Seen at the show: Breakthrough brand

Avalued brand can be leveraged in good times and bad, which is exactly what Matt Cain is banking on. The president of Eaton Compressor & Fabrication grew up in the compressor business—his dad founded the company in Eaton, Ohio—but he can now see over the wall of the industrial and automotive channel. Cain has his sights trained on the retail aisle, where he wants to make a place for Eaton’s products. Not the same products, exactly, but similar products, manufactured under the brand name of Eaton-Max, in a 60,000-square-foot factory he’s about to break ground on.

“We’re going to build a quality DIY compressor, a higher class unit than what’s already out there for chain stores and [hardware] dealers,” Cain explained.

Eaton currently makes compressors and air tools used in auto body, machine and granite fabrication shops, among other industries. The new line, ranging in size from one to 7.5 horsepower, will be adapted from Eaton’s smaller models. But unlike the 100 to 200 horsepower units, which are made one at a time, Eaton-Max will use an assembly line to crank out 50 units a day.

Forty workers will be hired initially, ramping up to 75. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer in an industrial park in nearby Englewood, which offered Eaton a better incentive package than the company’s hometown.

The new factory, land and equipment will require $5 million in start-up funds. Cain has an investment partner in China, but it’s still a big leap for the owner of a 17,000-square-foot factory with 17 employees. What makes him think he can break into Home Depot and Lowe’s?

“They already sell some of our products,” said Cain, who exhibited at the National Hardware Show last month. Eaton has a good reputation for its warranty and service, and the demand for the product is already there, he pointed out. “I’m going to sit down with these folks and show them a quality unit,” Cain said.

Cain doesn’t want to reveal exactly who came by his booth in Las Vegas—“I don’t want my competition to know,” he explained—but let’s just say a major auto parts retailer was looking closely at one of his hulking compressors. But Cain is still focused on the DIY channel, and felt reassured by what he heard at the show.

“Retailers said they were looking for good service and a good warranty,” Cain said, adding, “That’s what we’re known for.”