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For good measure: A+ Corporation

Justin-and-Sheila-HarveyFor good measure: A+ Corporation

A designer and manufacturer of analytical sampling systems, A+ Corporation LLC in Gonzales, Louisiana, has a long track record of innovation with 29 current patents and another 10 pending. With second and third generations now at the helm of this family-owned business, strategic growth has become a new priority.

Serving a highly technical niche market, A+’s sampling systems are used in everything from analyzing fermentation in beer production to monitoring methane emissions from landfills. Yet the lion’s share of annual revenue comes from natural gas and petrochemical customers who want to prevent liquids from entering their samples.

Liquids are problematic on two levels. “For starters, they can damage analyzers, expensive devices that cost up to $50,000 apiece,” explains Sheila Harvey, A+’s principal. “Perhaps more important, liquids can alter the composition of the gas sample and give false readings. Our products keep the sample at pipeline conditions, enabling buyers and sellers to know what’s really in the gas so there is fair trade.”

New leadership, new goals

A+ traces its roots back to 1988 when Sheila’s father, Donald Mayeaux, pioneered the use of membranes (simple phase-separating filters) to remove liquids from gas streams in analyzers, thus protecting the expensive instruments. In 1999 he extended the technology to extraction probes that could obtain gas samples from pressurized pipelines while rejecting liquids and particulates. These probes reduce the need to shut down pipelines for maintenance, significantly decreasing costs and safety concerns.

After her father’s death in 2012, Sheila, who had been A+’s CFO, bought out her brother’s shares in the family business. In January 2015 she sold 49 percent of the company to her son, Justin Harvey, who was named president in July and is now responsible for daily operations and strategic vision.

The Harveys are committed to continuing Mayeaux’s legacy of innovation — albeit with a more customer-centric focus. “Innovation fed my father,” Sheila says. “He invented for the sake of inventing, and most of his attention was on the next device. Since his death, we’ve taken more of a strategic approach to growing the company, leveraging what we do best and taking it to a different level.”

Case in point, A+ is getting ready to introduce a technology that will change how natural gas from shale deposits is sampled. “Sampling this kind of unconventional gas is a difficult application, as the shale deposits tend to be very rich in hydrocarbons, causing massive amounts of liquids,” says Justin. Although it’s difficult to predict exactly how much the new sampling systems will boost A+ Corp’s sales, he expects it to be significant.

The timing couldn’t be better, since 2015 was a tough year for the oil and gas industry, and A+’s annual revenue, about $12 million, was flat from the previous year. Yet compared to competitors’ declining numbers, flat takes on a rosier glow. Steady, sustainable growth — with an emphasis on sustainable — is Justin’s objective, and he hopes to grow annual revenue to more than $15 million in the next two or three years.

In addition to new products, the Harveys have also been investing in internal infrastructure including:

  • More sales and marketing muscle (two new positions were added this year, bringing A+’s employee count to about 40).
  • New machinery that will automate manufacturing operations.
  • An online configurator that significantly speeds up quoting time— from one or two weeks to a single day — while ensuring customers get the right equipment to solve their problems.

The automated configurator is an industry first, Justin says. Besides improving efficiency, it will also benefit the company by capturing answers to technical questions and documenting the expertise of inside salespeople.

Culture shift

The Harveys are also striving to create a more inclusive corporate culture. “When was my grandfather was running the company, it was very much his business, his way, this is how you do things,” Justin says. “Sheila and I are more receptive to hiring for our weaknesses and allowing people to come in and shine.”

Core values revolve around employee ownership and personal accountability, a culture free of fear (mistakes happen), excellent technology utilization and open communication. “My mantra is ‘I’m here to help, but not do your job,” Justin says. “It’s your job because you do it better than anyone.’ ”

The new culture seems to be working well. In fact, A+ was recently named as one of the 2015 Best Places to Work in Baton Rouge by the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, the Greater Baton Rouge Society for Human Resource Management and the Best Companies Group. The award follows on the heels of A+ being named one of six Companies to Watch by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

As co-owners, the Harveys view themselves as a balancing act. Sheila has a strong financial background while Justin’s formal training is in business management. “Because we’ve known each other for 30 years, we know how to talk to one another and can quickly get on the same page if we’re not already there,” Justin says. “We don’t fall into the trap of having conversations that you regret later.”

Even though the president’s title may be new on Justin’s business cards, getting in the family business was no snap decision. “While other kids would bring stuffed animals to show-and-tell, I’d bring demo cases of my grandfather’s inventions,” he says. His first full-time job was operating an industrial dishwasher and then drying parts by hand. Since then, he has held a wide variety of positions to prepare him for leading the company, including everything from working on manufacturing line to vice president of sales.

Justin’s wife, Shannon, is also in the business and heads up marketing and human resources. “I sometimes feel bad for my dad, because when my mom and Shannon and I get together, the business is all we talk about,” he says.

Although the company will celebrate its 28th anniversary this year, Sheila believes that A+ didn’t really enter second stage until about three years ago, when expansion became a real focus. “Yet we’re not growing the company to cash out,” she says. All of our strategic planning is aimed at making this a multigenerational company.”

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