Eldersburg Firm Looms Large In Microscopic Market Niche

September 01, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

ELDERSBURG — The world is larger than life to Gary M. Easton -- up to 240,000 times larger.

A strand of hair looks like a tree trunk. A pinhead appears as a rocket. Salt crystals are boulders.

Easton fixes electron microscopes, a job that takes him into science labs, FBI offices, car manufacturing plants and military bases.

He spends much of his time on the road, lugging a 70-pound case of tools and spare parts. From San Jose, Calif., to Baltimore, he plies his trade.

When he's not traveling, he's figuring ways to increasebusiness at Scanners Corp., located at the corner of Enterprise Street and Competitive Goals Drive in the Central Maryland Service and Distribution Center on Route 26.

Next month, Easton, 37, will open anew division called Aerospace Sales Industries, which will act as a middleman to supply electronic parts to the military.

Why militaryparts, which would seem to have little to do with microscope repairs?

"It's very profitable," Easton said.

He'll bring in a longtime friend with experience in military contracts to get the venture going.

Easton, who grew up in Sykesville and now lives in Finksburg, followed a serendipitous path to his current position. After working as an electronics technician in a Navy submarine, he decided to get into the biomedical field, which was booming when he left the service in the mid-1970s.

"I wanted to do something neat," he said. "I wanted to do something good with my life."

A headhunter in Baltimore County sent him on 20 interviews -- one at a company that made electron microscopes, the kind he now repairs. Easton boned up on the microscopes at the library the night before the interview and landed the job with his new-found knowledge.

He worked for the California-based company for 10 years, developing contacts and working his way up toa management job.

In 1986, though, he determined to adjust his focus. He and his wife, Sharon, had just built a new house and their first child was 2, but he was confident he could make it.

"I was bored. I wanted to strike out on my own," Easton said.

The company hehad worked for was phasing out the type of microscope Easton knew how to fix. That meant he could fill that need for customers, he said.

The first year, he worked in his basement and grossed $3,000. By the next, he had $75,000 worth of orders. His business grew to $500,000 in sales last year. This year, he expects to gross $600,000.

Hisnearest competition is in Delta, Pa., just over the Maryland line inYork County. Easton said he knows of no other Maryland company servicing electron microscopes.

"It's a niche market," he said.

His customers include Western Maryland College, the Universityof Marylandat College Park and Westinghouse Electric Corp. at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The microscopes he services are small, but are attached to a control panel several feet long and equipped with a myriad of controls, a scanning screen that resembles a video monitor and a computer.

The machine he has in his office can magnify objects up to 240,000 times, he said.

Easton has two employees, and his wife works part time doing bookkeeping.

If Easton lands a $60,000 contract from Clemson University, he will send one employee to Greenville, S.C., to open an office.

Easton also would like to expand into the Northwest, possibly in a few years. The company's headquarters probably will stay in Carroll County, though, because his family and his wife's are nearby.

"We value family. I doubt we'll evermove," Easton said.

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