A business built from ground up

December 17, 1991|By Marilyn McCraven

If John Moses Robinson had listened to the financial experts 15 years ago, he probably wouldn't be where he is today. At that time, many experts were predicting the decline of manufacturing and the rise of service-oriented businesses.

Instead, Mr. Robinson's determination to buck the trend has resulted in a successful sheet metal fabrication business based in Capitol Heights.

Black Diamond Enterprises Ltd. -- which primarily makes stainless steel food service and health care equipment such as carts and racks to hold everything from soda dispensers to computer terminals -- grossed more than $1 million in sales last year.

In 1976, Robinson left a secure job selling industrial conveyor belts to pursue his dream of having his own manufacturing business.

He used his contacts in various industries to help him get started, and money from personal savings, family and friends to bankroll the enterprise.

Despite the current economic recession, Mr. Robinson is optimistic that the company has turned the corner and will grow well into the future. The company's goal is to produce sales of approximately $20 million within 10 years, and eventually become a leader in the field.

Such optimism seems to be supported by Black Diamond's history. It began with no bank financing, no warehouse, no plant and no employees in an industry where most of its competitors have been around for years.

Mr. Robinson, who named his company for the Black Diamond Railroad line's cars that used to pass near his childhood home in Easton, Pa., was a determined workhorse who did practically everything himself when he started his business, including manufacturing products.

"He cut the metal, bent it, welded it; what he couldn't do he maybe subcontracted it out or bought it," said Lisa Robinson, his wife and Black Diamond executive vice president.

Mr. Robinson has a way of converting people into believing in his business, including Mrs. Robinson, a New Jersey native, who began working for the business in 1986. She was a recreation therapist for the mentally retarded who was considering taking a job selling cars when Mr. Robinson suggested that she work in sales for his company.

It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the company really became successful, she said. That was when it became an "approved supplier" for the McDonald's restaurant chain. Under their "handshake" agreement with McDonald's, Black Diamond produces the stainless steel stands the fast food giant uses to hold its cash registers at drive-up windows, the beverage stations that hold the restaurant's soda dispensing machines, ice and cups and a computer table for the managers' offices.

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