Smack dab in the middle of Florida in between Tampa and Orlando lies Mulberry, a small town of just over 3,000; where Florida Air Tool Inc., a rental sales and service provider, has quietly enjoyed a great deal of success for 55 years. That’s 55 years spent getting the job done the right way.
Florida Air Tool, a family-owned business, operates without a website and has little need or time for one. Rather, they thrive off of word-of-mouth, having close, tight-knit relationships with their customers, pouring sweat equity into their business, being involved in the community and partnering with tool providers that simply get the job done.
Dependability, along with accountability in the people and tools, is of the utmost importance for any service provider, but for a small company of six mobile cross-trained mechanics, it’s imperative. Small businesses require someone to work hard and not be above anything, no matter their tenure or their job title – some things just need to get done.
“I started out at Florida Air Tool sweeping the floor and making coffee 41 years ago and it is still something that I do to this day – we do whatever it takes,” said Jerry Harrell, vice president and general manager of Florida Air Tool – a position he took over in September of 2001. “We are a small family here, and we take care of our own. Each of us plays a significant role, and that allows us to be successful at what we do.”
In 1959, the doors opened at Florida Air Tool, which was originally founded by Kenneth W. Grader, an entrepreneur in his own right. Grader, a business aficionado, studied the stock market in school and followed it closely every day. It was his keen eye for business, as well as astute knowledge and leadership, that led the company to be financially stable to this day and also open two other companies: Metalcoat, Inc. and Florida Metallizing Service, Inc. Don Grader, Kenneth’s brother, also helped to create a solid foundation, serving as the general manager for 20 years.
A majority of the Florida Air Tool customers are industrial contractors who work on a 24-hour, around the clock basis in plant turnarounds and repairs. The contractors mainly serve the concrete industry in chemical, cement and power generation facilities, as well as sugar mills and orange juice plants. Harrell said he makes sure to look at products that fit their customer base so they don’t overextend into industries that would force them to neglect what they have been able to build at Florida Air Tools. At the same time, he keeps his eyes open when manufacturers come out with new products and checks them out to see if they would be a good fit for his customers.
A full-fledged Chicago Pneumatic distributor for over 30 years, Florida Air Tool and CP have a tight-knit relationship, both sharing similar philosophies of doing what is right and best for the client. Florida Air Tool collaborates closely with their customers, and their partnership with CP has never withered with the input they receive from them.
“One thing that has served us, the rock of this company, is paying attention to customers’ wishes, wants and needs,” said Harrell. “As time went on some of the major players in the pneumatic tool business dropped off or disappeared from the scene, but Chicago Pneumatic stayed viable. It became more obvious that we needed to be a distributor for them and that came, in part, from us listening to what our customers wanted.”
Having six cross-trained mechanics mixed with a majority of their customers working on a 24/7 basis presents a steep challenge in itself, which is why dependability is a must. Dependability is one of the values that CP instills in each of their products and is one of the reasons Florida Air Tool goes with them as their pneumatic tool provider.
“CP has always been a very dependable supplier with a great product,” said Harrell. “It’s obvious that anyone can go out and buy a cheap tool, but on the other hand you can also buy an overpriced tool. As far as seeing how far your money goes that you do spend – the CP products get the furthest distance per dollar. That is vital to our company, but it also cuts down on the expenses for our customers and the less downtime they have, means a better bottom-line. Our customers are our best advocates, and we want them to be happy and enjoy success.”
Lynn G. Johnson currently serves as the president of Florida Air Tool and in 2009 the company remodeled their office and put a collage of Kenneth and Don Grader and their family in the main office to commemorate their 50-year anniversary in business. They have since turned their heads to the future and are looking forward to another 55 years of success.
When it comes to business, Florida Air Tool doesn’t need a website nor do they need to be flashy. No, their style is old-school methodology, and it has quietly brought them a great deal of achievement, one that requires cleaning up after each other’s messes and making a pot of coffee while looking after their biggest supporter: their customers. When you focus on the customer and put the right tools in their hands, the rest will take care of itself.