What Recession?

You can tell by the date of this column that Christmas was the day before yesterday. Last Friday, after I posted the Friday Night News, we held our big Banks Christmas party. And the emphasis—and this week’s news—is on BIG! My job was to take pictures with our digital camera of each department of Banks employees as they were called up on stage. I’ll post them here so you can see just how big we are. I’m talking a number of individuals, not the individual size of employees.

The Christmas party marks my first anniversary here at Banks. My very first assignment was to take the photos at last year’s party. This is my 61st edition of the Friday Night News. Time flies.

When I started working here a year ago, we had 160 employees. I thought that was a whole lot compared to the Banks Engineering I knew a couple of decades ago that had about one-tenth that number of workers in one or two small buildings. Now we have seven BIG buildings, and we’re out of room again.

When I introduced Gale to a press conference at the Oakland Rod and Custom Show last April, we had already grown from 160 employees in December to 180. If you have any kind of investment portfolio that includes stocks or bonds, you know the last couple of years haven’t been good. I pointed out that in January Ford laid off 35,000 employees and closed five plants. They killed the Lincoln Continental after more than 50 years of production. Oldsmobile (one of the oldest automotive nameplates) and Plymouth also disappeared. It was a bad time for business, especially automotive/new vehicle-related businesses. Yet in this climate, Banks Engineering was growing. Since this was a news conference, I suggested to the media present that they might want to relay this news to their business editors. I repeat this suggestion here, should any in the media happen to be tuned in.

But this Friday’s news, as we were informed by Gale during his usual “state of” talk during the Christmas party, is that we are continuing to grow at an amazing rate. As of last week employee count was 193. We have continued to introduce new products all year, including new Banks Brakes and the new Jeep line I talked about three weeks ago. Gale announced that our gross sales for this year were up more than 20% over last year, and estimated that we were up to 3,000 part numbers in our product line. When he looked to Product Manager Jeff White for confirmation, Jeff said, startlingly, “No, we’re up to more like 6,000.” All this in an economy that was lower than sagging.

I think that’s BIG news in itself. But the next logical question is, “How did this happen?” It wasn’t by accident. Gale took several specific steps to grow this company in the face of hard times. Marketing Manager Rich Shahoian, who shares the sumptuous Friday News office suite, just informed me that we increased our advertising by 38% over the last year. And our advertising was significant, to begin with. Plus Rich has been tireless in promoting editorial coverage of our products as well as our performances, both in print as well as on radio and television. He has been quite successful at it in the past year. Hopefully, you’ve seen some of the press and publicity he’s generated.

Speaking of performance, anyone who pays any attention to this site knows that we went to Bonneville this year and set several world records with the Sidewinder diesel Dodge sport truck. This not only generated tons of good publicity (much of it ongoing), but also touted the capabilities of light turbo diesel engines and Banks products for them.

And speaking of this web site, we have grown it significantly this year. Both the Sidewinder project and numerous new products account for dozens of new BanksPower.com pages, not to mention the Friday Night News, which was added this year. Another recent addition (again, to the spacious Friday News suite) is former Hot Rod magazine technical editor and Circle Track magazine editor/publisher C.J. Baker, who is currently writing a series of easily understood technical articles about how different aspects of diesel engines work and other subjects pertinent to Banks products. These will soon be added to the site in a section tentatively titled “Knowledge.” Watch for it. We’ll also be adding coverage of upcoming fun projects, such as the Pro Touring Camaro I wrote about on 11/22/02. All of this has resulted in a 60% growth in the number of you viewers who have tuned in to our site—just in the last six months.

Finally, given the numbers I have stated, it’s obvious that Gale has readily added to the workforce to keep up with, and to produce, the product growth. At the same time, we have brought more of the manufacturing process in house. In fact, the new CNC machining center I told you about on 8/23/02 is now running two shifts. You can’t grow sales and the product line if you don’t add the people needed to make them, market them, engineer them, account for them, and all the other support groups you see pictured here. Now what we need is some more room to house all these people. Gale says it’s coming. We’ve already bought the new property for further physical expansion. But, in the meantime, the Friday News suite is full!