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Chicago Strong

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(l-r) Anne and Cece Matot

In this Industry Dialogue, Matot owner Cece Matot (CM) describes the current state and future of the company, the city and the industry with your author (KW).

The state-of-the-art Apple headquarters in Palo Alto, California, and every Veterans Administration hospital in the U.S. are just some of the locations served by dumbwaiters manufactured by Matot Inc., which traces its roots to Chicago’s north side in the 1880s, when master carpenter Duffy “D.A.” Matot realized his vision of providing refrigeration equipment and dumbwaiters to local taverns and shops.[1] Since, the company — now in its fifth generation — has grown and evolved, weathering the Great Depression and performing work for the U.S. Department of War during both world wars. Dumbwaiters and materials lifts are now its sole focus.Matot diversified with the acquisition of industrial damper company Kelair Products Inc. several years ago (ELEVATOR WORLD, February 2017).

Today, Matot is led by Duffy Matot’s great-granddaughter, Cece Matot, and her sister, Anne Matot. Cece Matot says Chicago remains a very important and special market for the company. She is confident the city and, in turn, businesses like Matot, will emerge victorious and thrive after facing the latest challenge — COVID-19.

KW: Tell me about the company’s workforce and physical space. Does Matot foresee expansion?

CM: We have 35 employees. The shop floor people are working onsite, but almost everyone else is working remotely. To prevent crowding, office employees come to work on staggered days. We have a 40,000-ft2 facility with no plans to expand. However, due to the way our shop floor is configured, we will be able to remain as is, even with a 25% increase in business. That being said, we are confident that, within the next five years, we will need to either increase our footprint or move due to organic growth and/or acquisitions.

KW: Have there been any recent acquisitions, or are any planned?

CM: We are always looking for companies and have our eyes on a couple of prospects, but are not yet ready to pull the trigger. Our most recent acquisition was Kelair, which manufactures industrial dampers that move processed air at temperatures up to 1,900˚F at low pressure. This was a great buy for us, because it diversifies Matot and adds profitability with very similar margins.

We are having a hard time keeping up with demand for dumbwaiters in healthcare. We have also seen a huge demand for dumbwaiters and materials lifts from the cannabis industry.

Chicago Strong 2
Matot dumbwaiter installed by Chicago’s Liftomatic, its most prolific customer this year for Unilever, where Hellman’s maynonnaise is transported

KW: How is Matot weathering the pandemic? Has business shifted, for example, from retail to hospitals and prisons?

CM: Matot has weathered the pandemic through the hard work and dedication of our employees. Luckily, we were deemed essential and could continue operations. For several months, we worked split shifts on the shop floor, which was difficult for all the guys. We upgraded our technology and reinvested in information technology to facilitate remote work. Our office staff pivoted very quickly and worked from home without too much disruption.
We are proud of all the teamwork that has enabled us to thrive during the pandemic. We are also grateful no one has become seriously ill and that we never had to shut down due to widespread infection. Our customers have been understanding and remarkable during this disruptive time, and for that, we will be forever thankful.

As you can imagine, our restaurant and hospitality business dropped off precipitously due to COVID-19. Initially, our healthcare work suffered, as well, due to our elevator contractor customers not being able to enter hospitals for installations or routine maintenance. However, our hospital lift equipment business has dramatically rebounded, with an emphasis on (more complex) materials lift systems. Matot also continues to move a lot of chemotherapy drugs at cancer centers. Honestly, we are having a hard time keeping up with demand for dumbwaiters in healthcare. We have also seen a huge demand for dumbwaiters and materials lifts from the cannabis industry.

Liftomatic Elevator Co. was our most prolific customer this year, installing many dumbwaiters and materials lifts all over Chicagoland.

KW: What is the company’s business/marketing strategy now and over the next five years?

CM: Over the next five years, we will increase our digital platform overall, with even more outreach to architects through continuing education. To reach a larger audience, we will enhance our digital advertising platform through increased social media activity. On the equipment side, we continue to invest and innovate. Our new power door operator debuted last year with updated technology, along with simpler and easier mechanical installation and operation (EW, November 2020). We will continue to work on the ASME A17 code committee, and I have another year and a half on the National Association of Elevator Contractors Board of Directors. We also are very excited that a member of the fifth generation, Samantha Kolker, Anne Matot’s daughter, joined the company as a sales and marketing associate (EW, September 2020). Who knows where she will be in our business in five years?

KW: How important is the Chicago market to the company, and what are the main business drivers?

CM: Chicago has been our home since Duffy Matot founded the business in 1888 on the north side of the city. We are now in Bellwood, which is only 11 mi. from the Downtown Loop, so we have not strayed far from our roots. Our Chicago customers are incredibly loyal, but a lot of jobsites were shut down for months, so we’ve all been impacted. However, Liftomatic Elevator Co. was our most prolific customer this year, installing many dumbwaiters and materials lifts all over Chicagoland.

KW: How was Chicago business prior to the pandemic, and what have the effects been in the area? When do you foresee an upturn?

CM: This city is a major economic engine for the entire Midwest. We experienced some very difficult and tumultuous times, especially downtown over the summer. Currently, the Loop remains fairly empty due to the pandemic. However, Chicago will recover, and soon. When there are widespread vaccinations, people will go back to work, and the younger generation, especially, will be back downtown in force. Anecdotally, we hear that most large corporations are bringing employees back to the Loop in early summer 2021. As soon as people are back downtown working, we will see economic recovery start.

References

[1] Pate, Elizabeth. “Matot Celebrates 125 Years of Lift Solutions,” EW, August 2013.

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