By Richard Breen
Photography supplied by Phoenix Specialty Manufacturing
Phoenix Specialty Manufacturing Co. makes the kinds of things – washers, seals, shims, gaskets, spacers – that turn up in just about anything mechanical, from aircraft turbines to medical devices to firearms to the jet sprayer at the self-serve car wash down the street.
“Our parts are small, so shipping’s not an issue,” says Pat Moloney, company president. “We can ship all over the world.”
Phoenix has capitalized on that ability to the point where it received a 2017 Export Achievement Award from the S.C. Department of Commerce. The agency says the award honors Palmetto State businesses that have increased their exports and served as role models to other businesses.
“Their export business is up 300 percent in the last three years, exporting to 24 countries,” says Adrienne Fairwell, a Commerce spokeswoman.
The company, which is celebrating its 110th year of operation and 50th in South Carolina, has also increased its aviation business in recent years while producing parts in more complicated shapes using more exotic materials under more stringent specifications. Phoenix can stamp parts as thin as one one-hundredth of a millimeter.
“Our customers have something challenging or unique about their part, and that brings them to us,” says Russell Hurst, vice president of sales and marketing.
Hurst is the fourth generation to help lead Phoenix, which has grown to 100 employees and $20 million in annual sales. The chief executive is Russell’s dad, Robert Hurst Jr. It was Robert Hurst Sr. who brought the company to South Carolina from New York.
Robert Hurst Sr. served in World War II with a gentleman from Bamberg named Ziggy Hartzog.
“They became friends and after the war they stayed in touch,” Russell Hurst says. “Poppy would come down here to hunt and fish and have a good time and Ziggy and his family would go up to New York City.”
Hartzog encouraged his friend to open a plant in South Carolina. Phoenix began with a small operation in 1967.
“Long story short, we started moving things south and I believe all of the production was down here by the mid-to-late 1970s and everything up north was closed by the 1980s,” Russell Hurst says. “We don’t think we’d still be in business if we were in New York City. Down here, we’ve got a great workforce, a lower cost of living, a lower cost of manufacturing, some great regional groups to work with, lower taxes, it’s just a great place to do business.”
The company is active in promoting economic development, according to Kay Maxwell, a vice president with the Southern Carolina Regional Alliance.
“They have been great citizens in the Bamberg County area,” she says. “They have a great retention rate because they treat their employees so well.”
Russell Hurst is proud of the company benefits package, which includes health insurance, disability, 401(k), and profit sharing. He says most Phoenix employees have been with the company for more than a decade and are enthusiastic about referring candidates for job openings.
“Our goal is to bring people on that want to make a career out of working here,” he says.
“Here” is the same spot the Hursts purchased in 1967 on U.S. 301 south of Bamberg. Their footprint has grown to occupy 120,000 square feet, now with buildings on both sides of the highway.
Along with being able to handle difficult jobs, Phoenix touts its speed. The company maintains a warehouse with 400 million parts.
“That’s one of the ways we keep customers coming back,” Moloney says. “We’ll have it on the shelf. They’ll call us up and we’ve got it.”
The company estimates that it produces 500,000 parts each day and ships 110 million parts each year, to 2,000-plus customers. Some of those parts have found their way into the space shuttle and NASA equipment on the moon and Mars.
Phoenix has found a niche in servicing aviation and medical clients that require full traceability.
“You can walk out into the warehouse, pick up a part and we can tell you everything about it,” Russell Hurst says, including who they bought the raw material from, every time they’ve inspected it, what press it was run on, and any outside services.
As Phoenix steadily grew over the years, South Carolina’s manufacturing economy evolved. Now the company that makes tiny parts for huge aircraft finds the world’s biggest aerospace company, Boeing, less than 100 miles away.
“Having a huge company like Boeing here, with all the other companies in the area, bringing that cluster of manufacturing has only helped us be more competitive,” Russell Hurst says. “There are a lot of great companies here that service the aerospace industry, and they service us as well.”