From Export Delaware – Derco’s story

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Derco USA is a Newark-based fabricator of custom conveyor belting for various industries, including bakery, agriculture, automotive, and more.

The story of how this business grew to national recognition in the industry starts with its owner, Paul O’Connor.

O’Connor served two years in the Army and nine years in the National Guard. When he came out of the service, he launched his first business – a roofing and sheet metal company. Unfortunately, a knee injury forced him to re-evaluate his career. He used the GI Bill and enrolled in college to study mechanical engineering. Around the same time, his father-in-law encouraged him to “get into the belting business.” O’Connor admits, “I didn’t think it was very exciting,” but he decided to take his advice. Within seven years, he had risen through the ranks to VP of the company!

His success is due in part to the high level of service he provides. “I deal with so many customers on a first-name basis,” he says. Going the extra mile makes a difference. “Keep in contact. Respond quickly and give personal attention.”

After building several companies with European partners, he worked at a Dutch-owned company’s US plant. When the 2008 recession hit, the parent company was eager to sell the US operations. They offered it to O’Connor and his two sons, who were also employees at the time. To help fund the acquisition, O’Connor turned to the 7(a) Small Business Loan offered by the SBA to veterans. “When the SBA looked into the business, they recognized that I’d been in the industry since 1993,” says O’Connor. He had a strong business case based on his industry experience and network of customers.

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O’Connor and his sons now own the company and run it as a family business. “This time, it’s our money, and we are responsible for all the bills and making a profit.” He recommends any aspiring business owners be properly capitalized or, “You’ll be out of money.”

International element

After running his family business for over 13 years and a career that spans 30 years, O’Connor has climbed the ranks of the belting industry. He travels internationally to connect with distributors and partners and exhibits at trade shows. He has grown his network to include over 300 distributors in the US, Africa, and South America.

In March 2023, they participated in Export Delaware’s business trip to Mexico. As a result, they secured three new distributors. O’Connor was thrilled with the level of support on the business trip provided by Export Delaware. Export Delaware business trips are turn-key, identifying and securing business appointments according to each company’s needs, providing transportation to daily meetings, and simultaneous technical interpreters for every meeting. O’Connor went on to comment, “Our translator really understood our business. By the end of the trip, she could explain our products herself!”

O’Connor says these efforts have helped give Derco USA worldwide recognition. “Even our competitors buy from us because we have the expertise they need.”

In the next five years, O’Connor anticipates partnering with more OEMs to continue fabricating belts that fit their unique technical requirements. The industry is changing, and customer service is the differentiator. O’Connor mentioned how, in the past, equipment manufacturers would ask them to create a belt for their machine. “Now they are coming to us first to design the equipment around the belt.”

(Export Delaware is an initiative of the Delaware Department of State. It is the state’s official export resource for Delaware’s small and medium-sized businesses).

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