Maker of springs keeps springing forward

By Sandra Bretting

In physics, a spring is defined as a storehouse for mechanical energy. That energy can be harnessed for an entirely different type of energy – oil and gas – when used by oil field services companies.

One local business, Suhm Spring Works, has been making springs for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries for more than 70 years.

The company began as a woodworking business launched by German immigrant Carl Suhm in Houston in 1885. It’s grown into a multimillion-dollar business with an offshoot in Dallas and a manufacturing facility in Mexico.

“But most of our manufacturing takes place here in Houston,” said Mark Scarborough, 56, the company’s president. “We can manufacture a spring that’s anywhere from 0.005 inch in diameter all the way up to one that’s more than 2.875 inches.”

Suhm Spring Works switched from crown molding and other wood products to springs during World War II. Scarborough practically grew up at the company. His father served as its vice president from 1969 to 1996 and often took his son to the business on Saturdays.

At that time, one of Suhm’s heirs, Dan Morgan, helmed the company. Morgan was followed by his son, Russell, who led the company until 2008. Since then, no Suhm heirs have been involved in the daily operation of the business.

Scarborough took over as president in 2008. He said that spending Saturdays grinding springs and cutting wire provided an excellent training ground.

“There’s nowhere to go to be trained in something like this,” Scarborough said. “Most of our employees come here not knowing what they want to do, but then they find a spot and they grow into it. We got lucky during the 1990s because we hired a good core group of people, and that group attracted other good employees.”

Today, Suhm Spring Works makes springs from about 25 different types of materials. Depending on the type and size, springs can cost as much as $20,000.

“It all depends on what companies need them for,” Scarborough said. “This is a very price-sensitive business, but it’s also a quality issue. Companies sometimes need these springs to survive very extreme temperatures and extreme corrosion.”

“That’s the thing about Suhm Springs,” said Eddy Blair, a project manager at oil field services company Baker Hughes. “They’ve always been interactive with our engineers. As much as technology changes in our industry, we needed someone who could work with our engineers and share information with them.”

Scarborough estimates that half of the company’s clients are in oil field services. The other half are from the petrochemical, power generation and industrial fields.

Much of the manufacturing takes place at Suhm’s 62,000-square-foot headquarters. Since buying parts can be expensive, his company often makes and repairs its own equipment, Scarborough said.

While Scarborough declined to provide annual revenue figures, he said the company has grown exponentially since 1969. At that time, it earned $1 million annually and employed 25 people. Today, the company employees 150 staff in Houston, 40 in Mexico and 15 in Dallas. Suhm Spring Works also has clients in Europe, Asia, South America and North America.

“We’re happy with the scope of our products, but now it’s about enlarging our customer base even more,” he said.