“When you start out, you do it all,” he said. “You do the janitorial work and make out the payroll. That first year when I was working in the garage, people asked me what I was going to do. I told them I would grow the business,” Conrow said, “and some day I would have 500 employees. They just laughed.”
Forty years later, Conrow has done just that—growing his business from that one little shop to an industrial village employing approximately 530 people and spanning across several buildings in Churubusco and one in Auburn.
C&A Tool is a national and international supplier of metalworking specialties, including tooling, engineering and contract manufacturing. The business serves several markets, including transportation, aeronautical/defense, medical, industrial, public transportation, food processing and machine tools.
A distinct style identifies C&A’s multiple locations throughout Town and the surrounding area. According to www.catool.com, the Swiss Alpine look is C&As way of bringing an element of old-world craftsmanship to today’s industrial technology.
Although the basic machines still exist, Conrow said technology has come a long way.
“All of your computerized equipment are simply the basic equipment with a computer on it,” he said.
The constant in the ever-changing world of C&A Tool is its approach to the job at hand, the attitude of employees and the equipment used.
The business boasts of “uncommon people achieving uncommon results.”
C&A Tool is one of the largest product development facilities in the country. A customer may come up with an idea, but may not have the mechanical ability to make the parts, Conrow explained. At C&A Tool, employees work with tools that allow for a much higher degree of difficulty than most tool and die makers can achieve.
“Oh, that’s a C&A part” is a common phrase across the nation and even internationally, Conrow said with a smile.
At C&A Tool, employees assume responsibility for their jobs and schedules—they don’t answer to a supervisor. Instead, each “pod” or work section has a “go-to guy” to help with scheduling conflicts and job prioritization. Conrow said he raises his employees and holds them to a high standard, which in turn translates into respect for the job and for each other.
Employee Angie Kuschel works in the “Star” Pod. Kuschel said Conrow respects her as an employee and she respects him. She said he also trusts the employees and instills a sense of pride in them. This translates into the employees valuing themselves as operators and being mature enough to operate without supervisors.
At C&A, each discipline—milling, grinding, lathe work, etc.—has a designated building or section within a building.
“Some people call it a pod system,” Conrow said. “I call it common sense.”
C&A’s main building at the south end of Churubusco, for example, has eight pods that are connected by one central corridor. Materials and parts can move freely and easily from pod to pod to allow for different operations.
Visitors to the facilities are likely to see relatives, friends and neighbors working together to produce a superior product. Though Conrow is not sure of exact numbers, he said he would guess 70 percent of employees are from the Churubusco area. Many fathers and sons—or even daughters—work together. Angie Kuschel has been working in the same pod as her husband, on the same shift, for nearly eleven years. C&A Tool doesn’t discourage family working together—they actually arrange for it at times.
Conrow is looking forward to growth in the coming years.
Diversification—taking a little work from a lot of people—keeps his business strong, and Conrow said he believes many of his business units are getting ready to grow rapidly and at the same time.
Noting that his business is one of constant change, Conrow is game for growth and branching out into new ventures. He recently purchased the Mahle (formerly Dana) building in Churubusco to use for higher quantity production and a building in Auburn to be used mainly for medical processes.
“We still think of ourselves as the corner shop, but we are well-staged for growth,” he said.