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Friends join forces after fire destroyed business
‘Nice guys do finish first’
Jerry Wood (left) and Phil Bryant look at a new computer-controlled lathe at Technical Machine Services in Henry County. The two men’s businesses were combined — and their friendship was sealed — after a fire destroyed Bryant’s Collinsville Machinery Co. last year. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Sunday, July 15, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Jerry Wood and Phil Bryant have learned that good things sometimes come out of tragedy.
In their case, combining two businesses kept most of the employees at one from losing their jobs, plus a friendship being solidified.
Wood runs Technical Machine Services just south of Martinsville. Bryant ran Collinsville Machinery Co., which was destroyed by a fire a little more than a year ago.
The companies were similar, although Wood said his company focused on repairing machines while Bryant’s company mostly made replacement parts.
The men were friends, having gotten to know each other a few years before the fire. Yet Bryant, who is 14 years older than Wood, knew Wood’s father, Walter, who co-founded Technical Machine Services, better than he knew Wood. In fact, Walter Wood had encouraged Bryant to start his business.
The businessmen said they did not consider each other’s business to be competition because each basically had its own clientele.
About 3 a.m. May 27, 2011, the phone rang at Wood’s house. His wife answered it and told Wood that Bryant was calling.
“I knew it couldn’t be good (news),” Wood said.
A fire had destroyed Collinsville Machinery. It occurred during a storm after trees fell across a power line and then crashed onto the building.
Afterward, Bryant said, “I realized it wasn’t financially feasible to start from scratch” because he could not afford to immediately replace every piece of equipment his company had bought during the previous 25 years.
He worried about whether members of his small work force would be able to find other jobs.
“Customers are not going to wait six to nine months for you to rebuild,” Wood emphasized.
Wood had a few machines at his business on Evening Star Lane that were not being used. He offered them for Bryant’s use. Within a few weeks, the staff of Collinsville Machinery was at work at Technical Machine Services.
Wood’s firm has since taken over Collinsville Machinery and hired four of its five workers. There just was no room for the fifth person, Wood explained.
No money was exchanged in the acquisition, Bryant said.
The combined firm now has 14 employees, and work space has “started getting really tight,” Wood said.
His office and Bryant’s are adjoining. The men have become closer friends, and they frequently talk and joke with each other. The business has become sort of like a partnership, with each man usually taking care of the customers he had before the businesses combined.
“I’m slowly learning his business, and he’s slowly learning mine,” Bryant said. He figures that in a year, each should be up to speed on the other’s tasks.
“Phil can do a lot more of the machinery work than I can do,” said Wood, a former professional golfer who seven years ago took over the business that his dad had started more than four decades ago.
“I know enough (to know how) to do it, and that’s about it,” he added. He mostly handles the managerial end of the business.
In some cases, a computer program now enables a machine to make a replacement part for a customer’s machine.
The replacement part may not be exactly like the original, but it should be close enough that it works properly, Wood said. By being able to get parts locally, companies can save a lot of money versus ordering parts from companies a long distance away, sometimes overseas, he said.
“There’s not too many parts we can’t replicate,” he added.
Bryant said he considers Wood to be the boss. He said, for example, that when they occasionally have different opinions on how business matters should be handled, the decision usually is based on Wood’s opinion.
“But I have a lot of respect for Phil,” Wood said. “We both have a lot invested in this business (now).”
“It’s more of a friendship than a partnership,” Bryant said. “We have had so much in common.”
One of those commonalities is parents who died within a short period of time. They helped each other get through their grieving.
Having combined their businesses and developed a strong friendship, “Jerry and Phil are prime examples that nice guys do finish first” in life, said Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins.
Adkins nominated Technical Machine Services for the “Small Business of the Year Award for Manufacturing” that it received this spring during the Business Appreciation Luncheon sponsored by the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and the local chamber of commerce.