Young Entrepreneur Featured

9:57am EDT July 22, 2002

Acquiring a faltering company that performs railroad car maintenance doesn’t sound like the likely choice of graduates of Carnegie Mellon University’s business school.

But Eric Close and partner Chris Farls were looking for a particular kind of opportunity, and they found it in ProLine Services.

“The price was right,” says Close, who, with Farls, acquired the business in 1997 for less than $1 million.

The company cleans and repairs railroad cars, paints the exteriors, and applies linings to the interiors of tank cars and hopper cars. ProLine Services had sales of about $2 million last year.

The company they took over was suffering from a number of problems, Close says, including vendors who were holding shipments, heavy receivables, poor worker morale and problems with leases on track and land at the McKees Rocks facility.

But Close says the business, which they chose after looking at about 30 potential deals, nonetheless fit their requirements. The partners saw a future for the business. First, it’s one of the few such facilities in the Northeast. Second, it’s positioned for growth as the railroads are getting back some of the business they have lost to the trucking industry.

They also are getting much better at servicing their customers, says Close, and are as much as 60 percent less expensive than truck transport.

Farls is an industrial engineer by training, and Close has a background in high technology. They figured they could apply their skills to finding better processes, systems and methods to keep their customers in touch with the progress of the repair jobs.

One system they have installed, a real-time car status program on the Web, allows customers to keep tabs on the progress of repair work on their cars. They can take and display digital photos of cars to document damage and wear and allow ProLine to secure faster approval for the work..

For Close, there’s no real secret to entrepreneurial success.

“I almost look at it as a marathon,” says the 29-year-old entrepreneur. “You need to stick your nose to the grindstone and keep plowing forward.”