Two university chemists, one from Columbia and the other from Penn, started Process Research Products halfway between the two cities, choosing an office on Nassau Street above Hulit’s Shoes. In 1958 they focused on local industries, such as General Motors in Ewing, and then they branched out into precision industries and into exporting.
Now each month the 25-person firm ships 20-foot containers with more than 100 tons of specialty chemicals — 60 percent to Asian markets — from its 30,000 square-foot plant in Ewing Business Park. British-born CEO Anthony Broomer says this is an encouraging sign that a small-to-medium family business in New Jersey can compete in the global marketplace.
Broomer moved to Princeton in 1986 when the Process Research factory was in Pennington and its major clients were European. Finding the Japanese market “frustrating and difficult to penetrate” he turned to Asia and set up distributors there. He moved it to Ewing, helped take the firm public, and was part of the group that bought it back. Now Process Research comprises one-fifth of Connecticut-based Chessco Industries. With eight salespeople, three lab scientists, seven people making the chemicals, and seven workers in the office, the half-century old company is small enough that it can celebrate employee birthdays with cookouts in the parking lot.
Part of his success, Broomer admits, is that he picked the right industry. “For specialty chemicals, the cost of entry is not high, and you don’t need many employees. You have proprietary information, and if you get it right, it can be quite profitable.”
Broomer attributes his success in the Chinese market to getting in early. “We have been a reliable supplier over many, many years, since the industry started. Like the IBM ad, the one about nobody getting fired for purchasing IBM computers, they like to know that their own sources are good. They realized that world-class manufacturing could be achieved with more certainty by adopting Western processes and products.” The firm’s latest products are for manufacturing crystalline solar cells.
In addition to China, the firm ships to 19 other Asian countries, including Malaysia, Korea, and Taiwan. Distance makes it hard to use sales quotas by territories for the eight-person sales staff. “Once somebody is out there, they cover for the others,” says Broomer. “They’ll be reimbursed based on their contribution, not by a formula. It is hard to do it by a formula.”
Broomer has just started to manufacture some solar products in Taiwan. “We would like to keep our core products manufactured here, and manufacture only the very price sensitive products, for the solar industry, near the market. The whole solar industry is driven by cost, in order to be more competitive with the electric grid.” Chemicals for silicon wafers for the electronic circuit business are less competitive, and his main competition comes from small Japanese firms. Says Broomer: “The challenge for us from now on is to be competitive in Asia and still manufacture here.”
Broomer agrees that his British background helps him in the export business. “Traditionally, as you travel around the world, there are more British people on the sales forces. It is a national trait that a lot of British people go into overseas selling.”
On the home front, he tends to hire immigrants, and that’s also due to his multicultural heritage. “In 1947, when I was seven years old, Pakistan was formed and Britain was flooded with immigrants. We hire mainly immigrants here — Filipinos, Indians, Taiwanese, or Guatemalan — and more than half of our employees are first or second generation workers.”
Broomer and his artist wife, Zenna, live in the Hillier-designed glass-walled condominium on Quarry Street (the house was viewed as an unwelcome “urban insertion” by some neighbors — U.S. 1, June 4, 2008). The Broomers met in England, and they have four children and one grandchild. Broomer grew up in the Midlands, where his father worked for the railroad. After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Wolverhampton Polytechnic College in 1963, he went into technical sales, joining the British division of Chessco Industries, the parent company to Process Research, in 1967.
Based in Westport, Connecticut, Chessco bought Process Research in 1970 from the founding partners, Philip Kafton and Wilbur Duncan. It continues to be a family business; each of the divisions has at least two employees with the same last name.
Broomer’s sons, Simon and John, work at Process Research. John attended Syracuse University and earned an MBA from New York University. He has worked in the banking industry for 10 years. Simon, a 1994 alumnus of Elmira College in New York, is scheduled to take over the day to day operations of the company on January 1.
Broomer says he has been content to let the firm grow naturally and enjoy healthy profit margins. “It’s nice to be able to get your arm around the business. Being profitable is probably more important than growth.”
Process Research Products, 1013 Whitehead Road Extension, Ewing Business Park, Ewing 08638; 609-882-0400; fax, 609-882-9608. Anthony Broomer, CEO.