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An American Small Business Success Story

04.27.22|Vincent Tavera
Rudi and Ted Rodriguez

         In 1967, IBM was big business news, the “Delorean” was the hottest car on the market and an American Small business story began in San Antonio, Texas. Amongst a background of a depressed national economy and high-interest rates, “Electrical Products, Inc.” was begun by an entrepreneur in that year. The goal was to fabricate electrical junction boxes and other sheet metal products like bar-b-que pits, steel building components, and other miscellaneous steel products.

         By year’s end, the national statistics of 80% failure rate by start-up business had occurred and ownership had changed several times by 1974. In 1975, Ted Rodriguez, a seasoned businessman emerged with 50% stock ownership and the ability to secure financing to purchase the outstanding stock. His son, Rudi Rodriguez, had joined the firm the previous year as vice-president of sales and marketing, and together they founded “EPI-Electrical Enclosures”.

         Their business plan was to establish a manufacturer of three NEMA electrical enclosures and wireway product groups for the commercial and contractor electrical industry and market to a network of electrical wholesalers. Both men brought diverse skills to the table. Ted, with years of management, production, and inventory control took over plant management and Rudi, with marketing and product engineering experience took over front office duties.       

         In the mid-1970s, in an era of no internet, google, or affordable PCs, marketing, and database development, Rudi began a clever acquisition of all available state “Telephone Books” issued by then, Southwestern Bell. Then, the state-wide marketplace was determined and contact information was gathered. This was followed by a “Snail-Mail“ campaign and coupled with a grinding telemarketing effort. Finally, “Door to Door” business visits were conducted in four major markets. By 1978, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin, and Houston, Texas had been marketed and sales had begun to move forward. The following year, the company began to experience three years of exponential sales.    

Equally important, during this period, is the initial organization of the plant and its production and inventory were developed. As increased sales led to more production demands, it led to “Ted”, developing a “Cluster-Cell” method of production, long before it was written about, that allowed a smaller group of employees to produce higher unit production while providing increased availability that was unmatched.  

As a result of reaching a higher level of sales and marketing, the need for larger offices and plant facilities became necessary. In 1981, the land was purchased and the following year new corporate offices and a plant were constructed. It provided larger areas for production, inventory, and offices. This also set the stage for a new era of growth and development.

By 1985, an anticipated and needed industrial product group was being marketed and manufactured. While the country braced for another round of inflation and recession, the company enthusiastically promoted its new line of industrial enclosures and wireway. These products are commonly used in industrial plants, utility plants, food processing, Highway Lighting & Controls, and oil refining.  

During this challenging time, we experienced unprecedented growth in our business plan. Also, by the 1990s our engineering group had made it possible to provide significant contributions to the state of the art R & D NEMA Industrial Product Applications. Some of those projects were: World’s largest robot for USAF, “Seawolf II” for USN, “Spacecraft Endeavor” for NASA, and the world’s largest “Lignite Crusher” for TUMCO. These and many other projects allowed  “EPI” to design and engineer cutting-edge Industrial NEMA electrical, tel-com, and robotic applications that are still touted today. As a result, this led to increased confidence and “brand value” in our industry and marketplace.

Then, in the mid-1990s, with a booming real-estate economy in Texas, we began to introduce an additional product group: Bussed Secondary Products. These products are used in close association with the “utility entry” to commercial and industrial heavy energy users. Texas, and its major cities, have long been developing industrial distribution hubs as the economy has grown. Also, the continued growth in Texas, in general, has led to housing and commercial developments. This last component led to the continued use of a mix-use housing and retail center development. 

Although engineering and new product development have always been a part of our “Brand”, this last product group allowed us to deepen our services, such as consulting, drawings and specifications. To this end, in 1994, we added “Engineering” to our product brand. We are now known as EPI-Electrical Enclosures & Engineering”.

In the year 2000’ or “Y2K”, we also moved into a multi-port computer system with advanced software that allowed us to connect to the “Web”. This chapter of our business had many challenges and opportunities with the advent of the “Internet” that allowed for digital sales, accounting, and marketing. All of these digital advances certainly allowed us to continue our relationships with our much larger corporate customers in the state and country that had implemented cutting-edge business technologies.

Our initial customers were small, state, and regional electrical distributors that in the 1990s were eventually consolidated into larger distributors like CED, Dealers, Crawford, Crescent, Graybar, Elliott, and Westinghouse Electrical Distributors who have created a fifty-billion dollar industry. Collectively, they represent over five-thousand profit- centers across the nation. Together, they represent the best and biggest in “Corporate America”!

In 2020, we felt we had a good product mix and diverse market geography, that pretty much encompassed the state of Texas. Then, our website presence began to generate increased “Buss Product” engineering inquiries that led to project applications and sales. Currently, we are experiencing double-digit internet sales increases for the first time.   

The other important part of our success has been the men and women who have worked hard to provide our customer service, sales, engineering, and administration. Equally important, are our plant machinists, welders, painters, and supervisors who have provided the production of all our products throughout the years. As a company, we are grateful to them for their investment, commitment, and responsibility to provide a very significant growing contribution to our industry, community, and country!   

To date, we have manufactured millions of products with hundreds of thousands of destinations state-wide, nationally, and internationally. We thank all of our customers, vendors, and other industry partners for providing us with a true “American Small Business Success Story”!