Elk Grove's Savage Bros. enjoys sweet success with candy-making equipment
Bob Parmley enjoys the "I Love Lucy" classic episode where Lucy and her friend Ethel comically try to package chocolates when the assembly line speeds up.
As candy piles up, Lucy gives the illusion of efficiency by making the candy disappear into her mouth, gulp by gulp.
A picture from that show hangs on the wall at Elk Grove Village-based Savage Bros. Co., which has manufactured and distributed candy-making equipment worldwide for 162 years. Owner and President Bob Parmley has found a sort of sweetness by making heavy copper kettles with related cooking and assembly equipment for candy makers, from the Wisconsin Dells to Africa.
"It's fun to be in a fun industry," said Parmley, 72, of Antioch. "There's not a tremendous amount of growth, but our customers are fun to work with. And they have customers who, if they're not in a good mood when they come in, they'll come out of the store in a good mood."
Parmley is happy that Savage withstood tough economic times, employs 59 people, and has annual sales of about $10 million. Parmley now is contemplating the future of the company. He has been lining up fresh talent to become the next generation of leadership to ensure the company continues to serve candy makers for years to come. After all, the company has longtime customers worldwide that depend on their equipment to make their own candies. "Nearly every retail confectioner that you walk into that makes any type of caramel has a Savage Bros. copper kettle," said Angie Burlison, executive director of Springfield, Missouri-based Retail Confectioners International. Savage is a member of the association.
In 1855, Savage Bros. was founded by William and Richard Savage, brothers who were born in New Brunswick, Canada.
Their original factory was in Chicago and operated as a foundry and blacksmith shop. It was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. "It was one of the first businesses to rebuild after the fire," Parmley said.
It is not clear when Savage began to focus on confectionery machinery, but it may have been around 1900 with coal and wood-fired candy stoves. Savage then started around 1903 making the FireMixer, a cooker and mixer that became the standard to make caramel, fudge, toffee and brittle in small batches.
The company remained in the Savage family until 1975. That's when the last family managers had no children or other relatives who could take over. The Savage family planned to close the company.
While Savage faced changes, pieces were starting to be put in place for an eventual change in ownership.
Parmley had joined the U.S. Air Force at the height of the Vietnam Conflict in 1967. He went to officer training school, got married and raised three sons. Parmley served in the Air Force until 1971, when he was a communications maintenance officer in Dayton, Ohio. He also earned an MBA during his service while attending Ohio State University.
Parmley and Air Force buddy, Marino David Floreani, then started a company together after college called Tempo 21 Inc., a residential chemical lawn care company. When the two men heard about Savage preparing to shutdown, they decided to buy the company.
Parmley stayed with Tempo 21 while Floreani became president of Savage.
In the meantime, Tempo 21 was sold to Barefoot Grass and then to ServiceMaster. While Parmley helped with the transitions for the lawn service, Floreani moved Savage from Gladys Avenue in Chicago to a rented facility in Elk Grove Village in 1975.
A few years later, Parmley rejoined his colleague at Savage. They later bought W.C. Smith, a maker of equipment that "enrobes," or covers candies with chocolate, and merged those operations with Savage.
In 2011, Floreani passed away at 66 from complications following surgery related to his treatment for pancreatic cancer. Parmley then became president of Savage.
As the company continued to grow, Parmley looked for a larger facility about two years ago. Elk Grove officials helped secure a Cook County property tax incentive package that reduced taxes about 60 percent for 10 years. To qualify, the company bought a vacant building on Greenleaf Avenue, rehabbed it and brought it up to local codes, said Josh Grodzin, director of Elk Grove's business development and marketing.
Over the years, Parmley has seen various candy trends, from adding spices and flavor combinations to chocolate to sugar-free lines. While candy makers seek innovation to keep fans coming back, Savage remains the go-to equipment company.
"Some places like the old-fashioned look of the copper kettle and other equipment," said Parmely. "You can go to any number of shops in the Wisconsin Dells or some old antique looking stores and they love to feature our equipment right in front so the public can see it."
The shops also know the longevity of Savage Bros. means it likely will be around if their equipment needs repair or replacement, said Arlington Heights resident Michael Peterman, 38, who was recently promoted from engineer to general manager.
"This has been a great family company with a lot of history," Peterman said.
Savage Bros. Co.Business: Maker and distributor of equipment that makes candy
Founders: William and Richard Savage
Owner: Bob Parmley
Headquarters: Elk Grove Village
Annual sales: About $10 million