Houston, Texas

A pandemic pivot kept founder Mario Fuentes’ machine shop alive with a diverse portfolio of engineering and manufacturing services.

In 2019, Fuentes decided the time was perfectly ripe for launching a business. After more than 20 years in the manufacturing world, and countless hours spent determining what he would like to do with that experience, Fuentes determined he wanted a machine shop to call his own.

“I’ve had to work my way up over the years — beginning with sweeping the floors at my first gig,” says Fuentes. “I’ve been in many different roles with different companies. Throughout those years, I always thought it would be cool to call something my own and to build it from the ground up.”

Photos Jonathan Castner

But before he could so much as paint a logo on his shop door in Houston, Fuentes had a rude awakening: the pandemic took over the world and shifted every part of modern life for businesses and individuals alike. Per what has now become a post-2020 run-of-the-mill detour, Fuentes pivoted in order to keep TMC Services alive.

Furnished with CNC and milling equipment, TMC Services was ready to provide engineered-to-order products but had nothing to produce. So, the business was re-imagined as a consulting shop on the fly.

“Back in early 2020, we started doing the consulting, and it wasn’t until January 2021 that we finally started formalizing ourselves as a brick-and-mortar machine shop,” says Fuentes.

Fast forward to December 2022. After learning to traverse the new industry landscape, TMC Services is back to where Fuentes intended to start but with a twist. Thanks to an array of additional services and capabilities including product prototyping, engineering, designing, machine programming, sawing, and tooling, Fuentes now has a diverse portfolio that he expects to remain the foundation of his business moving forward.

“I tried to market myself for any type of project, and once that approach picked up some momentum, we now have these various contacts to do machine work for,” he says. “We’re now able to jump right in where we had hoped to be at when we first opened.”

He adds, “I think as time progresses, keeping a wide range of services will allow us to further develop our own niche in the manufacturing community. Being able to offer several services will give us more flexibility while continuing to remain focused on the machining and consulting side of things.”

TMC Services works primarily in the oil and gas and aerospace industries but aspires to break further into the automotive and medical fields — lofty goals, given the prerequisites for these industries.

“We do want to diversify a bit,” Fuentes says. “The automotive industry is a small section of our business, as is medical, but some of the big challenges in expanding in those fields is all of the proper permitting and paperwork before you can even begin approaching someone to work with.”

To find new clientele, Fuentes has relied upon the tried-and-true process of trade shows, local manufacturing open houses, working the phones to find connections through previous co-workers and peers, and earning word-of-mouth marketing. Comprised of just three employees, everyone at the company wears multiple hats, with Fuentes wearing the most.

“My biggest responsibilities are keeping the workflow going, finding new clients, and overseeing new jobs,” he says. “From the perspective of managing everything on a day-to-day basis, each day is different. It’s always a rollercoaster. It’s never-ending.”

TMC Services’ 2,000-square-foot warehouse space includes CNC machines for milling, turning, and prototyping. Though the business is growing, the space should be large enough for the foreseeable future.

Challenges: As much as it is a metaphor, TMC Services is quite literally the new kid on the block: its warehouse space is part of a business complex with many neighboring machine shops. Though the camaraderie and neighborly support can be helpful, keeping up with the competition while getting the company’s future goals in line has tested Fuentes and his team.

“There are probably four or five other machine shops in our business complex,” he says. “We all kind of help each other out; it’s part of being a part of the manufacturing family. But still being in the startup phase, it can be a challenge for us to keep up. We’re still in the process of having to earn certain verifications in order to go where we want to go as a business.”

Opportunities: Of all the cities to be a machine shop in, Houston is among the most promising. Filled with diverse people, industries, and businesses, the competition is dense. However, given the well-rounded toolkit Fuentes developed while keeping his business afloat, he now appears primed to grab the opportunities that are ripe for the picking.

“Houston is great for manufacturing,” says Fuentes. “There are plenty of opportunities here. We also already have plenty of really great relationships, and great work relationships are key to small businesses succeeding.”

Needs: As part of its continued development as a recognizable name in the manufacturing world, TMC Services has pristine customer service and client relations at the top of the priority list.

“You have to earn the trust of your customers; that isn’t just given to you,” says Fuentes. “People don’t want to deal with someone who can only deliver once. It’s about maintaining consistency in our client relationships and embracing feedback on what we can do better when it’s offered.”