When the doors of Engineering Sales Associates of the Southeast, Inc. open each day, Art Pue, his sons Arthur and Brandon, and their 18 employees bring a massive 340 years of combined experience to the assistance of their customers.
“This is a 50-year business. Brandon and I have learned a lot, but we have a lot to learn,” says Arthur Pue, part of the new blood of the business and vice president of operations, speaking in modest deference to his father and older colleagues.
“It’s so great to be able to come here and work with family and people who have such a wealth of knowledge and experience, learning the business first-hand from some of the most respected people in the industry,” shares Brandon, who serves as the company’s liquid filtration sales manager.
Engineering Sales Associates (ESA) is a Charlotte-based industrial stocking distributor for compressed air and liquid filtration products. “Our goal is to be a one-stop-shop for all compressed air and liquid filtration needs, including equipment, parts, service, rentals and expert consulting,” says the senior Art Pue, owner and president of the company.
Their customers come from a diverse list of manufacturing and processing industries including textiles; food and beverage; energy, including nuclear; automotive; defense; chemical; mirror; tech/communications (fiber-optics and cable) and process filtration.
The Essential Elements
“When you go down the road and see a big warehouse that has pipes and ducts coming out of it, it’s a manufacturing facility that utilizes compressed air and liquid filtration,” says Arthur. “We try to provide them with the best product and the best service at the best price we possibly can.”
Lance, Inc. is one of ESA’s biggest clients. “We take care of every facet of the extensive compressed air system in their plant,” states Art.
Compressed air is a form of energy that every child becomes acquainted when moving a ball of paper forward by blowing into a straw. It is a conveyance of power capable of operating everything from conveyor belts to robots, engines and motors. Most industrial grade manufacturing tools are plugged into a compressor, not an electrical outlet in the wall.
“Compressed air is by far the most expensive utility that any plant uses,” says Art. It would be a challenge to find a manufacturing plant that does not use it. Art explains that electricity is simply too volatile and explosions could occur. “It creates heat and sparks. Compressed air does not.”
ESA carries a full line of air compressors as well as equipment and products for compressed air purification and drying. A long-time distributor of Gardner Denver, its territory consists of the entire state of North Carolina, alongside a few counties in eastern Tennessee and northern South Carolina. The company also offers products manufactured by Deltech, Donaldson and Beko, to name a few.
“We have an excellent service department,” says Art. “Maintenance is important. A little pinhole leak can result in a huge expense. It’s also very dangerous.”
When things do go wrong or when there is increased need, ESA has the largest rental fleet of electric air compressors in the Southeast standing by.
“Our service team is 24/7. When air compressors break down, it means the engine to the plant is gone. A plant could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars for every hour of down time” explains Arthur.
While compressed air is more of a science, liquid filtration is more of an art, according to Brandon. “You have to learn to balance each situation.”
Liquid filtration is a broad process which can involve very simple to very complex filtration. For many industries, incoming plant water must be purified for manufacturing processes, and wastewater contaminated by the plant processes must be purified before it is returned to the water supply.
A variety of specialized filter bags, cartridges, filter presses, liquid/solid separators and reverse osmosis are employed in liquid filtration.
“It’s all about removing impurities so it can reach a standard for another use” explains Brandon. Most filtration is a tiered process: coarse to fine to the smallest micron.
Measurement of results is just as varied. For a beer brewery, the test may be the right taste; for the nuclear industry, the test will be safety and impact on the environment.
Reverse osmosis is the most complex process for water purification, using exacting membranes to expel all impurities to provide pure H20. Beverage companies use pure water as do high tech manufacturers of microchips and mirror companies whose mirror plating must be washed with purified water before the silver is added.
ESA distributes liquid filtration products for Eaton, GE Osmonics, Lakos and others.
Formulating a Future
Engineering Sales Associates was hatched in 1961 by two, young technical specifications writers—Art Pue and Addison Bell—who were co-workers in the materials and process engineering group at Douglas Aircraft in the days of the Cold War. Douglas Aircraft was manufacturing Nike Hercules and Ajax antimissile missiles.
The two worked with various plastics and alloys; their job was to evaluate certain processes and materials for product or efficiency improvement and write up their findings for the Douglas Processing Standards Manual.
“It was a government job and we worked in a cubbyhole,” remembers Art. “We didn’t work real hard, but drank lots of coffee and did a lot of philosophizing about the future.” Art had come on board with a degree in economics from Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., followed by a stint in the United States Army Special Forces (Green Beret).
