If you need a service manual for a Model A, a Model T or a Ford Mustang Cobra, Helm Inc. is the place to go.
Helm, of Highland Park, Mich., landed its first deal with Ford Motor Co. in 1943 to bind its printed service manuals. Soon after, Ford contracted with the company founded by David Helm to handle binding, order processing and distribution.
Business took off, and in 1957 General Motors contracted Helm for the same thing.
Helm has since added customers such as Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp.
The company reports annual revenue of about $50 million and employs more than 200 at its 565,000-square-foot plant in Highland Park, Mich.
"You have to start somewhere, and Ford was the cornerstone of our business," says Bob Malkiewicz, senior vice president of marketing at Helm. "If you put the relationship between Helm and Ford on the table, many organizations have said, 'Well, Helm's good enough for Ford, so they can fit the bill for our needs, too.' "
Malkiewicz bought the company in 1997 with two partners: Dennis Gusick, president, and Chuck Stocks, senior vice president of operations.
About 90 percent of company revenue is split evenly between fulfillment and merchandising.
Fulfillment is the foundation: printing books or manuals based on information provided by the automaker, taking orders from customers for the books and managing distribution. The company entered merchandising in 1972, working with more than 500 vendors to make sure product is consistent in presentation and design and is available to be shipped when needed.
For Napa AutoCare Centers, for example, Helm manages everything from key chains and fishing poles to building signs and welcome mats.
Without its history with Ford, the company would not exist.
Says Michele Wacht, Helm marketing manager: "They've taught us a lot about the value of relationships within the sales cycle."
Andrew Dietderich writes for Crain's Detroit Business, a sister publication to Automotive News.