When Edwin Dygert started the E.S. Dygert Co. in Edina, Minn., 50 years ago, the operation was modest, to say the least.
For example, his corporate headquarters was his own home. But that was just fine from an ``elbow-room'' standpoint because he also was the only employee.
In 2008, the elastomer and thermoplastic seal distributor he founded-now known as RT/Dygert International-has three sites, including one in China, with annual revenues of more than $20 million and 47 employees.
RT/Dygert CEO Larry Goode, who has owned the business since 1987, said the key to 50 years of growth and success has been in building and retaining relationships, with both vendors and customers. ``One of the best things is we have some key customers that have been with us for three decades,'' Goode said. ``We've been able to meet their needs by listening to them and keeping up with the changes.''
Goode's own solid relationship with Edwin Dygert-whom he worked for in the 1970s but kept in touch with after leaving in 1979-allowed him to come back and get a ``wonderful opportunity'' to buy the business eight years later.
The Dygert company has seen a lot of changes in 50 years. In 1958, Edwin Dygert made trips to Sioux City, Iowa, or Duluth, Minn., to deliver parts for hydraulic cylinders or agricultural sprayers, Goode said. Today, the company ships parts to Shanghai, China, or South America for paint guns and CAT scan equipment, he said.
Customers today expect more than ever, and the company has been able to keep up with on-time delivery-Dygert is meeting that goal at a 95-percent clip, Goode said-by offering value-added services, building trust and loyalty, and generally following its instincts. The company has done well by putting the ``right part in the right box for the right customer at the right time,'' he said.
If someone had told Goode five years ago that Dygert would have operations in Chicago and China, ``I'd not have been sure what company they were talking about-certainly not us,'' he said. ``But you always have to decide what is best for you and what the customer expects, then do what you have to do.''
In 2004, E.S. Dygert merged with R.T. Enterprises Inc. of Skokie, Ill., allowing each company to yoke the strengths of the other: R.T. Enterprises had a specialty in molded rubber components, while Dygert supplied seals and packing with a focus on thermoplastics.
``R.T. had been a larger vendor of ours and was a healthy company with good cash flow,'' Goode said. ``It was a good thing for us-as it turned out, we would have lost some business if we hadn't done the deal and had their resources available.''
Then in 2005, the renamed RT/Dygert formed a joint venture with Patton Industrial Products Inc. of nearby Bloomington, Minn., to supply China-based operations of U.S. companies with elastomer and thermoplastic parts out of Shanghai.
``The Asia project is a work-in-progress,'' Goode said, and the company still considers the venture a start-up operation. The pace in Asia is frenetic because of the growth rate, but at the same time relationship building is not as simple as ``dinner and a handshake,'' he said.
The best news is that the Asian venture is one to two years ahead of schedule with its profitability, and ``we feel good about that,'' Goode said.
Over his 21-year tenure as CEO, Goode said he's very proud of many things, including the company's compound double-digit growth rate, being the nearly or totally sole seal supplier for its top customers, having never lost money in any year and a 17-year record of year-over-year growth.
The seal distributor also has maintained a solid work force and has several long-term employees, including some top managers with 20 years experience. Dygert plans to toast its longevity and success with a company party in August and will visit some of its customers throughout the year to share the celebration with as many people as possible, Goode said.
Down the road, Dygert wants to maintain its double-digit growth rate and possibly make a strategic acquisition or two in the future if it's the right fit. The international arena is always a possibility for growth, Goode said.
``We don't have a crystal ball, but success is measured by how ready you are to take on the challenges at the time they come up,'' he said.
``Thus far, I'm glad we've had the wherewithal to do that. We've been around for 50 years; we're older than Microsoft and more profitable than General Motors.''