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Strength in numbers Featured

9:49am EDT March 29, 2006

When Bob Merckle and his wife, Bunnie, bought the Electric Sweeper Service Co. (ESSCO), they saw the growth potential of the vacuum cleaner and vacuum cleaner parts wholesaler.

Although the company was successful and well-run, Bob Merckle, president, knew he could take it to another level.

“When we bought the business in ’89, they were a small, quiet, probably a third-tier wholesaler with a small customer footprint,” says Merckle. “The marketing was near nonexistent, and the dealers that we served were basically in Ohio and probably Michigan and portions of Indiana.

“As we began to promote and market our business and our products, expand our product line and come out with an industry-leading catalogue in the early ’90s, we saw some rather tremendous growth, to the point that we became a Weatherhead 100 company.”

In fact, the company just celebrated its 16th year of increased sales under Merckle’s leadership.

But ESSCO faced another obstacle.

“We now had a national reputation, and we had national advertising and name recognition, but we only had a footprint that basically allowed us to competitively ship our products in the Eastern half of the United States,” says Merckle. “We realized that for future growth, it was going to take multiple locations.”

Unfortunately, the company didn’t have the capital it needed to expand or to look at acquisitions, and Merckle hesitated to take on debt.

“We were kind of hesitant to throw all of our eggs in that one basket — go out and open those additional locations, buy a competitor — because we worked our whole life to finally get ahead, and to put that in jeopardy as we continue to go to the next step and grow to the next level would not have been the smartest move we could make,” he says.

The solution was to find a financial partner. With the help of Western Reserve Partners, a Cleveland-based investment banking firm, the Merckles began to advertise their business and look at offers.

“We wanted somebody that could write the check,” says Merckle. “We wanted a company with a solid reputation and were pleased to find a Cleveland partner.”

The couple chose to align with MCM Capital Partners LP. That partner brings not only financial expertise but managerial expertise, as well. Having MCM as a partner brought new perspectives and ideas and gave the company stability and a clear plan for the future.

“We were not ready to retire,” says Merckle. “We still have plenty of energy and vision in front of us, but we were looking for that financial partner that would take over a majority ownership in the company, which gave us a clear succession plan. [That] was important not only to us, but to our staff who’s been with us for, in many cases, over a decade.

“At the end of the day, we have a company that started in 1924. It had gone through two or three family transitions through its lifetime, and we wanted to be good stewards for that family business while it was our family, and [we] passed it along to make sure it was going to be healthy moving forward.”

With the new partners in place, ESSCO is ready to seek opportunities.

“We’ve identified the direction that we want to pursue and have begun the process of reaching out and pursuing those goals,” says Merckle.

HOW TO REACH: Electric Sweeper Service Co., www.essco.net