Premo J. Pappafava Family Business Award Winner: Ace Wire Spring & Form Inc. by Harry Funk, freelance writer (published in Pittsburgh Business Times)
Dec. 4th, 2015
The story of Ace Wire Spring & Form Co. Inc. starts with a song. As a young man, Joseph Vodvarka Jr. wowed audiences with his tenor voice. But when settling on a career, he decided to look elsewhere for the sake of stability. His theory: “As long as the world exists, there will be a need for springs and wire forms,” his daughter Linda Froehlich said.
He founded McKees Rocks-based Ace Wire Spring in partnership with his father, Joseph Vodvarka Sr., who was a trained machinist from Czechoslovakia when he immigrated to the U.S. “They worked together, father and son, until my grandfather passed away at 86 years old,” said Linda Froehlich, who purchased the company in 1976 with her husband, Rich.
Since the couple took over, the number of employees working at the company has more than doubled. “Most of them have been with us for many years,” Froehlich said. “We have a great office staff and people in the plant.”
Manufacturing springs and wire forms integrates machining, with Ace Wire Spring striving to stay current with state-of-the-art equipment, according to Froehlich. But much of the work in meeting customers’ specifications must be done by hand. “The company’s craftsmen have combined experience of more than a century in the industry,” she said.
Some of Ace Wire Spring’s recent orders address aerospace, medical, hydraulics and robotics applications, often using newer materials. “There is a lot more demand for titanium products,” Froehlich said. A source of company pride is the development of personal relationships with customers. “I think it’s an advantage to be a family-owned small business,” Froehlich explained. “You care more than the big companies.”
Froehlich knows well what the “big companies” are capable of doing. When she was young, her father brought her a Slinky, at the time a new toy produced by a Navy engineer after he returned home after World War II. She looked at the Slinky, then at her dad and said, “I can’t believe that you run a spring company and you didn’t come up with this idea.”
Vodvarka Jr. lived to see his daughter come up with her own invention: the SuperClip, a high-carbon steel product capable of neatly holding 100 sheets of paper together. Unfortunately for Froehlich, she found that larger corporations could make and market their own knockoff versions that are just slightly different than her patent. Around the time he came home with the Slinky, Vodvarka Jr. hired Stanley Kosol. Known to his friends and co-workers as “Stush,” he stayed with the company for nearly 70 years, until shortly before his death in 2014.
As for Froehlich, she has great appreciation for employee loyalty, paying particular compliments to key personnel including Office Manager Denise Copeland, who also handles purchasing; Sales Manager Bob McCormick; and Engineer Bob Powner. The other two engineers are Linda’s husband Rich Froehlich and, representing the third generation of family involvement, the couple’s son, Ritchy.
Speaking of future generations, the company provides educational opportunities, such as in a partnership last year with Hampton High School in which students conducted a research project on springs. “It brings back faith in our youth,” Froehlich said.
Ace Wire Spring & form Co. Inc. BASED: McKees Rocks TOP OFFICER: Linda and Richard Froehlich, owners EMPLOYEES: 48 WEBSITE:www.acewirespring.com WHAT IT DOES: Manufactures custom compression, extension and torsion springs and a wide variety of wire formed parts KEY PRODUCTS: Compression, extension and torsion springs, and wire forms LONG-TERM GROWTH PLANS: To expand into the global marketplace and invest in new technology equipment