Andy Crowl will tell you that the best feeling as the owner of a business is to know that the place can run without you. As the Crowl family celebrates 15 years of owning CompressAir based in La Porte this month, Andy and his sons Tyler and Maverick sat in Andy’s office in La Porte - decorated like a personalized hunting lodge complete with bearskin on the wall – to reflect on the past decade and a half of CompressAir’s success.
Andy never imagined his company would become a family business. It happened organically, in a way.
“I worked for a small independent company, and we were bought out by a larger company. One of the service techs approached me with the idea (to buy CompressAir). I was 38 years old at the time, and thought I should think about it,” Andy recalled.
He wanted something different and didn’t want to be obligated to a large corporation for the rest of his career. And while he had never owned a business, he had a few thoughts on why it could work.
“I had three people to worry about – my wife and two boys – but I had a good work ethic and knew how to work on air compressors, so I went from there,” he said.
Maverick, now the company’s warehouse manager (although he’s also sort of a jack of all trades), was a kid at the time. He didn’t notice much of a change when his dad bought the company, save one small detail.
“He definitely wasn’t around to help me with my math homework,” he ribbed.
“That’s a good thing,” Andy clapped back. “Trust me, that’s a good thing.”
For real, Andy knows he made sacrifices with his family time to get the company rolling.
“They understood that when the phone rang at 2 a.m., or 1 p.m. on a Sunday, dad had to go to work,
he said. “As a business owner, you wear many hats. I’m the first one in, and the last one out a lot of times, and that means everything from plowing the driveway before everyone gets here, to starting the coffee.”
CompressAir started with about seven or eight employees and has grown to 31 today between their La Porte and Elkhart facilities.
“That’s not just 31 people, though. These are 31 families that rely on us for their livelihood, and we take that seriously,” Andy said.
When Maverick went to college, the prospect of being part of the family business tickled the back of his brain enough for him to make a major life decision around it.
“I started in IT but then I basically thought – what does this company need? And that’s what I went to school for,” he said.
While his dad had a degree in mechanical engineering, Maverick chose another path. He graduated from Purdue University Northwest with a business degree and dove right into helping set up CompressAir for future success.
“We really turned a corner in 2012, with my son Tyler starting in sales” Andy said. “That was a year of good growth for us, and where I made some decisions to make some things more formal in terms of operations and growing our customer basis.”
When his son Tyler was in college, Andy noticed he had a penchant for sales. Considering Sullair Corporation, for which CompressAir is a leading distributor, is so close in Michigan City, Tyler would come to sales meetings and listen to how Sullair’s area manager Kent Van Sickle would do sales calls. He apprenticed like this for about two years, learning the product and sales techniques, before joining as sales manager in 2012.
In 2018, Andy learned the most valuable piece of information he could know about his company – that it could run without him. After what he thought would be a routine back surgery, he contracted Guillain-Barre Syndrome, spending 102 days out of the office strictly focusing on mending his health back to normal.
“That is when I knew we had gotten to a good place in the company – that this place could run without me. I don’t want it to – I’m very involved and I’m a hands-on kind of person. But I had the right people, in the right jobs, doing the right things, and the moral support that everyone showed for the business and for my sons – I will never forget it,” he said.
Andy said he has been inspired over the years by his father-in-law, who has been self-employed since the early 70s in a family-owned business.
“He’s 76 years old and still goes to work every day in his family-owned business,” he said, “I look up to him and plan to be doing the same when I’m his age.”
His hands-on approach as an owner is revealed in his most popular question, he asks all over the company: “How’s come?”
“If he’s asking that, he wants to have a say, or he wants to know why you’re doing something a certain way. We hear it so many times a day, he means it in a good way.” Maverick laughed. “It’s just the famous phrase around here.”
Andy’s wife, Kelly, works for a different family-owned business, and also helps a bit with internal paperwork and policies at CompressAir. She’s the glue of the family and their biggest supporter.
Because they are a family-owned business, and because the Crowl family was born and raised in La Porte County (Andy knew his wife as far back as high school), Andy said CompressAir continues to give back to the community that has helped them be successful, albeit quietly most times.
“We don’t shout about it but we’ve been able to help the school robotics team by getting them a trailer at cost for their competitions, and we sponsor baseball teams,” Andy said. “The last two years we’ve bought the Jaycees 600 backpacks for their kids' backpack program – so for us, it’s really all about the kids and we’re going to assist wherever we can. They’re the next generation and we need to help.”
Looking forward, Andy, Tyler, and Maverick said they want to thank the community, Sullair Corporation, their work family, and especially their customers for a successful 15 years.
“We look forward to 100 more,” Maverick said, only half joking.
For more information about CompressAir, visit https://compressair.net/.