Humble beginnings. That’s a recurring theme in the Wire Harness News Company Profiles. This installment is certainly no different as we highlight Automatic Coax & Cable in Sanford, FL. I met with Gary Martinet on a recent hot September day. Gary, along with his wife Glenda, own and manage the business, and Gary shared their story of happenstance.
Back in 1986, Gary was selling mechanical screw machine parts. He had played on the University of Central Florida golf team and was teaching golf on the side. One of his students was also a friend and local business owner. One day he asked him, “Mike, what’s your biggest headache – what do you lack in good supply?” Mike quickly replied that he had no reliable local source for cable assemblies. Gary wasn’t quite sure what he meant by ‘cable assemblies’ but he plugged that in the back of his mind.
A few months later, Gary was cruising local garage sales looking for toys for his kids. He came up dry, but as he was walking away from his last stop, something caught his eye. In the back of the garage were several pieces of equipment, all nicely covered. He asked the owner what it was and she told him it was wire and cable assembly equipment. She and her husband had moved the equipment with them from California, and had intended to set up a cable assembly business in Central Florida. “Well the light went off right there. I asked her what happened, and she said that her husband had passed away.” Gary thought with her knowledge and his efforts, they could perhaps start a business together, but she declined saying she would rather just sell the equipment. “I asked her how much she would want for it. I knew I had $1,500 in the bank, and she said she would probably take $1,400.” He ran home and told his wife not to write any checks because they only had $100 in the bank. “I honestly don’t remember what she said, but she didn’t throw anything at me, and we are still together after 45 years.”
Gary and some of his buddies loaded up the equipment and took it to his garage. “I looked at it and said, ‘now what?’ I mean, I didn’t have a clue.” With no manuals, all he could do was contact the manufacturer. “One of the pieces of equipment said ‘Eubanks’ so I dialed information, spoke with the manufacturer and got the number for a rep in Tampa.” For $25, he got a manual, some hands-on training, and some spacer blocks he would need to make the cables for his friend, Mike.
Gary heard about a cable assembly house that had closed, and managed to track down and hire a couple of employees. The original customer led to more, and soon the fledgling company moved out of the garage and into a 1000 sq ft building in Casselberry, FL. And it’s was hot. Really hot. “With no A/C in the building it was 100 degrees and I was pouring with sweat. I’d use the one bathroom we had to clean up; then deliver parts and visit customers.” In quick fashion, he picked up new business and customers the old-fashioned way. “I vowed that if I ever made anything out of this business, my people are never going to have to work like this.”
The company was called Multi-Methods and Gary soon took on a partner who brought his knowledge of PCB assembly to the table. “He was a great guy, but he was more of a corporate guy who wanted to get big and go public, and that just wasn’t my mindset.” They decided to split the company. Gary took the cable division and moved to a new facility. “We were both happier and remained friends.” He named his half of the business Automatic Coax & Cable to place high in directories, and to call to attention the coax assemblies they were building at the time.
Like many in his situation, Gary had to borrow money against his house to support the company in the early days. “My wife said, ‘Now, why am I signing my house away?’ So, I said, ‘Ok, how about if we make you an owner with 51%,’ and we became a women-owned business?” So, in 1992, Glenda went on board and learned everything about the business, from production to the financials. “I’m lucky that I married the right woman. She’s just that sharp and that good and has the kind of abilities to make this business what it is – she’s definitely smarter than me!”
Fast forward to today and Automatic Coax & Cable has 40 employees in a beautiful 10,000 sq ft, temperature controlled facility in Sanford Florida. They moved to the facility in 1996 and make full use of every square inch. In addition to a full and impressive spate of cable and harness processing and test equipment, the company also boasts full over molding capabilities with computer controlled molding machines, injection shuttle press, curing and potting ovens, and full CNC mold making capacity. They are certified to ISO 9001: 2015, ITAR and UL registered, and manufacture to IPC/WHMA A-620 with trainers on staff. All equipment and components are RoHS compliant.
Automatic Coax & Cable builds many assemblies for mil-aero and DoD applications. Customers include General Dynamics, FLIR Systems, L3, Sanmina, and they just received an order in support of the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system. They also build assemblies for medical devices, test equipment, avionics, solar and conservation systems, and just about anywhere hi-reliability assemblies are required.
When asked what makes his business unique, Gary said, “The number one thing is the level of trust we have with our customers. We work with them the way we would like our vendors to work with us.” He elaborated saying, “I’ve got customers who send us a PO and say ‘just tell me how much it is.’” In cases like that, they will price it as accurately as possible and run it three times. More accurate adjustments to price can then be made. They just had a $10 part that went through three production runs. The price was adjusted down to $9.50 after a refinement in the process. “I think we have done some really good things for people, and we have become a much bigger asset and resource for them than they thought in the beginning.”
Another unique feature is the company’s philosophy of stocking high running parts. “I like to have 2 weeks of my customer’s steady runners,” Gary detailed. “It’s not the JIT philosophy of today, but it works for me and my customers love it.”
Gary was also quick to credit his highly talented staff for making it all possible. “We have some great people here. A lot of them go on to bigger and better jobs, but our average employee has been here about 15 years.” Many key employees were serendipitous encounters Gary and Glenda have made along the way. They often met people at a crossroads in their career. “I’ve told them, ‘come and hang your hat here while you are looking,’ and they have just stayed.” The tone is upbeat and everyone seems to genuinely enjoy being there. “If you can’t joke around, and have fun, this just isn’t the place for you,” he happily advised.
Just as Gary was quick to credit his employees, he was also eager to praise his outside sales reps as an asset that sets the company apart. “I thoroughly believe in dealing with reps. I was a rep myself and I know they are in there on a weekly basis, and they understand the people, players, and know when the dynamics change.” He has resisted any outside advice to change the marketing structure. “They have built the relationships over the years that I just can build over the phone or with the internet, and they just do a great job.”
When asked about the future, Gary advised that they are accepting no new business at this time. “We did $2.6 in sales last year and I’ve got about three times that currently in backlog.” His dad always told him to beware of going out of business by growing too fast. “I just turned down about $1M in new business, and I told them it wouldn’t be right for me to take the business and fail at their work, along with the work for my current customers.” He appreciates the backlog as a blessing, but also a burden they have to solve as they build staff for a second shift.
Gary is very thankful for the successes of the business over the years and thinks often about it’s unlikely beginning. “This business was an accident – I mean, I went to a garage sale! And I just think that for many people who end up in business for themselves, it’s an accident by the grace of God.”