Changing the Business Model in the Nineties

When Jim Brooks felt he had grown the company as much as he could as owner and president, he put Maximum up for sale and sold it to Imtra Corporation, in Medford, Mass. Imtra spread out the purchase, covered staff health insurance, and kept Maximum in its Natick office for close to two years, making the transition easier for all involved.

Imtra built a new facility in 1987 in New Bedford, Mass., and moved Maximum’s operations there in early 1988. Two employees made the move—Ralph Bouzan, production manager, and Paul Hutchinson, chief engineer.

Jim Brooks (Owner) & Larry O'Rielly (Production Manager)

Imtra was a distributor for many products, including Maximum weather instruments, and the two companies had a symbiotic relationship. To the surprise of Ralph and Paul, Imtra made the decision to maintain the separation and retain the Maximum brand identity.

Nat Bishop became the next president of Maximum, moving up to New England from his previous position in Imtra’s Florida office, and he immersed himself in the business, with Jim remaining available on a consultancy basis for a time. One theme that emerged under Nat’s leadership was a reduction in the number of brass instrument models for sale, an effort to increase efficiencies. New models were introduced, but those sold at lower volumes or lower margins were discontinued.

Nat looked for what the company could do that was different outside of what came in traditional brass. One example was an electronic desktop device called WeatherMAX, an all-in-one multi-function weather processor with digital screen introduced in 1993.

 Nat Bishop
 President from 1986 - 2001

During this period, Maximum also added its first and only product through acquisition when the company bought the R. A. Simerl Instrument Company, which manufactured the DIC-3 and BTC handheld anemometers. These instruments incorporate a unique folding 3-cup anemometer that is accurate no matter how it is oriented. The units are still offered today and count the U.S. military and Forestry Departm ent as continuing customers.

Diversification happened gradually. In the ‘80s, Maximum had begun selling a small number of anemometers to companies in the start-up wind-energy industry. With the development of wind farms, Maximum found growing interest in the commercial sector for the durable, accurate, repeatable and inexpensive anemometers Gordon White had created 20 years earlier. Over the years, the only significant change to the design by Paul Hutchinson was an upgrade to the anemometers’ terminal posts.

The anemometers were of value to the wind industry in the assessment phase, recording wind strengths over a period of time to prove that a site had the right amount of wind to merit investment in wind turbines. As the wind business gained momentum, Paul says he was spending an inordinate amount of his time on the phone explaining things to researchers until Nat made a preferential arrangement with a start-up company in Vermont called NRG to market the anemometers. Sales began to grow, from hundreds of units per year to thousands. By the late ‘90s, NRG was selling 5,000 Maximum #40 anemometers annually and sales would grow much higher after 2000.

Scott Stevens joined the company in 1996 as the production manager, replacing Ralph Bouzan. Scott says that under Imtra, Maximum had retained its long-time philosophy of doing everything possible in-house, although Ralph was beginning to change that thinking. On Scott’s watch, the trend accelerated, and in the two decades that followed, out-sourcing of certain components became the norm.

Maximum Weathermaster Station in an owners home

The goal, says Scott, was to continue shipping “on demand,” which remains a Maximum tenet to this day. “We can usually ship an order on the same day we receive it,” he says, “although we have a handful of products that take an extra day because we want to assemble and run them for 12 to 24 hours first.”

Outsourcing, says Scott, helped relieve bottlenecks such as the one he encountered in 1996 in the sub-assembly of parts. Electronic instruments had become more complicated over time, and much of the sub-assembly now required more surface-mounted than through-hole mounted parts. Final assembly and testing of all instruments continued in the New Bedford facility.

In 1998, Peter Kilgore joined the company to push its marketing and sales effort across two changing markets—both the commercial market for anemometers and the consumer market for brass instruments. Nat was serving as president of both Maximum and Imtra at this time, and after two years, he asked Peter to take over the top job at Maximum.

< READ PART 3   |   READ PART 5 >

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