Owning a finishing operation can almost feel like getting kicked in the groin at times.
And for Reid Metal Finishing owner TJ Grandcolas, one day in 2010, that became something he was thankful for.
A martial arts enthusiast, Grandcolas was inadvertently kicked in the groin during a training exercise and had to go to the hospital to get things checked out. While doctors were trying to alleviate his pain and misery, they discovered something even more sinister.
“I didn’t block the kick very well, and when I got hit, it burst a tumor that was growing,” says Grandcolas, whose shop is in Santa Ana, California.
“I went to the doctor for an ultrasound, and right there they told me, ‘You have cancer,’” says Grandcolas, who was 25 at the time. “It was one of those things that just smacked me down to realize how precious every moment is.”
Adding Value to the Company
After surgery to completely remove the tumor and while undergoing chemotherapy sessions, Grandcolas met some less fortunate who were having chemo with a less optimistic outlook. It was at that time that he decided to have a conversation with his dad, Tim, who was the owner of RMF, and TJ was the customer service representative.
“It came to me during all of this that I really wanted to add value to the company,” TJ says. “One of the things I looked into was non-destructive testing and NDT fluorescent penetrant inspection. It’s 11 years strong now, and we’re still doing great. It’s my little baby inside the company.”
Founded in 1979 by original owner Jerry Reid, RMF has offered plating and anodizing services to Southern California manufacturers for decades, and Grandcolas wanted to add to their scope of capabilities.
“We do a plethora of electroplating and anodizing, chromic, sulfuric, hard coat, chem film, passivation,” he says. “So we really wanted to add to that. I don’t like to say we’re a jack-of-all-trades because I feel like we specialize in all those coatings. I know it seems like a lot, but I think we’ve got a great team here that does tremendous work.”
As RMF began to grow after adding those additional services, Grandcolas also convinced his father to take on Nadcap certification for the NDT Department, a daunting and expensive proposition but one that he felt would take the department to the next level.
“We passed on the first audit,” Grandcolas says. “That was something to be proud of for us.”
Stepping into His Father’s Shoes
But just as Grandcolas was getting ready to launch a magnetic particle inspection subsidiary of RMF in 2017, his father had a stroke that limited his ability to fully run the company. That put a halt to some of Grandcolas expansion plans and forced him to step into his father’s shoes to lead the RMF organization.
A year later, in 2018, Tim Grandcolas had another stroke that was eventually severe enough that he passed away that year. Aside from grieving the losing his father and mentor, Grandcolas found himself becoming RMF’s permanent leader.
“At 33 years old. I was not prepared for all that happened,” he says. “I didn’t really feel like he had a lot of time to teach me and get me ready to take over the business. I learned a lot, and it was definitely a trial by fire, but I wasn’t going to let him down, and I wasn’t going let the team down here.”
A lot of the people working at RMF saw Grandcolas grow up there; his father started him as a delivery driver out of high school, and he worked his way up at nearly every position the company had.
“I never wanted to be treated as the owner’s son,” he says. “And my dad made sure that I was treated a little less important than the regular person, just because I was the owner’s son.”
But when he stepped into the ownership role, one of the things that Grandcolas noticed was his father, and his business partner were very much micromanagers of the operation, which is something that Grandcolas says he didn’t want to do. It took some time and self-realization to come to the conclusion that he needed to think ‘big picture’ to sustain and grow RMF and leave the details to the experts at the company.
The previous management style was to focus on the customer, but Grandcolas realized he needed to focus on the employees. And that is what he did when he met with his team after taking over.
“I said, ‘Your job is to do anodizing, your job is to do electroplating, and your job is to do waste treatment,’” he says. “I told them, ‘You do it every day, so it’s on your hands every day.’ I really wanted to lean on my team.”
What he found was that many great ideas were previously being suppressed by micromanagement, and some team members were not comfortable suggesting improvements or offering ideas.
“My waste treatment operator had some really great ideas, and he just never had a chance to try them out because they were expensive,” Grandcolas says. “And I understand why, but it was one of those things that I really focused inward on the ideas our people had.”
He told his team that if they have better ideas on ways to improve efficiencies and quality, to bring them to him. He was soon met with a barrage of ideas and suggestions that — although costly up front — turned out to be major improvements that made customers happy in the long run.
“I said, ‘Let’s try them,’” Grandcolas says. “And I’m telling you, they’ve saved the company hundreds of thousands — if not a million dollars — just by their ideas. I just stepped back and let the team really do what they were hired to do.”
Checking the Ego at the Door
Grandcolas says he also checked his ego at the door as the owner, something he says often caused some issues with previous management. Instead, he let his team know they were instrumental in the success of the shop and encouraged feedback.
“I used a lot of their ideas and just went running with them,” he says. “Some of them worked, some of them didn’t work. But I’m telling you, some of the ones that did work; I might even patent because they’re just really intelligent.”
By letting his team take ownership of many of the operations at RMF, Grandcolas soon found himself with the time available to look at expanding their operations and seek to purchase outside companies.
He found an interesting target at nearby Superior Processing in Placentia, CA, which specialized in precious metal plating, exclusively serving the printed circuit board (PCB) and electronic industry.
Grandcolas purchased the company in 2022 but had a circuitous route to ownership that took him as far as South Dakota before finally sealing the deal. He originally began speaking with Superior Processing ownership in 2019 about buying the company, but at the last minute, was outbid by a private equity firm just before the pandemic hit in 2020.
When the finishing industry — especially those focusing on aerospace — saw a downturn during the pandemic, Grandcolas decided to take his family on a trip to get away from the worries of work, and the group headed north and east and visited South Dakota for a getaway. He had just purchased all the shares of RMF, and get he needed to get away for a while before diving back into running his company post-pandemic.
While there, Grandcolas says he “fell in love with the place” and decided he wanted to look at opening a finishing operation there, too. The area was near Ellsworth Air Force base and had a suitable manufacturing industry that Grandcolas felt he could sustain a second location far away from Southern California.
Looking at Expansion and Acquisitions
“There was an opportunity out there, and I really started really leaning into it,” he says. “And then right when I was getting ready to pull the trigger, Superior Processing came back on the board, and I only had the funds for one purchase.”
He spoke to his wife about it, and they came to a conclusion together to purchase Superior Processing.
“We didn’t really need to start from the bottom, and we felt we should focus on companies that have a name, a reputation and build those up,” Grandcolas says. “We pivoted back to Superior.”
He says he is able to own both RMF and Superior Processing and run them successfully because he has found managers to run both operations whom he feels comfortable letting take full reigns and make decisions.
Suzy Underwood is General Manager at RMF, and Robert Heredia runs Superior Processing for Grandcolas; he says he supports his managers and even sends them to Dale Carnegie courses and other training programs to help better equip them to run the operations.
Underwood was the human resources manager at RMF, and Heredia was the quality assistant at RMF when tapped to run the companies.
Finding People That Really Care
“The key is finding people inside the company that really do care and really want to see this place flourish,” Grandcolas says. “I was able to give two individuals an opportunity that I don’t know if they would’ve gotten. It’s about just finding the right people and finding the people that really want to learn and grow with you and with your company.”
Grandcolas says things are running well at both RMF and Superior Processing, and his one regret is that his father, Tim, could not be here to see that he is keeping his companies alive and thriving.
“He’s in a much better place, and I know that we are going to continue growing and continue getting this place bigger,” he says. “I know that would have made him very happy.”