More than 20 years ago, four Iowa State mechanical engineering graduate students had a vision of what they might do after earning their master’s degrees. As you might expect, the conversation didn’t have much to do with AV integration, but had plenty to do with solving tough problems.
Today, Mechdyne is the go-to destination for clients who have some of the toughest technological problems to solve. It’s not the path the four company leaders expected to take, but it sounds like they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“Like all startups, people who start companies together know each other,” says Mike Hancock, a vice president at Mechdyne who’s been with the company for 18 of its 19 years.
Although founder Chris Clover, senior VP Jim Gruening and VP Kurt Hoffmeister had a desire to put their mechanical engineering degrees to good use, they had an opportunity that was more AV-focused and, within three or four years, they had a full-fledged AV firm on their hands.
Tackling Complex Projects
This wasn’t just any AV firm. It was an AV firm run by mechanical engineers, who not only welcomed clients with the most challenging problems, but took pride in solving those issues for them, especially when their competitors ran the other way.
“There were always difficult problems to solve that needed more technical expertise than most companies have,” says Hancock. “We always loved audio and video systems and ISU (Iowa State University) was doing a lot of 3D desktop work. People got interested in using that in their research and we were able to help them figure out how to do that.”
Gruening is proud of Mechdyne’s focus, which he describes as helping customers enable discovery. While the company has developed a reputation as one that won’t back down from a challenge, he knows there’s a long way to go to get where they talked about in the ISU days.
“We haven’t even come close to attaining the goals we have,” says Gruening. “One of the things that drove us was that focus on helping our customers do something they want to do. There’s still a lot more we can do. We certainly like challenging projects. Those are the ones that provide a bigger return for our customers. Anybody can do something that’s easy.”
Gruening emphasizes that Mechdyne relies in many cases on the founders’ background in engineering when determining if it can come up with a solution for a customer. That means the solution isn’t always primarily focused on technology. In some cases, he says, it’s about modifying a process or modifying a workflow.
“We work really hard to focus on everyone’s strengths,” says Gruening of the leadership team. “We complement each other well. That comes from a lot of hard work, a lot of open conversation and a lot of debate.”
Because the solutions Mechdyne installs are often extremely complex and large, the vast majority of the systems are built in full and tested in the company’s technology center in Iowa. Many companies that eventually become clients come to Mechdyne with problems and challenges that are new to the integrator, says Gruening.
“It doesn’t say anywhere on our site that we do something, but that happens quite a bit,” he says. “Customers find us, or we find them because they’re similar to others we work with.”
About 80 percent of Mechdyne’s customers are return customers. “We want any new business we acquire to be a repeat customer,” says Hancock. That drives Mechdyne’s philosophy from the top down, says Clover.
“We have to continually remind ourselves that creating an exceptional user experience means that the technical complexity of the systems we’re delivering must be imperceptible to the typical user,” he says.
“We’re proud to have been able to pull of some of the most complex installations in the industry but, at the end of the day, the tools and work flows we’re providing for our customers have to be simple and easy to use. When we can deliver a complex solution that is dead simple for a customer to use every single day, that’s when the industry is at its best and delivering real value.”
Building Longterm Relationships
Gruening is proud of Mechdyne’s two-decade commitment to its customers and the rewards that have been reaped, noting “the best way to provide a return for our customers is to have an amazing team. Once we do work with a customer, our goal is to make them a customer for life.”
Not only do the customers stick around for a while, but the same is also true of most of Mechdyne’s 165 employees (referred to as “teammates”). Many of them come from referrals from other Mechdyne employees, says Gruening, which he considers a good sign those who work there like doing so and want to stay.