An Employment Lawyer Diversifies into Manufacturing
Doors to Opportunity
When she started her law career with a firm in Springfield, Amy Royal didn’t consider herself an entrepreneur. But that quality emerged quickly, and she would go on to start her own firm. She soon realized, though, that she was a actually a serial entrepreneur with an appetite for developing and growing companies, the latest of which is a door manufacturer in Ludlow.
Amy Royal says she was given the small ‘Lenox’ sign, complete with that recognizable wolf logo, by officials at that East Longmeadow-based manufacturer soon after it became the first official client of the law firm that bore her last name.
And for years, it was prominently displayed on a wall in her office in Northampton, much like that ceremonial ‘first dollar’ you see under glass or in a frame at small businesses across the region.
Today, it has a new home, and that’s because Royal has one as well, professionally speaking, anyway. That would be 190 Moody St. in Ludlow, the address for West Side Metal Door Corp., a 60-year-old enterprise Royal acquired several months ago, because…
Well, there are many elements that go into that answer, and one of them is that Lenox sign. Sort of. That iconic Western Mass. company is just one of many manufacturers that have become clients of Royal, P.C., an employment-law firm. And over time, while representing many of them, Royal developed more than insight into that sector and much more than a passing interest in someday working within it.
Indeed, when she began a search for a small company to buy a few years ago, manufacturing morphed from one of several sectors being considered to the preferred sector.
“Because of the relationships I’ve had with manufacturers through my law firm, I felt that I had at least a basic understanding of workflow, operations … what it takes to run a manufacturing company,” she explained. “While I certainly explored a number of options, I really wanted to be in manufacturing.”
As she carried out her search, Royal told BusinessWest, the focus was on acquiring an established company, but one with considerable upside potential. And WSMD, as it’s called, certainly fits that description.
Launched in Holyoke in 1958, it has a diverse portfolio of products for commercial customers — diverse enough for Royal to make rebranding a top priority because the ‘MD’ in WSMD doesn’t really work anymore and hasn’t for a while now — and a lengthy list of clients as well.
Indeed, recent deliveries have been made to the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office — the county correctional facility is only a few blocks away — as well as Holyoke Medical Center, the Ludlow Police Department, a casino in Las Vegas, and Wrigley Field in Chicago, among many others.
“We make a lot more than metal doors,” said Royal, also listing custom wooden doors, door frames, distribution of door hardware, and other products, especially tin-clad doors, typically seen in warehouses but now gaining traction in a variety of locations as a retro look.
As evidence, Royal gathered up her phone and scrolled to pictures of tin-clad doors the company recently supplied to an art studio in Hollywood and a condominium tower in Boston. “They look really cool and have a lot of ‘wow’ to them,” she pointed out.
Getting back to that upside potential she saw, Royal said that, unlike her predecessor, an owner who did a little bit of everything for this company, she will focus her efforts on business development, relationship building, and, overall, positioning WSMD (for however long that acronym’s still in use) for continued growth and that proverbial next level.
Borrowing that increasingly popular phrase, she said she’s focused on working on the company, not in it.
“I saw a lot of areas we could build upon, including business development, marketing, and sales,” she explained. “There is brand awareness with this company, but I think we can take that to a higher level.”
As she goes about that assignment, she will borrow at least few pages from the script she wrote with Royal, P.C., which she is still a big part of, even if she and her Lenox sign now consider Ludlow home.
One page in particular involves becoming a certified woman-owned company, a designation that has opened a number of doors (no pun intended) for the law firm, and one she believes can do the same for WSMD.
Elaborating, she said Royal, P.C. is a member of the National Society of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms, an organization that forges relationships with large corporations that want to do business with such firms. Corporations like the Macy’s department-store chain, which became a client of the Royal firm just last month.
Institutional clients of that ilk also need metal doors — and wooden doors and tin-clad doors — and Royal’s goal moving forward is to forge such relationships and take the WSMD brand to new heights.
For this issue and its focus on manufacturing, BusinessWest talked with Royal about her new venture and how and why she walked through that particular door.
Open to Suggestions
Getting back to that question of why Royal acquired WSMD, as noted there are many components to that answer.
Perhaps the main one is Royal’s realization that she is not merely an entrepreneur — something she really didn’t believe she was when she started practicing law with the Springfield-based firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser in the 1990s — but a serial entrepreneur.
“I sort of caught the bug of developing and building businesses after starting the law firm,” she told BusinessWest. “I knew that, even though I’ve had a lot of different business ideas over the years, I was looking for a company that had an existing structure and wouldn’t have to be built entirely from the ground up, like I did with the law firm.
“I wanted to branch out, diversify, and own another business,” she went on, “and really focus my energies and efforts on strategic planning and growing a company.”
Royal said she started her search for a company to buy probably two years ago, and approached that exercise with patience, an open mind, and a determination to find the proper fit.
She looked at everything from a spice-making outfit in Western Mass. (she didn’t identify which one) to a small cruise-ship line operating out of Boston (again, no specifics). But mostly, she looked at manufacturers, again because she liked that environment and understood a good deal about how such ventures operate.
WSMD came onto her radar screen because it was listed for sale. She was working with an area broker on her search, but essentially found WSMD on her own.
And what she found was a solid enterprise and brand with its owner looking to retire — a scenario being played out all across the region within companies in every sector as business-owning Baby Boomers become sexagenarians and septuagenarians.
She started looking at WSMD in late 2015, and kept on looking, undertaking that proverbial deep dive to determine if the company had the growth potential she desired.
And she goes about taking WSMD to a higher level, Royal said she will borrow lessons from her first experience with developing a growing a company, something she did without any formal training (like most all entrepreneurs) and in a fashion that could be described as ‘learning while doing.’
“When I decided I wanted to grow the law firm, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she conceded. “I went out on my own and built the firm, and figured out how to network, market, develop, and grow the brand. And that’s when I realized that that’s really my passion — growing a business, creating jobs, creating opportunities.”
There will be many aspects to doing all that at WSMD, including that aforementioned rebranding effort.
“We have a really established presence within our customer base, and they know that we do more than metal doors,” she explained. “But the name doesn’t really capture what we do, so we need to change it.”
Also on her to-do list is obtaining status as a woman-owned manufacturing business, a process already underway.
“That will be a huge lift for us,” she said, adding that the company’s application is currently being reviewed, and certification may come in the next few months. “There is a lot of competition in this field, so I do think the certification will help.
“One of the things that made me interested in this company is that it’s been very successful,” she went on. “But I think, I hope, I can take it to the next level.”
And by ‘next level,’ she meant more partnerships and opportunities with institutional clients, again similar to what’s she done at the law firm — opportunities that will hopefully enable her to grow sales and the workforce, currently at nine.
Closing the Deal
Royal told BusinessWest that she’s still involved with her law firm, obviously, and on a number of levels.
But when she leaves her home in Deerfield now, she keeps going past that exit off I-91 that spills onto downtown Northampton and goes another 20 miles down the interstate.
Like her Lenox sign, she’s taken up residence in a new office, this one just off a manufacturing floor, not a conference room filled lined with law books.
But as disparate as those settings may be, they have many things in common, said Royal, adding that, instead of building a strong case for her clients, she’ll now be building one for her doors.
And to borrow a phrase sometimes used in law, this will be — wait for it — an open-and-shut case.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]