By Eric Peterson | Jul 08, 2015
"My father, Fred Cirocki, started Arrow in 1976," says Susan. "I'm an only child so I grew up around it all my life. He put me to work and I hated it."
But no emotion is final. Fred recruited her back to the sheet metal business in 1994, after she graduated from college and worked a few other jobs. "He said, 'I need to sell it or I need you to come back,'" Susan recalls. "I couldn't let his blood, sweat, and tears go to waste."
Three years later -- at age 33 -- Susan took over the company after Fred passed away. She worked to restructure and modernize the company, and soon found herself liking the business much more than her adolescent self would have ever thought possible.
"We truly are a job shop, so we work in a variety of industries," says Susan, citing recent projects in transportation, medical, telecom, and mining. About 85 percent of sales go to customers in Colorado, she adds. "Right now, we're focused on diversifying."
No matter the industry, Susan says Arrow excels when it can help customers design products. One client in the cleaning industry had a piece of equipment that had a high rate of failure, so Arrow reverse-engineered it into a more reliable form. "It was really a lot of fun," says Susan.
Another customer worked with Arrow's engineers to make a product that's much easier to assemble. Susan says the process formerly took weeks for completion -- now it takes days.
The recession had something of a delayed impact on sales. "Our customer base was pretty strong through 2008, 2009, 2010," says Susan. "Our roughest year was 2012. It seemed like somebody turned the water faucet off."
And that translated to some pain. "We had to right-size the company," says Susan. "What I'm most proud of is we brought everybody back."
The key to Arrow's comeback in the three years since? Instead of relying on word of mouth and organic growth alone, Susan has put in place a proactive sales and marketing strategy. "This year we've been more aggressive," she says.
Investing in new technology is another key. A new Trumpf TruPunch 3000 "is pretty exciting," says Susan, noting that the machine replaced a lot of manual work at Arrow.
Broadly, Arrow's model has been about maintaining quality while adapting to change. "Our on-time delivery is impeccable and so is our quality," says Susan. "Our customers love us because they know they're going to get it when we say they're going to get it."
Challenges: Finding skilled employees. "There's a lot of machining training, but not sheet metal," says Susan. "We're still trying to hire people."
Opportunities: Susan says Arrow has plenty of room to grow outside of Colorado. "I think we're the best-kept secret people haven't heard of."
Needs: "With the technology today, it's pretty exciting, but you need to balance costs with rewards," notes Susan. A new equipment purchase is due in 2016 or 2017, and she plans to involve employees in the decision. "They're the ones on the floor working with [the machines]," she explains.