The way Art tells it, there were always sales reps around. “The reps always seemed so upbeat; they appeared to enjoy not only their business but their whole lives,” says Art. “Addison and I decided we were on the wrong side of the business.”
The two decided open a sales agency and set about determining what product lines they would represent.
“The only products we were familiar with were very exotic, space-age products used in missiles for defense projects,” says Art. The new entrepreneurs wrote letters and interviewed companies. “As we developed our product lines, we had some friends join us for interviews as part of our ‘massive sales force,’” confesses Art with a chuckle.
Both Art and Addison quit their jobs at Douglas Aircraft and took sales jobs to get experience. After about two years, the company needed full-time focus. “I was single at the time. Addison had four children, so I was the guinea pig, stepping out full-time into the company,” says Art.
“We found out pretty quickly that the textile, furniture and paper industries, dominant in the area at the time, did not want to spend 20 times the money on an exotic piece of plastic over what they were currently using,” laments Art. “The South had not evolved to the level of Douglas Aircraft and we realized that we were going to starve to death if we didn’t find products that would fit in with the practices of the manufacturing companies in the area.”
The partners determined that most of these industries used compressed air products and had some form of liquid filtration, so they set out to develop lines of process products. “Our first supplier was Deltech Engineering Company,” says Art. “We sold their products designed to filter breathing air to NASA.” ESA is still a representative for Deltech today.
In 1964, Addison set off on his own and Art became the sole owner of ESA, continuing the company’s focus on compressed air and liquid filtration.
Over time the Carolinas’ industry base has changed and the company has continually adapted to the developing needs of new industry, says Art. Much of this has to do with educating their customers regarding new products, investing towards greater efficiency and going green. “We try to provide our customers with cost savings through energy reduction,” says Arthur. “They can save money and benefit the environment.”
Art finally gave up bachelorhood at the age of forty when he married and started to raise a family, setting the stage for the future of the business. “We were born into this business. It’s always been part of us,” says Arthur. He recalls science projects that frequently involved liquid filtration.
“Everything I did was what my consultant here recommended,” he says, gesturing toward his father. Arthur and Brandon followed their father to work on the weekends. “It wasn’t long before the broom was handed out,” remembers Brandon. The two worked summers in the warehouse before going their own ways for a while.
Arthur graduated from Hampden Sydney College in Virginia in 2000 before joining the military. Like his father, he was a member of the Green Berets. He served several years of active duty including a tour in Afghanistan. He followed active duty with service in the National Guard. “The family business was always in the back of my mind,” says Arthur. “I knew this is where I would make my career and make my living.”
A 2004 graduate from the University of Georgia, Brandon holds a degree in journalism and new media. Prior to coming on board with ESA, he worked in sports marketing and media.
Arthur joined the business in 2004; Brandon in 2005. “They get things done,” says Art proudly. “With their involvement, I haven’t come in over a weekend in a while.”
ESA is a very extended family with long-term, loyal employees, many of whom were brought in at an early age. “My very first employee was Woody Sansbury. Thirty-seven years later, he’s still with me,” says Art of Sansbury who is a vice president and serves as the air products manager. Sansbury is given significant credit for moving the company into the air compressor business.
“As a family run company, we operate as a family,” says Arthur. “We try to understand the demands and needs of every individual.”
In this 50th anniversary year, the Pue team is excited about new product advancements. Gardner Denver has recently developed a variable speed air compressor which will substantially reduce energy consumption. Also compressors that don’t use oil, lessening pollution, and products that remove oxygen from compressed air are coming on the market. The latter has the potential of saving millions of dollars lost to rust and other destruction from oxidation. Products that allow for safer and more economic production of nitrogen are also showing promise.
After weathering the downturn in the economy, sales are picking up now. “Manufacturing is the part of the economy that is growing substantially compared to last year at this time,” says Arthur. “Manufacturing is a good indicator for our business.”
“We are fortunate to have a company like this. Very few people have this opportunity,” says Brandon.
Asked if he plans to retire, Art responds, “Yes, I do. My wife and I have a little place in Litchfield Beach and that’s our target.”
In the meantime, it’s family business as usual. “Everyday he’s in here, we learn something more from him,” says Arthur of his father. “We need him still and he needs us, but when we all arrive at our comfort zone, Mom and Dad will spend a lot more time at the beach.”