Monday, 15 January 2007 14:36

ARC Manufacturing, Spokane, Washington

Written by Michelle DeCrescenzo

You may know someone like this. The guy whose mind never really stops churning out ideas. A man married not only to his wife, but his livelihood. A company owner never quite satisfied with the latest improvement to his product, always pushing to reach that next level.

Enter Mike Fuchs, owner of ARC Manufacturing, an industry leader in D.C. welding technology and manufacturer of battery powered dent pullers and welders. He is that guy.

"Ideas usually come about 3 in the morning," said Fuchs with a laugh. "I figure a lot of things out in my head. I really like making things happen."

With one patent to his name, and a few more pending, it comes as no surprise that Fuchs is the mastermind behind the innovation of this Spokane, Washington company. He owns and runs ARC Manufacturing with his wife, Susan, and his stepdaughter Tasha Sheets. He credits the company's stance as an industry leader to the fact that their technology has evolved through extensive research and development. The company invests $30- 50,000 annually on R&D.

Innovative use of power

ARC Manufacturing began in 1995 when Susan's father, Robert Hunter, patented the concept of a battery-powered dent puller and put the first product on the market.

The difference is in the flow of power. When using an AC current, the source of power regularly changes in amplitude and polarity. By running the equipment on battery power, it uses a DC current and provides a constant voltage of output.

Fuchs followed in the footsteps of his father-in-law when he patented the com- pany's resistance welder. He said that to have a good welder, you need three-phase power and over half the shops either don't have this or don't have the power to run them.

"With battery, you can still have the same output of a three-phase welder. We could plug in to your kitchen and be as powerful as a factory welder at GM, so it's a huge advantage," Fuchs said.

Educated consumers buy ARC products

Rich Sacha of Automotive Excellence in Ohio did his homework before choosing to buy the ARC panel beater and hybrid system resistance welder for his 14,000 sq. ft. shop. As a member of the American Welding Society, he understood the industry.

"I had done some research and realized this was the only true direct current piece of equipment," he said. "I think a big thing is that many of the inverter machines that have a little higher profile in the industry can create some problems because of the electrical power. Not all shops are equipped to handle that much current. There's not enough juice and what happens is the weld quality is degraded drastically."

Due to the intricacies of creating such specific products, Fuchs does not license his ideas to other companies. The equipment is manufactured in a factory near his office, and he said he has made changes based on feedback and suggestions from customers.

"A big company cannot do that," Fuchs said. "I'm the one that wants to see it succeed, so I make sure I know what's going on."

Accommodating special requests

Because he has an influence on each aspect of production, Fuchs can accom- modate special requests.

In 2005, Honda approached ARC to create a DC dent puller based on their needs. They wanted the ability to spot-weld their cars in a second or less on the assembly line to repair parts that were breaking off or burning apart on the metal.

Fuchs consulted with them over a period of time, exchanged ideas and eventually created the product. Since then GM has ordered the same, he said.

Due to its productivity, Fuchs decided to offer the welding tool to the public as the Model 1015 DBL. He said it works great when welding heavier metals such as older cars in restoration projects.

Many hats

Although his expertise is on the technological side of the products, Fuchs wears many hats in the company.

"After the salesman leaves, the long term relationship is between us and the customer," he said.

There is a toll-free number on every product, and the caller reaches either Fuchs or someone who is familiar with the machines and also understands collision repair. There are LED lights in the machine that diagnose the problem with computers. The machines are serviced from the factory and all the major components are in one box.

"We can ship him the box, he plugs it in and sends his faulty box back," Fuchs said. "No one has to get inside the machine."

All products carry warranties, and the transformer boxes offer a lifetime warranty

Importance of repeat customers.

"We don't want our customer going to Wal-Mart and buying a rechargeable battery," Fuchs said. "We make sure they always have the right stuff, and they come back. Fifty percent of our sales are repeat customers."

Those repeat customers can be assured that over time there will be improvements and updates to the products as well.

"The technology has brought us, in ten years, to the top," said Fuchs. "Right now we are on the fifth edition of the dent puller, and we're on our third and fourth series of spot welders and our second series of mig wire-feed welders."

George Buhr Jr., of Buhr's Auto Body and Frame in Missouri bought his first dent puller from ARC nearly 10 years ago, and he still uses that same machine in his small shop. Four years ago, he bought a spot welder and recently replaced the machine in July. He purchased the latest upgrade, the 1250 Hybrid System, a resistance spot welder and dent puller.

"Mike over there has given us really good service ever since we bought the first dent puller," Buhr said. "That's why we stayed with him, for the service more than anything."

Going the extra mile

Fuchs is determined to go the extra mile for his customers. His motto is that you cannot sell just one product to a body shop; you have to be able to sell them many products. This way, when they need something, they know who to call, he said. For example, if technicians are working on aluminum or boron steel, they call him, and he advises on what they need to use to work with those materials.

Even when the clock's hands tick towards closing time, the job is never done. When Fuchs and his wife leave work for the day, all office calls are transferred to his cell phone.

"There are many times when I have to fly out of bed to answer the phone," he said. "It is our life. When you do what we do, you can't get it half done."

A self-described workaholic, Fuchs considers his job his hobby, and said he always enjoys tinkering with things. With a background in electrical maintenance, he took a leap of faith when he left his steady job of 20 years to start working at ARC Manufacturing in 1995, just months after it was founded.

"I came here because I wanted to learn things," Fuchs said. "I had no security when I came here. There were times when I thought; 'we're going to shut the doors on Friday.' But we've always believed in the product."

Like father, like daughter

When Susan's father founded the company, he was a chemical engineer with a keen business sense, an inventive mind and a few patents under his belt. He started the company with his two daughters in mind, both registered nurses at the time. He wanted to forge a path for them away from the stress of a hospital.

The switch from the halls of medicine to the inner world of auto body repair was a welcome change for Susan.

"It was very interesting and the products were just fascinating," she said. "Right from the beginning it was something that we knew was unique."

In 1998, Susan and her husband bought remainder of the company shares held by her sister and brother-in-law, and they took over ownership. At that time, their daughter, Sheets, began to work more hours for the company in accounting.

Now 29, Sheets has worked for ARC in various areas since the age of 18. During that time, she completed a bachelor's degree in finance and management, worked at a large company, took steps to start her own business, and earned a masters degree.

In the end, the road of life has led her back to the family business, where she, as a third-generation employee, assumes an important role in the financial side of operations.

"I would choose this any day," Sheets said. "I am a part of all the decisions. I'm used to having knowledge of everything that's going on in the company and being able to make those decisions. When you go to a large business, you are just one person. You don't know who's making the decisions."

And with an 8-year-old daughter who enjoys the business and loves to come and hang out in the office, Sheets has a legacy which she may pass on to her own child one day.

Last modified on Friday, 02 December 2016 23:44