SCRANTON, Pa., Aug. 6, 2011 -- The world's only company dedicated to the preservation and marketing of Edison-era electrical artifacts is marking its 35th year in business. In 1976, the Arcman Corporation created and sold its first product, a glass-domed executive desk lamp crafted from an operating 1920's miniature-size, brass-trimmed electric house meter. Since then, the small firm on the outskirts of Scranton, PA has amassed the world's largest inventory of antique electric meters awaiting restoration and conversion to its unique product line.
Jim Sovaiko, the company's founder and president, was a U.S. Marine engineering officer home on leave in 1973 when he discovered a cache of antique electric meters in an abandoned salvage yard. Sensing a potential business opportunity for the unusual find, he arranged to purchase them from the owner.
"The Marines were shipping me to Japan for a year and the yard owner was about to smash and dumpster them for disposal, so there was an immediate need for action. I was very fortunate to arrange with friends to haul and store them as I flew off to Tokyo."
"We developed the idea of converting them into unique desk lamps with functioning, animated meters wired into the bulb circuitry, but we hadn't acquired enough to create a viable business."
After his military discharge, Jim pursued the idea further. "A crash course in the history of electrical distribution revealed that the meters were actually some of the first ever designed to calculate residential electric bills. For the most part, these meters were the first ones installed when homeowners upgraded from kerosene lamps and gaslights to light bulbs."
"Unlike modern heavy-duty meters, these early meters are quite small," Jim relates. "They have jeweled mechanical movements not unlike a fine watch and an amazing 36,000,000-to-1 recording gear ratio. They also employ a generous amount of brass, which when polished, greatly enhances their visual appeal."
Further research revealed both good and bad news. An exhaustive nationwide survey disclosed that additional antique meters were still available from various electric utilities, but they had to be purchased immediately as they were all headed for destruction.
Overextending his finances, Jim went for broke in securing these endangered meters. In true entrepreneurial spirit, though, he decided that the debt was worth the undertaking. "An expenditure of a few hundred thousand dollars locked in a potential return in excess of 55 million dollars over the restoration period, based on initial customer demand and sales."
All has not been a financial bed of roses, however. Decades of additional acquisitions to further bolster the inventory have impacted cash flow, but "an increased restoration pace planned for 2011-2012 will easily clear this up," Jim states. "We just need to address some chronic conversion bottlenecks and work up sales levels to better handle debt service obligations."
Jim's optimism is fortified by the fact that micro-size Arcman Corporation, with no direct competition, is now a world monopoly with its unique niche products. Furthermore, its mere 1% or less current market penetration affords lots of expansion opportunities.
In addition, the value of its massive inventory, now in deep protective storage, has steadily increased in value as the years pass. Beyond this, there are also a series of new, unrelated products under development as well.
Today, Arcman Corporation's restored electrical artifacts may be found on display from Boston to Beijing and from Indianapolis to Islamabad. Personally engraved, they have been presented to heads of state, to hundreds of corporate executives and thousands of others who now own pieces of early electrical Americana rescued from an imminent fate with crushers and melting furnaces.
"Our products have been around long enough to occasionally show up on internet auction sites, usually as an estate sale. It's always enlightening to examine close-up images of our products after many years of use to confirm that our designs and workmanship hold up very well. From the meter dial pointer positions, it's apparent that some pieces have operated 24/7/365, but the jeweled meter movements take it all in stride," Jim observes.
As for the company staff, "There are a miniscule number of skilled antique electric meter techs employed on the planet, and they probably all work for the Arcman Corporation," quips Jim. "It takes a year or more to cross-train a shop technician, so I do my best to keep everyone on board. No one else does what we do, and our pride of workmanship is such that each restoration shipped is affixed with the signature of the assembling craftsman."