The Faces of Entrepreneurship: Alvin Preiser, Preiser Scientific Inc.
Issue:Winter 2015 : Articles
After 90 years in business, Preiser Scientific Inc. remains nimble, adjusting as necessary to changes in markets here and abroad.
Benjamin Preiser founded B. Preiser Company Inc. in Charleston in 1924 to sell laboratory equipment and supplies to customers in West Virginia and Kentucky. His son, Alvin E. Preiser, said his father was interested in coal, oil, and gas – products that came from the earth – and developed the motto: “Through science and industry, man will extract the secrets that nature so jealously guards.”
Alvin Preiser joined the company in 1954, and in 1960 the business’s name was changed to Preiser Scientific. The company now employs about 40 people. From its earliest days to the present, Preiser’s main customers have been laboratories that serve coal mining, chemical, water testing and other industries — as well as education institutions — that need scientific instruments and laboratory supplies.
The company, with headquarters in St. Albans, manufactures about 50 products used in coal testing at a facility in Nitro. The company also represents 2,000 different vendors and has more than 100,000 scientific equipment items in its product line. In addition to its St. Albans distribution center, the company operates a distribution center in Louisville, Ky., and has an office in Beijing, China. The company’s extensive line of products and the services provided to laboratories around the world set Preiser Scientific apart from its competitors, Preiser said.
“Coal-related industries are among our best customers. We think our coal-testing equipment is among the best in the world,” he said. “We think it provides the greatest accuracy to the people who are doing coal testing.”
Over the years, the company has responded to changes in the coal industry. For example, when new safety regulations were enacted in the 1960s and 1970s for the coal mine industry, Preiser added the kinds of products required for testing.
The company became involved in exporting in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Island Creek Coal was hired to consult on the construction of a new mine in China. Island Creek recommended Preiser as the source of the laboratory coal testing equipment, and the Chinese mine became the company’s first international customer.
Preiser Scientific now exports its products to more than 100 countries.
“Our people are world travelers,” Preiser said. “We have guys – engineers and salespersons – who’ve been to dozens of countries. They can tell you great stories and experiences from each one of them.”
In 1997, Preiser began working with the Quality Implementation group at the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing (RCBI), andthe company was registered to ISO 9001: 1994 in 2001. The company has been recertified since then, most recently in 2013, with assistance from RCBI.
Preiser said the biggest challenge to the company in recent years has been the decline in the domestic coal market brought on by stiff environmental regulations. Fortunately for Preiser Scientific, the coal market remains strong in other countries. Many countries around the world rely on coal because it’s readily available and affordable, Preiser said.
Despite the challenges posed by regulation and competition, Preiser continues to serve its current customers and seek out new ones in West Virginia and farther afield.
He advises potential entrepreneurs who are preparing to establish their own businesses to have a thorough understanding of their product and services and to have the proper financing in order to be successful.
“It’s not easy to start a business. It’s not easy really to stay in a business. It’s very competitive,” he said. “You have to have the will to be successful. But the people who have all that – they generally will do reasonably well.”