(Carbon Enterprises Inc. / CEI Anthracite / CEI Logistics)
28205 Scippo Creek Road
Circleville, Ohio 43113
Email: [email protected]
CEI was started in 1998 by Rick Ciminello, who got involved in the water industry over 15 years ago working for a couple of companies selling activated carbon. His initial goal was to provide different types of high quality filter media and to save money for his customers.
To accomplish this, he started manufacturing his own products (the firm now has manufacturing facilities in Hazleton, Pa. and Jackson, Ohio) and offering customers the ability to have products shipped together in intelligent assortments rather than customers having to purchase single items from many individual sources. Ciminello says, “Our motto is ‘One Company For All Your Filter Media’. We can always be reached.”
Ryan Carter joined the firm about six months after it started. He brought his customer base and new products and became a co-owner as a reward for his great effort, his excellent sales and for taking a chance in joining a small company when he could have gone elsewhere. Ciminello’s dream to have his own company was realized through the combined efforts and experience of the duo and they brought CEI to life.
The primary business model, geared toward the municipal and wastewater industries, resulted in CEI becoming a major worldwide supplier. More than a dozen different products have joined the original offerings of activated carbon, gravel and sand. The plants manufacture gravel and anthracite. Additional products such as garnet, coal-base and coconut-shell-base activated carbons, greensand, calcite, pumice, magnesium oxide, resin, zeolite, catalox, and KDF are purchased from approved vendors and resold. The products must have NSF approval and exceed both AWWA and CEI standards.
Some customers utilize the company as a warehouse, shipping the products from there as needed and using CEI logistics for freight. The high volume translates into customer savings on individual products and freight. “We are a supplier to large equipment manufacturers as well,” said Ciminello. “On large jobs, we supply the filter media in the order it goes into the equipment. We can do this because we provide all of the logistics services. This is quite an advantage when you consider some jobs can be 20 to 50 flatbed trucks’ worth of media. Storage on-site is very limited; therefore, the filter media must arrive on time and in the right order.”
Doubling in size between its second and fifth years, CEI’s growth remained steady until this year. CEI’s purchase of their own anthracite plant, one of only five in the U.S., is expected to produce a projected growth rate of 40 percent in 2006.
“The first year was very tough. We had to get our name out in front of people. We had to physically travel to, approve and line up manufacturers all over the U.S. Ryan and I were owners, receptionists, warehouse workers, accountants and everything else. Once we were able to show prospective customers we could save them money and that we produced high quality products, we really started to grow. Initial sales growth was by word of mouth. When we finally had enough money, our first advertisement was in WC&P. We still have the ad in a frame in our office. Kurt Peterson was nice enough to put it together for us.”
To jokingly highlight their all-around capabilities, Ciminello once put a customer on hold then re-answered the call as the shipping department. The customer was amused by the rather creative approach but Ciminello didn’t want to be perceived as having too few employees to be a competitive business. However, he maintains the key to success was working slowly forward by concentrating on quality first, both in product and employees.
“Our growth can be attributed to many things, but we feel it has mainly been due to our customer service. We believe we have the best employees and they understand what we strive for and need to accomplish as a company,” says Ciminello. “We want our employees happy so we keep it relaxed around here—no suits. It’s a family atmosphere. If you work hard, you get rewarded.”
Company employees now number between 13 and 16, depending on the plants. Five of the original employees are still with the company, a commitment appreciated by Ciminello. “They are our core, what helps make us successful.” To encourage such loyalty, benefits include full medical insurance, 401K and profit sharing plans and disability insurance for those who join CEI for the long haul. What Ciminello doesn’t want is employees projecting job dissatisfaction. “If they’re having a bad day or don’t like their job, it can come across very clearly to the customer. I’ve had that happen to me and I know it happens everywhere. Keeping employees happy means there is less of a chance of it becoming a problem.” The small town, rural location of the headquarters has its own benefits. Each year, employees take part in the annual Pumpkin Show, an event known around the country. Ciminello jokes, “Our employees look forward to having ‘fair food’ for an entire week.” Taking part in the event helps foster the family feeling Ciminello has promoted within the firm. Finding and keeping the best employees will be crucial as the company makes strategic marketing changes in the days ahead.
The dynamic changes in the water quality industry have prompted a renewed effort to diversify into the residential and commercial markets. CEI is working toward growing their presence in the water conditioning industry, expanding both their name and role. With more advertising and appearances at WQA annual events, Ciminello hopes to raise the company’s profile.
“I look at how the industry has changed over 15 years and it’s just unbelievable, all of the new technology,” said Ciminello. “When I began, the equipment was basically a hole at the top and a hole at the bottom, with filter media in the middle. Now there are all kinds of distribution systems, tanks, etc. With all kinds of new resins, carbons and filter media that can remove many different contaminants from the water, U.S. water treatment and purification industry growth should continue as we look to reduce the chemicals and contaminants released back into the environment. We just sold 20 containers of sand to Saudi Arabia for a municipal filter. You just never know until you try.”
“I’ve seen growth of filter media from overseas coming into the U.S. Some is very good and some is not good at all. It’s definitely becoming a world economy and I see growth for U.S. companies via overseas sales. CEI is always looking for new products and services to offer their customers so we’re looking into the manufacturing of more products. We have more control over cost for our customer this way. We will be expanding our logistics services in the future to be able to help our customers get better freight pricing on products they may ship out of their own facility.”
Diversifying product and services to promote growth has placed CEI in a prime position to enter yet another market while maintaining success in their tried-and-true performance sectors. Progress and success can’t be far away.