Now & Then: Chicago Glue & Machine
Chicago Glue & Machine is a second generation family business; however, its roots as a family business are much deeper. Co-founders Irwin Katz and Chuck Siegal both had experience in their own family businesses prior to their purchase of Chicago Box in 1984. Irwin worked with his father at Alan Industrial, a demolition and scrap company. Meanwhile, Chuck’s father had a business manufacturing cabinets for radios which led to Chuck eventually extending the business to include manufacturing children’s record players.
As technology advanced, Chuck decided to liquidate his business and set his eyes on a new venture – Chicago Box. When he set out to purchase Chicago Box, he sought a business partner in his childhood friend since Cub Scouts, Irwin. For Irwin, this was the perfect opportunity to branch out and have a business of his own.
Chicago Box at that time sold equipment to make boxes such as potdevin machines. However, Irwin and Chuck had plans to reinvent the product line and services in a big way. Since they were selling adhesive machines, why not sell the glue too? Conveniently, US Adhesives was right down the street so they began distributing glue from their neighbor.
Irwin and Chuck continued to grow their product line as well, distributing Nordson equipment which was the largest manufacturer of hot melt dispensing equipment at the time. In those days, their biggest struggle was growing staff as their need for additional personnel fluctuated. Ultimately, they needed to add employees so they could expand their customer service which became a key element for the renamed Chicago Glue later on.
In 1987, the business moved from Chicago to Bensenville. Right around the same time, Chuck’s son, Brad Siegal, joined the company. After working as a manager at Polk Brothers, Brad decided he’d take his skill for product integration and production to the family business. Ever since Brad was 16 and watched his grandfather sell his business, he was inspired to have his own company someday.
Chicago Glue was one of the earliest glue adhesives distributors and they proved to be on the cutting edge for service of the applications. Within five years, Irwin and Chuck had completely reinvented what Chicago Box once was by growing the company to over $1 million dollars in sales and distributing H.B. Fuller products exclusively. They found their niche selling glue products to small customers that weren’t being serviced well directly by the manufacturers. This is how Chicago Glue’s customer service became a core pillar for the business. The company still believes that by treating every customer as their largest customer, trust is built.
Irwin’s daughter, Nirel Inman, joined the company in 1993 starting as office help but Irwin encouraged her to try her hand at sales as well. The industry was certainly male dominated at the time (and still is to some extent today) so she found herself as one of the only female salespeople in the market. Eventually Nirel gravitated back to her passion: finance and operations.
In 2002, Chicago Glue moved to their current location in Itasca. Shortly thereafter, Irwin took a two-month bike trip for his 60th birthday. Upon his return, he saw that Nirel and Brad had done a great job running the business on their own. This was Irwin’s epiphany that perhaps it was time to start the discussion of selling the business to the second generation. After more than a year of negotiation, a deal was finalized and Nirel and Brad became 50/50 partners with a ten-year buyout plan for the founders.
It is clear to see Brad and Nirel’s passion for Chicago Glue. As second generation owners, they both have a deep appreciation for what their fathers built over the last 30 years and have a true sense of pride in carrying on their legacy and growing the business. The customer service that was core to Chicago Glue in the beginning is important for Brad and Nirel to uphold today. They explain that they are never truly closed because they always want to be accessible to their customers, no matter what.
Today, Irwin still has a few clients and comes into the office as needed. His knack for sales is what grew Chicago Glue’s client base – many of those customers he obtained in the 1980s are still there today. Chuck passed away in 2015 shortly after the buyout was complete. His technical efficiency and innovation with equipment was the driving force behind several products which remain in production today (such as glue sticks and tacky spots).
In 2010 Nirel and Brad changed the company name to Chicago Glue & Machine and there have been a few family members to join the business since then. Nirel’s younger brother, Jay, currently works in sales in Wisconsin. Brad’s daughter, Alyx, works summers at Chicago Glue, gaining valuable experience in various areas of the company.
As for the future, Brad and Nirel currently do not have a succession plan. However, involvement with the Chicago Family Business Council (CFBC) has brought the topic to their attention. Nirel is grateful for the shared experience she receives from fellow CFBC members and knows that she has the resources needed to tackle their own transition in the future.
Regardless of what the future brings to Chicago Glue & Machine, Nirel and Brad always have the past on their mind. What their parents modeled for them is what they now know. They greatly value the legacy and look forward to continue bringing their own innovation and skills to the company.