D&B Plating

D&B Plating of Fridley, MN, is a thriving company employing 100 people. The company specializes in plating metal parts that are resistant to corrosion for end clients such as Polaris, John Deere and the military.

When owner Van Miller purchased the company in 2003, its operations were confined to a small space and an office that had seen better days. With hard work and an attitude that he was going to turn the business into a success, he built D&B Plating into one of the leading zinc and chromate plating companies in the region.

We spoke with Van and his son Landon about how they achieved success and their experience of being a North American Banking Company customer.

Can you explain what plating is?

Van: Basically, what we are plating are steel parts and metal parts. We’re putting a finish on to resist corrosion. We do different colors. We’ll do yellow zinc, clear zinc, olive drab (we do a lot for the military), black, yellow. We have automatic lines, and they have a specific process in each line.

If you picture a John Deere tractor, grader, or combine, or a Polaris ATV, you’ll see all these little integral parts that are in them and a majority of them are plated. So it’s a metal part that is stamped or lasered out. Then it comes to us. We have a process it goes through and then whatever the spec calls up, we’ll put that final finish on. Sometimes those parts get painted elsewhere or other times they go right back to the customer or they might get shipped out to the end user and assembled.

What were the first few years like after you took over the business? What were some of the first things you did to get the business on track?

Van: The first thing I realized is that I had a good core group of people around me and I wasn’t going to try and be something that I’m not. I’m not a chemist. I’m not an expediter. I can’t do quoting, things like that. But what I felt I could do was take this good group of people and form them in the way that I felt the business should be structured. I started to do that and sort of redefining responsibilities and duties of some of the people we had.

And then we made the decision to reinvest in the company so we bought an automatic plating line. And then we ended up saying our hand aluminum line has to go. We need to do a big hoist line. The bank came into play there. So, we did a big aluminum chromate conversion and a big passivation line. Now we’ve added another zinc line and it’s going to increase our capacity by about 40%. It’s the largest investment by far this company has ever made.

How was the experience in working with Luke [Ferden, Vice President] and the rest of the bank?

Van: It’s been wonderful… They have been encouraging us to continue what we’re doing because they like what they see. They want to help us keep moving along.

Landon: It’s been much easier to grow and grow together. It all started with one line and just kept growing and the bank has been there for us.

Van: It’s funny. I find myself working extra hard because we don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to disappoint them at all. We do a lot of things around here to make sure they’re happy.

How did you find North American Banking Company?

Van: We were referred. It was a referral from a friend of ours that I’ve known all my life. He had done some work with them and he was in banking himself so he knew of Mike [Bilski, CEO]. Then I also knew of Mike through Totino-Grace and I heard about this generous guy that walked the talk so I was pretty excited when he referred me to North American Banking Company.

What type of financing were you looking for the first time around?

Van: The first one would have been the aluminum chromate line. The big hoist line was the first time we worked with them.

Landon: We needed it for capacity and efficiency and for process. We were able to get cleaner rinses and better flow. Across the board, it was much more efficient.

So each time a new need comes up, you’re picking up the phone and calling Luke.

Van: Generally, we do a lot of groundwork here first. Then I’ll talk to Luke. I’ll have him come out and we’ll walk the floor and I’ll tell him “Here’s what we’re thinking. Here is what it will do for me and I’d like you guys to consider it and shoot holes in it.” That’s usually how it starts.

Since we have had the relationship with North American Banking Company, our sales have increased 151% and profits are up 79%. I believe that one main reason we have been able to grow is a direct correlation with North American helping us though business loans and advice from them along the way.

What advice do you have for other owners looking to get financing for their business? What would you say should be their first and second steps?

Van: The first step would be to do a lot of research. Let’s say you’re going to buy a piece of equipment. You should do a number of pro formas of different scenarios. Best case, worst case, what happens if we have another crash in the real estate market… those kinds of things.

Below: See our KARE commercial featuring D&B Plating!