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1999 FIN – Earnest Machine Products Marks 50th With Book of Company History

June 15
00:00 2010


Earnest Machine Products headquarters from 1952 to 1977

January 8, 1999 FIN – What are the odds of a family business reaching its 50th anniversary?

To mark its golden anniversary Earnest Machine Products Co. published its history – Earnest…50 Years & Counting – with a preface telling the odds.

The book notes that “Golden anniversaries for businesses are not as common as one might think. For example, of the 96,346 companies that started in 1948, almost one-quarter failed in their first year. And fewer than 500 are still operating in 1998.

“The odds against a family business surviving for a half-century are even greater. Fewer than 100 continue to operate today under family control,” according to the book.

That means one out of 964 family companies make the half-century mark.

Paul Zehnder

When Earnest was founded on August 20, 1948, by 43-year-old Paul Zehnder as Zehnder Engineering & Machine Co., the average annual family income was $2,933 and the Cleveland Indians “were on their way to winning the World Series,” according to Earnest’s history book.

In the early years Zehnder manufactured license plate holders, spring spreaders, tire wrenches and thread gauges on the second floor of a downtown Cleveland building.

Paul’s wife Helen Zehnder operated stamping machines and kept the books.

War Surplus Fasteners

In 1948 Zehnder purchased a carload of war surplus track shoe bolts. Once used to secure cleats on tanks, contractors soon needed the bolts for bulldozers, cranes and backhoes as post-war construction began. After selling bolts to a large Cleveland Caterpillar dealer, the company began supplying replacement bolts to Caterpillar dealers across the country.

In 1951 the company name was changed from Zehnder to Earnest because Phil Zehnder was employed by supplier Lamson & Sessions and it “was felt this close family connection with a company owned and operated by the Zehnder brothers might invoke criticism. So they took Paul Zehnder’s middle name, Ernest, and modified it to Earnest – an ancient Greek word meaning “something of value given by a buyer to a seller to bind a bargain.”

After expanding its fastener lines for OEMs, Earnest took over a family garage for more warehouse space and added a second phone line with collect-call answering before the days of toll-free numbers.

Earnest moved into its first company-owned property in 1950 and into a larger property in 1952 where it stayed until 1977 when it moved to its current headquarters in Parma, OH, seven miles south of Cleveland.

Earnest had its ups and downs over the years, including starting but later closing branches in Miami, Houston and San Jose. Earnest currently operates branches in Davenport, IA, and Tampa, FL.

The 1992 Mississippi River flood rose to Earnest loading ramps in Iowa, but it crested just inches below the warehouse floor. Earnest soon moved to a larger warehouse on higher ground.

Earnest handled other products over the years, including enamel paints primarily for contractors repainting earth moving equipment, roller bearings and bronze bushings. But the fastener business grew to dominate its sales.

Today Earnest has 500 stocking distributors in all 50 states and 1,100 non-stocking distributors.

As the market required change, Earnest has added integrated supply, an in-house testing lab and ISO 9002 certification. In 1975 Earnest published its first catalog. In 1998 its company brochure was translated into Spanish and Earnest began running advertisements reaching the Latin American market.

James Zehnder, John Zehnder, Tom Barrett, Phil Gentilli and Dan Zehnder comprise the current executive management group. Since 1980 brothers James and John have alternated taking CEO responsibilities, with the transfer taking place every May 1.

The brothers started working in the family company as teenagers. Before joining Earnest in full-time roles James was a minister and John a high-school teacher.

Barrett began as a truck driver in 1956 and is now executive vice president. Dan Zehnder also worked at Earnest during high school, and his first full-time role came in 1978 as an inspector. Today he is vice president for sales & marketing. Gentilli was employed as comptroller in 1986 and since 1990 has been vice president and CFO.

Over half the 100 employees have been with Earnest for more than 15 years. ©1999/2010 Fastener Industry News

2010 FIN – Earnest Machine Moving Warehouses to Indianapolis
July 19, 2010 FIN – Earnest Machine Products Co. a Cleveland-based master distributor of fasteners since 1948, is closing warehouses in Cleveland and Davenport, Iowa, and centralizing in Indianapolis.
The corporate office will remain in Cleveland.
Earnest president Kirk Zehnder announced Earnest will consolidate those operations in a 90,000 sq ft building in Park 100 on the northwest side of Indianapolis.
Zehnder said the company chose Indianapolis due to the city’s central location.
“Indianapolis is a logistics hub for the Midwest that provides reliable and economical delivery options.”
In a letter on, Zehnder compared the move to his youthful days playing Legos. After building one machine he took it apart to rebuilding something better. “Legos taught me to think big, be flexible and embrace new ideas.”
Zehnder has made numerous changes since taking over as the third generation leader in 2007.
Earnest, once well known for creative booths at industry trade shows, quit exhibiting to spend marketing money in other ways.
Last fall Earnest asked its distributors “what was needed to improve our service. We received great ideas, learned a great deal, and began developing a plan that would lead to better. That plan is underway and once again – the Legos are being transformed,” Zehnder wrote.
“When this transition is complete, our fill rate will increase, our inventory availability will improve, and our same day shipping capacity is expanded,” Zehnder wrote.
The new warehouse features automated material handling equipment and new IT systems to drive efficiency and expand capacity.
Inventory will be increased at Earnest’s Atlanta warehouse and equipment will be added for automated custom packaging.
Founded in 1948 by Paul Earnest Zehnder in his garage, the company published a history book to mark its 50th anniversary in 1998.
Earnest is currently located at 12502 Plaza Dr., Parma, OH 44130. ©2010

Related Stories:

• Earnest Machine Moving Warehouses to Indianapolis; Office Stays in Cleveland

• Earnest Machine Moving Warehouses to Indianapolis; Office Stays in Cleveland

Related Links:

• Earnest Machine

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