By Emma H. Peterson

Marlo Incorporated, as MARLO was originally named, was founded in 1973 by Fred Glines and his son, Mike. They had each concluded their careers with the United States Army and were looking for their next endeavor. The pair started in a leased space in Racine, WI, focusing on selling residential water softeners, mostly overseas. The company got going with only 10 employees, but as they began to grow in popularity, the father/son duo knew they needed their own establishment. Nearby they began construction for their first 10,000-square-foot company building.

Fast forward 47 years…the company currently occupies 75,000 square feet with over 95 employees, after the fourth addition to their original building. MARLO continues to proudly be a privately held, family-founded and owned business. The Glines have held 100-percent ownership since the day of its inception; no private equity firms or outside investments are involved. The company designs and manufactures high-quality water treatment equipment for a wide variety of residential, commercial, institutional and industrial applications worldwide. It manufactures numerous products, from water softening, media filtration and RO to specialty ion exchange applications. Company engineers use their specialization in custom-engineered solutions to meet specific client requirements, including integrated skid packages and automated system controls. They distribute their equipment nationwide, made possible by a vast network of dealers/distributors, stem integrators and private-label ventures.

Everyone has a special job. The business doesn’t necessarily have a customer service department because everyone is in customer service. Everything they do is about dealing with people in a professional, personable way, both internally and externally. If a talented, can-do person shows up at their doorstep, the business finds a place for them. Fred Glines would often say: “You’ll never go broke hiring good people!” Creating a respectful workplace, “characterized by courteous, honest, direct and relevant communication with each other, our customers and our vendors,” as Steve LaMere, MARLO’s President and Chief Operating Officer says, “is the company’s utmost priority.”

Aside from selecting only the most capable employees, the company ensures a relaxed work environment by practicing their mission daily: “To encourage creativity, flexibility, acceptance and fun.” Flexibility in particular has been an important practice. The team has made it a point to not get caught up in concrete, long-term planning. As life is all about curve balls, they plan accordingly for the inevitable. Being able to react to the ever-changing water treatment industry is a significant reason the business has been so successful over the years. It has been especially important for their adaptability in 2020. Of course, the company has struggled during the pandemic as other businesses have, but mostly with juggling everyone’s schedules. The majority of the office workers have continued doing their jobs remotely from home. Extra efforts among all the employees have allowed for the same high level of service to customers, while also re-tooling operations, even during the pandemic. Sales have been up and down this year, but they saw a hopeful trend upward as the year neared its end.

2020 was not the first time MARLO has dealt with such difficulties, though. The company experienced a run of record growth rates from 2004 to 2008, but in 2009, the Great Recession forced the business to take a step back. As a mainly build-to-order company, it was able to persevere with the lower workload without holding onto a lot of material inventories. The company still remained profitable and kept nearly everyone employed. In fact, it actually proved to be a good opportunity for the engineering group, as it presented an opportunity for more options to further standardize products. The company has proven true that staying on top of these problems doesn’t necessarily mean to try and catch them before they happen, but rather waste no time and deal with them when they come.

Going forward, the company’s focus is to remain independent, grow the brand and business in a steady and responsible manner, and proactively evaluate the opportunities and obstacles as they arise. It has found its niche in the industry and plans to continue to grow within it. The team also plans to continue practicing flexibility. The water industry is difficult to define because there are so many different markets served and applications for products. But given the wide portfolio, MARLO is not limited to one product and therefore can offer more to their customers than other companies. There hasn’t been much to develop with new technology in the industry lately. Instead, the company is figuring out an approach to the issue of water and energy savings.

Big things are on the horizon for the next few years. The company plans to add an additional 64,000 square feet to its existing 75,000 square feet of manufacturing and office space. In the future, the plan is to link the two buildings together to create a larger, fully integrated campus for the design and manufacturing of residential, commercial and industrial water treatment equipment and systems. In doing this, MARLO is looking forward to reinvesting in the business and solidifying its roots in the Racine community.


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