Luis Varela co-owns not one, not two, but three businesses: MCCI Consulting, an international mining equipment and efficiency consulting company; J&M Parts, another international company that sells mining equipment and parts; and Filt-Air Cleaning, a domestic industrial filter cleaning service. All of these are not only owned but also run by 35-year-old Varela and his father, Carlos.
Varela hasn’t always been a mining entrepreneur; he started his career as a dentist. “I went into dentistry because everybody who was a dentist, I assumed they had money. So, I was chasing money instead of chasing something that I enjoyed,” he said. Varela left dentistry and went back to school and that’s when Carlos, a +35-year mining engineer veteran, brought the mining business ideas to his son. Varela said the timing was perfect. “Years after wasting all that time and money, I’m back to zero but in something that I like. I don’t know how much we can grow – my expectations are high – but at least I’m enjoying myself.”
MCCI and J&M have been in business for eight years and maintain contracts with customers all over the world, including Saudi Arabia, Africa and Latin America. Varela started Filt-Air two years ago to serve a more local clientele. Using a Sonic Dry Clean machine built to service mining site air filters, Filt-Air takes its customers dirty heavy equipment and dust collector air filters, thoroughly cleans them using air only and returns them. Varela explained that this process is much safer than cleaning the air filters with water and significantly cheaper than purchasing new filters. Or, at least, it used to be.
Since the pandemic began, filter companies have started to undercut Filt-Air’s prices. “I found out that manufacturers of the filters have lowered their price so much that my customers tell me, ‘Hey it’s cheaper right now to get a new filter than to clean it,’” Varela said. “So, they’re just getting new stuff because it’s so cheap.”
That’s been tough for business. Even with the extensive precautions and no-contact pick-up and delivery options Varela offers, customers are reluctant to have their air filters serviced, especially when they aren’t saving much money by doing so. The drop in business has been significant enough that Varela has even thought about quitting Filt-Air. “In all honesty, it’s been devastating for us,” he said. “To the point that we’ve considered shutting down the business a couple times.” But still, Varela persists, mostly thanks to Carlos.
“He’s amazing. I always considered myself lucky because I have him as a coach,” Varela said. “I’ve wanted to quit so many times before and my dad is always there to tell me to keep going, keep pushing. He says not many people stay, a lot of people quit and those that stay, those that are consistent, those that believe and are patient, at some point they are successful.”
For now, Valera said his companies will continue to focus on their international customers and how to make a domestic business successful. “We are kind of reinventing ourselves, trying to figure out how we take it from here,” he said.
One idea Varela sees potential in is the logistics and distribution of mining equipment. “We already have a warehouse, the forklifts, the equipment,” he said. “I’m trying to get to the point where I know what local customers need and I have the warehouse stocked so I can just create that faster connection from customer need to fulfillment.”
Whether or not that idea comes to fruition, Varela is still much happier being an entrepreneur than he was as a dentist. “I was just miserable,” he said. “And if you’re not happy, what’s the whole point?”