How one old snowblower became an $80 million enterprise

Brad Hutchinson has made a career of finding niches in construction-equipment industry, other businesses


To many of the drivers who passed the house near Plain City, the metal machinery in the front yard must have looked like a pile of junk.

Not to Brad Hutchinson, who did a double take and turned his truck around to get a better look. That turned into the seed for what has become a wide-ranging, $80 million enterprise run by Hutchinson, who lives near Lancaster.

“I knew what it was. It was just what I was looking for: a snowblower,” said Hutchinson, 41, who has made a career out of what he calls “finding a niche where no one else is servicing people.”

The broken-down, old snowblower — the kind used to make snow and then blow it onto a ski run —was modified and used to eliminate dust at construction sites. From that point more than a decade ago, Hutchinson found a variety of other opportunities.

Hutchinson’s companies today include: Company Wrench, which rents and repairs large construction equipment and has 12 locations nationally; C.W. Machine Worx, which manufactures dust suppressors and custom parts for construction equipment; C.W. Transport, a trucking company; H&W Real Estate Investments; and Taylor Rental Party Plus.

All these niches added up to $80 million in revenue last year, supporting 150 employees, with a little more than half of them located at the Carroll headquarters near Lancaster.

Hutchinson and his wife, Penny, who runs Taylor Rental, recently purchased the Cool Cravings restaurant in Lancaster.

“I mentioned to her I was going to buy it, and she said that wasn’t a very good idea,”Hutchinson said. “But it was already a done deal, and I couldn’t back out.”

The Hutchinsons are also in the midst of purchasing the historic — and crumbling — Mithoff Hotel in Lancaster and have plans for a $4 million restoration.

“It will be hard for them to recoup their investment even over 20 or 30 years, so the miracle of this project is finding someone who takes pride in the community and will invest in the community,”said Lancaster Mayor David S. Smith.

Hutchinson said he overcame “a home life that wasn’t so good” on his journey to becoming a successful businessman and leader in the community.

In his early teens, Hutchinson moved into the nearby Lancaster home of his best friend, Sean Miller, whose parents, Russ and Rita, became his parental role models.

“His family chose to go in one direction, and he chose to go in another,” Sean Miller said.

The direction Hutchinson chose was to start a contracting company, Accurate Construction, in 1993, when he was 19. He declared bankruptcy three years later and in 1998, created Elite Construction, which was successful.

“I learned from my mistakes,” Hutchinson said. “I learned more about bidding on jobs, I hired help for accounting, and I learned to hire people based on their ability and not because I liked them.”

An unfilled niche led to the start of Company Wrench in 1999.

“We had trucks and small equipment for the contracting business, and I could never find a repair facility in Lancaster that could handle them,” Hutchinson said.

At about this time, he met Penny, 52, who had three children.

“That was the biggest turning point in my life,” he said. “She gave me focus. She was someone to grab me and say ‘Finish this before you start something else.’  ”

Mrs. Hutchinson likens her husband to the Energizer Bunny. “He has endless energy and is a perfectionist,” she said. “And he’ll see an area where other businesses are lacking and fill that hole.”

And this brings us back to the old snow-making machine.

The Environmental Protection Agency requires the suppression of what it terms “fugitive dust” at demolition sites. “And that meant a guy standing there with a hose spraying water,” Mr. Hutchinson said.

His idea was to spray water over a large area by using a powerful fan, and the old snow-making machine on the side of the road — which he purchased for $3,000 — fit the bill.

Mr. Hutchinson got it working, made several modifications and tested it at local demolition sites. He later swapped a $60,000 track loader with a Wisconsin ski resort for six old — and broken— snow-making machines

“They pulled in with all these old snowblowers on the back of a truck, and I said, ‘Why did you buy all this junk,’  ” Mrs. Hutchinson said. “But he was able to get four working units from that pile of junk.”

Mr. Hutchinson began renting these dust suppressors for $3,000 a month and continued perfecting his design for a new machine. He applied for and eventually received patents for what became the Dust Destroyer.

“They’re well-built and durable,” said Rob Mowen, who’s in charge of the production of the line of Dust Destroyers.

The company’s C.W. Machine Worx unit began making them in 2010 and has produced about 100. They cost up to $150,000. Seventy have been sold and 20 others are available for rent.

“They do a good job,” said Brian Maiher of Maiher Demolition and Salvage in Carroll.

His company used the Dust Destroyer while demolishing the former Jaeger Machine Co. manufacturing site near the Arena District. “They threw a mist over the whole building,” Maiher said. “There’s nothing else like it that I know of.”

Mr. Hutchinson believes there’s a growing market for his dust-suppression machines, which he said can also be used for environmental cleanups and to battle fires.

“Every day, I’m amazed,” he said of where he started from and where his life and his companies are now. “Whenever we achieve a certain financial goal or create something, I’m amazed.”