Spokane Journal of Business

Conveyor maker here views acquisition as springboard

Concern handles equipment for parcel distribution sites of UPS, FedEx in five states

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Opportunity Industries Inc., a Spokane Valley-based company that installs, maintains, and repairs conveyor systems for companies such as United Parcel Service and FedEx Corp., among others, is hoping a recent acquisition will help it broaden its customer base.

The company, which has its headquarters at 102 S. Vista, earlier this month acquired the assets of Valley Electric Service Inc., located in a separate space inside the same Vista Road building, says Paula Kopczynski, its sole owner. The purchase gives it in-house electrical capabilities, eliminating the need to hire electrical subcontractors for jobs, Kopczynski says.

She declines to disclose financial terms of the transaction, which became effective May 10, but she says Opportunity Industries will retain all of Valley Electric's eight employees, and the electrical contracting company will keep its name.

Opportunity Industries separately employs a total of 15 people—seven workers in Spokane Valley and eight at a Seattle-area office, located at 3810 Auburn Way, in Auburn, Wash. Kopczynski says Opportunity Industries' revenue has been slow and steady, and she expects the acquisition to enable the company to attract more commercial and industrial customers.

"Our customer base can grow with the addition of electrical services," Kopczynski says. "Our goal is to grow with the ability to offer mechanical and electrical services to customers with distribution systems, manufacturing systems, and material handling."

Opportunity Industries offers its conveyor system installation, preventive maintenance, and repair services for commercial and industrial customers as well as at many UPS and FedEx sites in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and North Dakota. It also installs and repairs conveyor system support structures, such as platforms, handrails, conveyor guarding, chutes, and overhead doors.

The company has operated for 35 years, mainly servicing conveyor systems at package distribution sites for UPS and FedEx.

While the company often is hired by national contractors as a subcontractor to do work for UPS and FedEx, it's also done some work as the main contractor for those companies, Kopczynski says. Other projects have been for companies that include PepsiCo and Boeing Co. in the Seattle area, she says.

Opportunity Industries is certified by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that provides third-party certification for woman-owned companies. Kopczynski says large corporations, to qualify for federal, state, and local government contracts, frequently seek out subcontractors and suppliers with that designation.

"We're very blessed to have UPS and FedEx as customers," Kopczynski says. "We're known for conveyor services and repairs, but we're utilized by major contractors for installation for large jobs. For smaller installations, we are in a sense the contractor."

The company does some fabrication work at the facilities it serves and at its Valley shop as needed, such as for platforms, stairs, hand rails, retrofit jobs, and custom work, she says, adding that some come from drawings and "some we just have to make it work." It also installs parts of conveyor systems other manufacturers make.

"We've always partnered with electricians, and we thought it was smart to bring electrical in as a service for our clients," Kopczynski says. "It seemed smart to diversify, and this was a great opportunity with a great company. We've partnered with Valley Electric for 25 years."

Valley Electric's employees include seven journeyman-level electricians and one administrative person. She says Valley Electric has operated since 1953, and the electricians there will continue to serve a client base that includes about 70 percent industrial and commercial clients and about 30 percent residential clients.

She adds, "We want to keep the companies operating just as they have. Our goal is to take this where we can add another layer of service to our customers beyond mechanical, but also electrical."

Valley Electric's owner, Chuck Southern, has agreed to stay as an employee, which is in addition to the eight workers there, for at least one year as a mentor to Opportunity Industries, she says, and then he plans to retire.

For the Seattle area, Kopczynski adds that the company doesn't have in-house electrical services at this time. "We hope to grow that on that side of the state by early next year," she says.

Kopczynski says Opportunity Industries has been located for most of its history in the Spokane Valley, but from the mid-1990s to 2008, it operated out of a shop in Rockford, about 17 miles south of Spokane. It recently sold the Rockford shop, she adds.

"The price of gasoline became an issue for our employees, and we wanted to be closer for our employees," she says.

Prior to being in Rockford, Opportunity Industries had rented space from Valley Electric at the Vista Road site and simply moved back five years ago, she says. The entire building on Vista Road has about 3,500 square feet of floor space, she says, and includes an electrical shop and a welding shop.

She says Opportunity Industries doesn't plan for now to try to grow its service area, but rather will continue operating in the states where it currently provides services.

Kopczynski says that mechanical and electrical services typically go hand in hand for installation and repairs of conveyor systems. The company regularly provides preventive maintenance and inspections at customer sites, down to the "nuts and bolts," she says.

"We isolate issues and make a list of what needs to be replaced, and the customer chooses," she says. "Our niche is service and repair."

"We're often hired by engineering companies that do designs for conveyor systems," Kopczynski says. "We install and service all kinds of unloaders by other manufacturers. We might do some welding work to fix overhead doors when we're on site."

As another example of its work, Opportunity Industries recently evaluated a conveyor belt system used to move food delivered to Second Harvest Food Bank, located at 1234 E. Front, and was scheduled to perform needed repairs in May.

Opportunity Industries started in 1978 as a family business, with Kopczynski as a partner along with her father, Matt Tonning, and former husband, Don Kopczynski. Tonning died in 1989, and she bought out Don Kopczynski's interest in the business in 2002.

"We started out as an industrial maintenance company," she says. "UPS requested in 1984 that we bid one of the systems in Spokane. It grew from there. We were able to expand the business into more of a mechanical business."

She adds, "We've kept our preventive maintenance inspections and repair work to prevent any breakdowns, and from that grew into fabrication and installation. It's a niche business; we ended up taking care of a lot of UPS systems, and then later, FedEx."

She says that conveyor systems over the past 15 years have improved with technology, such as having scanners to read bar codes on products, and greater speed because of better belting and rollers.

The company provides services for most types of conveyor systems for industrial, retail, or agricultural uses, including ones that are belt-driven or chain-driven, and with static rollers or powered rollers.

The conveyor systems are key to many businesses that have manufacturing and industrial processes, as well as for moving products or packages along a distribution system, Kopczynski notes.

"If it's the middle of the night and a system breaks down, we get the call and go to the site," she says. "Breakdowns are a bad thing in manufacturing, or for anything conveyor related."

She adds, "They operate all the time, and breakdowns are what they try to prevent because when they do happen, employees are usually standing around. Breakdowns impact companies financially, and our job is to prevent them."

Kopczynski says she was inspired to do more marketing and business development after completing a class last year in Spokane called e200 Initiative, which is a national program for businesses.

She says the class involves an alliance of Spokane-based members of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Center, Greater Spokane Incorporated, Community-Minded Enterprises, and the Eastern Washington Procurement Technical Assistance Center.

The class ran over the course of several months, and she says it essentially was the equivalent of a mini-MBA curriculum, because its participants heard from several speakers on a broad range of topics, including business finances, strategic planning, marketing, and leadership.

"The class opened my eyes to what was available for small businesses here for guidance and assistance," Kopczynski says.

Treva Lind
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