Fortune 50 companies, and they have been absorbed into these valve companies and they have lost their identity in the marketplaces, as being just truly an actuator manufacturer.
We kept to our initial plan which was to keep actuation separate from valves, and we supply our distribution and OEM markets with product that they then put in their valves and sell either under their name or under our name. In doing that, we have been approved by almost every major user of actuators in the world. Companies like Shell, Exxon, Dupont, all the way down to Godiva chocolates and Kikkoman soy sauce. Anywhere there is a process, we have actuators that are used and accepted. The UniTorq name is a very prominent name in the pneumatic actuation business.
TCJ: What business issue were you looking to solve when we first started speaking?
JC: We were a profitable company with a line of credit at a local bank that we still do business with. That bank was bought by another bank out of Memphis, Tennessee. Four to six months into that merger, the Vice President that we had been doing business with for ten years came to us and said ‘Jack, we really don’t want your kind of business anymore. We are going more into the medical field and manufacturing and the industrial base is something that we want to try to remove ourselves from.’ They were very nice about it, it’s not like they came in and demanded their money. They just said ‘see what you can do and let us know.’ We contacted a number of people in the factoring business and that really wasn’t a good fit for us.
Through a broker in Florida that we had known from a couple of years prior and who had been calling me – I called him one day and said ‘This is my plan’. I sent him some information and the next thing you know, he had TCJ on the line and everybody was happy about it. Your representative came down at that time. He came through and did his due diligence – checked invoices, checked inventory. He gave us, I would say, a ‘mini audit.’ Everything panned out and off we went.
Then, we were trying to grow with different product lines and an issue with a vendor came up, which I had to react to pretty quickly. TCJ was very supportive of that. We let them know we were changing vendors, and I just couldn’t forecast the last quarter. But, TCJ helped us through it by telling us what we had to do. That made us focus even harder on getting this thing done and taking this to the next step.
Andy [TCJ Account Executive] has really helped us in analyzing what we are doing. Always asking ‘what are you going to do next month… next week?’ I have to look what I have on order, I have to look at what the customers have on order. We have to analyze that… what’s coming in, what do we need? We have a system in place now that alleviates that panic button of ‘oh my goodness, now what are we going to do?’ That all came down from us planning better to be able to give TCJ the information they need to make us successful. That’s really what it comes down to.
TCJ: Your existing bank was acquired and said you were no longer a fit for them. How did you approach that and how did you think about how you wanted to finance your company moving forward?
JC: They were changing their focus and we had to go find something. Now, I had all of these assets and was running $500,000 in receivables and had inventory of $500,000, so why not utilize that? Because of TCJs capability of giving me the availability from the assets that I was not utilizing, it allowed me to utilize them. And then, in a very good way for the way we handled the cash and the way our system works and your system works, it’s a very user-friendly environment. When you don’t have a bank line and you go looking for one, there’s a lot of people out there that will lend you money. The money at TCJ is not inexpensive, you know that. But at the same time, there’s a lot that you do for us. It allows us to be more flexible. We have a bank, and we have availability, and that same day we scan that check in and have availability for that money. With a lockbox or something of that nature, we are looking at maybe five to seven days sometimes before you can access your money. That can affect you. That can affect you bigtime. So, these are the kinds of things that you do that enable us to be more flexible and help us grow.
TCJ: We are happy to be your growth partner. Can you tell us how our product and process have impacted your business?
JC: TCJ is a special product. It gives a company like mine the freedom but also the discipline. It has made me run the business better. I think that’s the best way to say it. Because of TCJ and their relationship with us, it made our business better.
TCJ: You’ve worked with Marcus from Commercial Finance Partners, an advisor we do a lot of work with. What made you decide on working with TCJ?
JC: Marcus put a lot of options in front of us, and said that TCJ was our best option. TCJ is competitive and he made me look at that. ‘This is going to cost you this, this is going to cost you that’ and I just felt comfortable from day 1. You’re a bank, you lend money, you want to be able to get your money back and make money out of it. I understand that, we are trying to run a business and without you we couldn’t run our business. Marcus had a lot of influence on it, and to me it was a no-brainer decision.
TCJ: How would you assess our relationship over the years?
JC: At the beginning of our relationship, the outset of the relationship, TCJ was the bridge between where we were and getting a bank loan. The bridge to get you from point A to point B. We still aren’t big enough to go into, let’s say, a Chase or a Citibank or somebody to say to them ‘okay, we need a line of credit’. We are still not at that level, and that’s what I have to get to to be able to come out of the TCJ relationship. I have to grow, and that’s what you guys want, and that’s what I want.
TCJ: Would you recommend The Credit Junction to a fellow business owner? How would you describe what our relationship brought UniTorq?
JC: Yes, I would totally recommend you to another business owner. It has been a positive experience.
The cost of the money is the cost of the money, but the service and what you provide… there’s a payback there for me on that. If you we pay you X amount of dollars in interest every month, what you do for me discipline-wise to help me run my business, that’s of value. That’s what a bank would not be able to do. It might be cheaper, but what am I getting from an analytical point of view? TCJ provides me that on a daily basis.
This relationship has helped me manage better. You know, when you own your own business and you’ve done it for such a long time, you get into certain habits. And those habits aren’t necessarily all good habits. I’m not a financial person. I was going to be an attorney, but I ran out of money, and I got into the valve business. Go figure. But I know what a balance sheet is, what an income statement is from running the visions of other companies, but to be able to forecast cash flow and to be able to sit back and say ‘this sale isn’t good for me because of this’ or ‘I need to have this because it’s good for me’… that’s what I think of now, and that’s from what I have learned in the last couple of years with TCJ. I would like to continue that relationship. It’s of value to us. Yes, there’s an interest payment, but there’s a value to it. It’s a partnership.
TCJ: We focus on financing growth. In what ways have we or can we help you with your growth?
JC: There’s a gear company in Michigan that I’d love to look at. A company bought it for $10-12M in 2002-2003. It was doing sales of about $15M. Now, their sales are $5M. They killed the thing. Would they look to get rid of that? Sure, they would. What would they sell it for? Well, sometimes they just want to get rid of stuff.
I’ve always said to Jim [TCJ Chief Credit Officer] and Andy [TCJ Account Executive], ‘if something comes up that’s worthwhile, would you look at it?’ And you’ve always said ‘definitely!’ I would need a consultant when I did that, and I would feel very comfortable in partnering with TCJ to be able to put the partners together to be able to look at that from a viable point of view, instead of ‘yeah I think I can do that, let’s do it.’
That’s why I like dealing with TCJ. If that opportunity came up, you’d be the first phone call I’d get. And anything that you would say to me from a financial or marketing point of view, from a good idea to a bad idea, I would totally respect that as a partner. Not as a ‘well, the bank doesn’t want to do it, let me go to another bank.’ I would feel comfortable with TCJs analysis, and that’s something I need. You deal with companies that have single owners that sometimes come up with crazy ideas, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you need to bounce them off of someone, and that’s what TCJ does for us.
ABOUT THE CEO
Jack Curtin has been an industry leader in the valve automation sector for over 32 years. During this time period, he has earned a reputation for his decisive leadership and motivation to build high-performance organizations with significant market impact.
Throughout his career, Jack has led strategic and operational breakthroughs in valve communication technologies, valve maintenance based prevention and problem management products, and cost-effective valve actuation solutions.
Jack is a member of the ISA96.03 committee for Pneumatic Actuators.