A Publication of WTVP

Foremost was started as Foremost Electric at 918 S.W. Adams in Peoria sometime around 1925. We sold and repaired electric motors. The repair shop was actually in the basement, which was level with the alley behind the shop. George Ring owned the company through 1957, when it was sold to Ben Sommer and Warren Nicot. We added some power transmission lines (gearboxes, bearings, chain, v-belts, etc.) and changed the name to Foremost Electric & Transmission Inc. There was more of an emphasis placed on new sales, with the motor repair business playing a diminished role due to the limitations of the facility.

The business was sold to the current owners, the Humphrey Management Group, in 1984. At the time, sales to Caterpillar comprised over 50 percent of Foremost’s business, and the challenge was to grow other major accounts as well. We developed motor control products, such as the Toshiba and Benshaw lines, and added new technology with the addition of Turck proximity sensors and Banner photoelectrics.

In 1993, Foremost moved to a new 25,000-square-foot location on Carver Lane in East Peoria. We also changed our name to Foremost Industrial Technologies (FIT) to more accurately reflect our products and services. The main purpose of the move was to grow our motor repair business, and the layout and facilities were well suited for that purpose. It was determined that the motor repair business and distribution business complemented and fed each other. Motor repair sales grew from less than 20 percent to nearly 35 percent of overall sales while still growing the distribution business. The customer base grew as well, and Foremost developed customers as far north as South Beloit and Rockford, west to Carthage, south to Mattoon, and east to Danville. Caterpillar continued to be a significant chunk of our business, but evolved into only 20 percent of overall sales, as it remains today.

We eventually outgrew this facility, and in May of 2008, moved to our current 53,000-square-foot location at 6518 W. Plank Road in Peoria. Significant investments were made in capital equipment and lease-hold improvements in order to develop a showcase repair facility. With the existing layout, equipment and manpower, Foremost is able to repair much larger motors than before, as well as most types of pumps. The reliability of our repairs is the driving force behind our continuously improving processes, and providing our customers with documentation enables them to reduce downtime by fully understanding their equipment failures and developing preventative maintenance strategies.

Manufacturer or Re-manufacturer?
Foremost is actually a re-manufacturer of electric motors, pumps, generators and industrial gearboxes. We basically “re-build” a failed apparatus, restoring or even improving this equipment to original specifications or better. This is a craft, and requires skilled tradesmen with a variety of specialized skills. Our shop employees all belong to a trade union—the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. However, many of our skilled tradesmen are classified as “mechanics” and specialize in performing mechanical work, not electrical. Over 70 percent of the work put into our repairs is mechanical, having to do with rotating parts, mechanical fits, shafts, seals and bearings. The other primary classifications are “machinist” and “winder.”

Machinists use a variety of machine tools in the shop to precisely re-shape old or new parts to be installed on the re-built apparatus. Winders typically rewind an electric motor by making and inserting coils of wire and sleeves of insulation into a stator housing or rotor so that the motor performs at a level equal or greater to the original performance specifications. Each classification requires significant training and some classroom time, starting as an “apprentice” before finally achieving the top status of “journeyman.” Some of our employees are cross-trained and have skills in two or more areas, allowing flexibility in dealing with varying demands that may arise. Foremost has hired new, unskilled trainees as well as varying levels of experienced motor shop repairmen.

Every apparatus that comes to our shop for service is classified as a “job.” Every job is different, and each job must be analyzed to determine what work needs to be done to restore it to the desired level of performance. Often we are asked to provide a quotation for this work, but this is usually an estimate, due to the fact that in the performance of the desired work we may uncover hidden damage that will need to be repaired. When this happens, we stop our work and advise our customers immediately, along with a price, so that they may determine if they wish to proceed with the repair.

Resourcefulness is a key to having a successful shop. Our shop employees are constantly faced with new and varying challenges in order to meet our customers’ needs. Some jobs are extremely difficult to disassemble. Many have severely damaged or broken parts, some of which may not be available. We may have to make a new part from scratch or modify a similar part to fit. Some motors may come in with incorrect windings, so we have to re-design or research the proper windings. Sometimes the shape or bulkiness of the equipment requires ingenuity in order to perform the needed work. Sometimes the work comes pouring in so quickly that our employees have to work significant overtime to meet the demand, and their hours have to be juggled to handle “hot rushes,” which require continuous attention.

A resourceful shop manager, foreman and journeymen are precious commodities, and are becoming a rare breed. There are fewer motor shops out in the marketplace. At the same time, the remaining shops tend to be larger, as is the equipment to be repaired. Few young people seem to choose skilled trades as a career. Some people who struggle with school studies are mechanically gifted and would be wise to develop these skills. We currently employ 12 skilled tradesmen, but we anticipate that number to increase to 30 within five years. Where will we find these people?

We see a bright future for Foremost. We were able to survive and stay healthy during this recession. We are seeing a very gradual upturn in business, and we expect to see that rate accelerate by midsummer, and even more significantly by year’s end. Prior to our last move, all large apparatus repairs were leaving the Peoria area. With our enhanced capabilities, we are able to keep some of that business in Peoria.

Additionally, we are bringing some of that business from other areas to Peoria. We have a stable workforce (currently 23 employees), and our people are paid a fair wage with excellent benefits. We have a cohesive and experienced management, sales and support staff. We work for a caring owner who wants to further develop our business. So watch out, Peoria and the rest of upstate and downstate Illinois, ‘cause here we grow! iBi