2009 rocks Potter's boat, but doesn't tip it over

Friday, January 1, 2010

ST. LOUIS--Bernie Lears, president of Potter Electric Signal, characterized 2009 as "a year of keeping the boat afloat," working on stability and "not a whole lot of fun." Lears likes to get out to the industry shows and says he really enjoys the fire and security industry, but in order to "make 2009 profits what we expected them to be," Lears said he spent most of the year head-down, looking for ways to "cut nickels and dimes."

Lears is pleased that this year's penny-pinching did not include any layoffs or any reduction in planned R & D investments. It also will not delay the opening of a new manufacturing plant in China.

"We couldn't skimp on dollars for new product development," Lears said. As a result "some interesting things will be popping across all of our product groups next year." Potter manufactures and designs electronic controls and monitoring devices and related accessories used in the fire sprinkler, electronic fire and security markets around the world. Potter, which was a family-owned business for many years was bought by a group of investors and current management in 2008. It also bought U.K.-based Elmdene in April of 2008.

Lears said the manufacturing plant is in Suzhou, China, is very nearly complete and will open pending "some paperwork with the Chinese government." Lears said more than half of Potter's products are produced in the U.S. Products produced at the new plant will predominantly be used in the Asian and European market. "But some will be for the U.S.," he said.

And what does he think about the UTC/GE Security deal? "Every time a conglomerate comes into the industry and picks up a key player it's a positive for us. These guys [conglomerates] have their own agenda and they're not aligned with the customer," Lears said. "They get bigger and we get better."