Volume 13 | Issue 2 | Year 2010

An industrial supplies wholesaler, Comtran Corporation was established in 1985. Today, with locations stocked with a 600-plusproduct inventory, the company has emerged as one of the wire-and-cable industries’ leaders.
Headquartered in Whitinsville, Mass., and with annual revenues ranging between $50 million to $100 million, Comtran Corporation manufactures and sells a comprehensive line of low voltage cables for access control, fire alarm, security, audio, data communications and telecommunications applications. In addition, the company produces category 3, 5, 5e and 6 networking cables. All are available in shielded and unshielded constructions, as well as plenum and non-plenum constructions. (Plenum cables insert into plenum spaces, or areas that facilitate air circulation for heating and air conditioning systems and also house communications for a building’s computer or telephone network.)

Products demonstrate capabilities ranging from 12- to 26-gauge and are produced with polypropylene, polyethylene, PVC, fluoropolymers and Comflex, a low-smoke plenum compound.

Comtran’s standard and custom offerings are sold to North American distributors through an expansive manufacturer representative network. Specific products (stocked in 1000-foot reels and “easypac” cartons) include fire alarm, control, electronic and telephone cables, as well as specialty products geared to customers’ specific needs.

In application terms, the commercial sector is the largest area, followed by residential and industrial construction, says Stewart Later, Comtran Corporation’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Typically, our products are deployed in retail stores, particularly those located in shopping malls, as well as in universities, school systems, hospitals, manufacturing plants, financial institutions, hotels and sports venues. In these settings, the products support communication infrastructure, specifically for data communications, phone systems and various security fire alarm access control systems.”

Electronic cables are used in remote control signaling and power limited circuits. Fire alarm cables are used in fire-protective signaling circuits. Telecommunications cables are used for carrying voice and data signals.

Today, the company is a subsidiary of The Marmon Group Inc., one of the largest privately owned U.S.-based organizations. A multi-billion dollar complex of businesses, Marmon is comprised of more than 100 autonomously operated manufacturing and servicing companies that, like Comtran Corporation, lead their respective industries.

“The conglomerate functions as a holding company and records more than $6.5 billion in annual sales generated by companies collected over the course of nearly five decades,” says Later. “Among the businesses under its umbrella are 14 wiring and cable companies. We’re one of them.”

Other sectors represented include construction services, distribution services, flow products, food service equipment, highway technologies, industrial products, retail store fixtures, transportation services and water treatment. Member companies operate in the automotive, agriculture, medical, mining and railway industries, among others.

Founded in 1953 by Jay and Robert Pritzker, the company assumed its name in 1964 after it acquired the Marmon-Herrington Company, an automotive manufacturer. Two more major acquisitions followed: Cerro Corporation (1976) and Trans Union Corporation (1981). In March 2008, Berkshire Hathaway Inc. acquired majority interest in The Marmon Group.

In between, subsequent expansion was accomplished via internal investment and several smaller acquisitions. One of these included Comtran Corporation. “After John DeMarco founded Comtran in 1985, we remained a privately held company until 2001, the year we were acquired by The Marmon Group,” says Later. “But we’ve retained our autonomy, because that’s Marmon’s approach, but the parent company does provide strategic direction and financing.”

Indeed, from its centralized Chicago headquarters, Marmon manages and invests the financial resources of its member companies. Further, it assists and advises on accounting, legal, tax, financial, management and personnel matters, among others That’s what helped Comtran move forward. Now it’s a leading wiring and cable manufacturer focused on beta-communications and low-voltage wiring. “Also, all of the business units within Marmon, particularly the wiring and cable entities, focus on segmentation,” says Later. Accordingly, Comtran has three key segment areas that include telecommunications, data communications and low-voltage wiring for the security market.

Comtran supports that segmentation within its four-story Whitinsville facility that features a cellular configuration. “Each cell is focused on manufacturing products for the aforementioned segments,” says Later, adding that the plant includes 185,000 square feet and employs more than 100 people.

In addition to segmentation, the ISO 9001-registered Comtran demonstrates a strong focus on lean manufacturing principles that it integrates with a continuous improvement program. “Also, one of the floors houses our extensive goods inventory that’s combined with our shipping operation,” he adds. “That’s how we support our distribution business partners.”

The company also inventories parts in three other U.S. locations: Atlanta, Ga., Dallas, Texas and Los Angeles, Calif. “Stocked inventory represents one of our main differentiators, and the breadth and depth provides Comtran and its partners with a huge competitive advantage.”

Further, as a commodity based organization that develops new products, Comtran not only focuses on inventory but customer service, too. “Those are the two elements that truly set us apart from our competition and keep us pushing forward,” says Later. “Our inventory stores are fully stocked and strategically located, and that reveals a major commitment in terms of working capital.”

As far as customer service, Comtran clients rate the company quite high, reveals Later. “They’ve told us that when they measure us against competitors, our customer-service team sets new standards. That’s good news for us, because in the commodities sector, service is a key differentiator. I know it has become a business cliché for companies to express their commitment to customer service, but we have strived to achieve the highest levels. Customer feedback surveys indicate that we’ve been successful in accomplishing this goal.”

A decisive component is same-day placement order. This enables Comtran clients to support their own contractor customers and installers with just-in-time delivery. Further, it helps Comtran distributors control inventory levels. Comtran, they realize, will always have a backup supply readily available from the factory. On that they can rely.

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