Prior to joining Aluma Tower Company in 2014, Angela Ledford, President and General Manager, worked as the Executive Vice President of Operations for NewNet Communication Technologies in Illinois. When the opportunity came to move to Vero Beach and transition into something new, she didn't hesitate to the pull the trigger. "I have experience in telecommunications, but mostly on the software side," she said. "This is more the mobility side of wireless communications. We build custom configurable units for mobile management. It was very exciting to transition into a manufacturing environment where clients include the federal government and the Department of Defense."
Aluma Tower Company manufactures aluminum telescoping towers, portable tower trailer units, trailer systems and accessories, including shelters for housing equipment. Everything is manufactured and assembled in Vero Beach. Clients include the federal government along with contractors in the defense, communications, surveillance and emergency management, oil and gas, mining, and utility sectors.
They do face competition, but their ability to manufacture their products using light-weight aluminum is what sets them apart. "We use airplane grade aluminum which is about one third of the weight of steel," Ledford said. "Our products are rust and corrosive free and they take less people and time to deploy and maintain. We're also very conscious of the environment. Most of what we manufacture is recyclable."
Aluma Tower does not keep a lot of inventory on hand. They've taken a very systematic approach to keeping costs down. Ledford explained, "We look at product lines and products and group customer projects into bulk orders. This allows us to order and deliver for each bulk. When certain orders come in, we'll identify long lead items and place those orders before they even go into engineering. We've also negotiated with vendors to hold stock, such as aluminium tubing and trailer frames, for us."
Most of Aluma Tower's challenges pertain to growth. When Ledford first started, she was told that Aluma Tower was a custom manufacturer. A challenge was shifting the mindset from that of a custom manufacturer to a configurable manufacturer. A switch to sub-assembly engineering and design allows the same components to be used on various projects. Gone are the days of starting with a white piece of paper and holding up projects in the engineering phase.
Ledford shared with us what she enjoys most about leading Aluma Tower and how she's able to rally her troops. "As President of the company, I'm able to invoke change, grow the company and build processes," she said. "That's what I like the most. We're also a good size. We're big enough to get things accomplished, but were small enough to where I know all my employees and they're not afraid to come to me and ask for help. I have a true open door policy. I give my managers the freedom to manage their teams but I'm also there to help them in areas where they might need a pick me up. As a whole, we're a very proud and diverse group. We're proud of the products we deliver and we think they're pretty cool. We have many different employees representing many different cultures, but we all rally behind the passion we have in working to make Aluma Tower as successful as possible."
Ledford sees Aluma Tower as an old company still in startup mode, but has identified an ideal future position. "We still haven't advanced into true manufacturing mode, but I see us going in that direction," she said. "Customers need and want products and it's not going away. One customer of ours works for Border Patrol. They place surveillance cameras and weapons on our towers and use these units to monitor border areas. As applications advance, I see our business growing and needing to develop a standard product line. In terms of location, we're very happy in Vero Beach. It's a great location with easy access to international shipping ports which is a large part of our customer base."
Ledford advises other entrepreneurs and small business owners that it's important to work hard themselves. "Don't be afraid to get dirty," she said. "Show your team you're a leader but you're also a doer. You'll gain respect by showing your employees that you're not afraid to clean the coffee pot or empty the garbage cans. It's also very important to have good two-way communication. We recently put up electronic message boards to help communicate to our team the good things we're doing. We're constantly updating it with how many towers we've built, how many trailers we've shipped, employee birthdays, work anniversary's and other important messages." Ledford also recommends a book called The Power of Habit. She does a book club with her management team and recently rolled out this book to help her sales team build a road map to develop good and measurable sales habits.
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