Over the years we have found ourselves at Algood doing more business in the global marketplace. If you think that our success on other continents is based on some great international strategy, you’re wrong.
Here’s the secret. We treat our global customers with the same care and attention that we provide to everyone that buys our products. In fact, the lessons that we have learned in continuing to meet the needs of local and North American customers is what drives our offshore business. While we’re proud of the trust that has been placed in us by some pretty big European companies, it doesn’t go to our head. We know that we’re only as good as our last sale and while competing globally sounds exotic, it requires the same discipline and principles that we have been using for over 45 years. Here are some of them.
Engineering is everything. The products we sell must be manufactured to stand up to failure rates measured in incidents per million, not thousand. Product failure can happen anywhere in the world and those distances represent significant risk. The solution lies in the integrity of the engineering process and extensive testing – before, during and after production. And that testing has got to match the conditions in which the product is going to be used.
Never trade quality for price. In the global market, as in every market, the pressure to bring prices down is enormous. Procurement specialists and buyers are always looking for a better deal and its tempting to “look the other way” and reduce quality to bring pricing down. But I’ve learned that it’s not worth the risk. I’d rather lose a sale than be forced to provide product that is sub-standard.
Never get comfortable. When your reputation is both domestic and world wide, you have to be incredibly responsive. You have to react quickly and accurately with samples and prototypes. Delivery times can’t be educated guesses but have to be a matter of precision. You have to be accessible 24/7 because you’re dealing in many different time zones and the way you respond to customers is often your biggest competitive edge. That sometimes means arranging a trip on a moment’s notice and traveling to see a customer half way around the world.
Keep your eye on the supply chain. Your suppliers can help you be a great supplier to your customers – but not without diligence. Do your suppliers meet your quality assurance standards? Do they provide a safe working environment? If not, you may find that a fire or some other catastrophe has suddenly cut off your supply chain. On top of that, material specifications differ from country to country. For example, steel standards vary as do plating specifications. To eliminate foul ups, you have to make sure that your communication is in common terms.
It seems to me that what many business people don’t understand is that you can’t have one set of rules for European (or any other) customers and another set for those in North America. Being successfully globally is a matter of being customer driven and quality conscience with every account – no matter where they are. In the end, the big secret is that global success is based on the same principles and way of doing business that we use with every customer.
Sometimes the most lucrative order is the one you refuse to take. That’s particularly true when you realize that your reputation is more important than your profit margin. Let me explain with a couple of examples.
It’s quite common for customers to send us specs or drawings for a caster that they would like us to manufacture. Recently a distributor sent us a drawing for a side-braking caster with 3500 lb. capacity and asked for an estimate. I looked at the drawing and immediately saw that there was a major problem. With the specified capacity, the brake simply wouldn’t hold. There would be no positive lock and neither the wheel nor the swivel would be engaged. I tried to explain my reservations to the distributor but he insisted that’s what his customer wanted. To be sure I asked the manager of our engineering department to look at the drawings. His reaction was priceless. He peered at the image on my computer monitor and then literally jumped back in horror muttering, “There’s no way.” It’s not that the caster couldn’t be built but rather that it would be too dangerous to use.
There are times when the best customer service we offer is refusing to even quote on an order. There’s no question that the side braking caster that would result from those specs would be a disaster waiting to happen. We lost the order to a competitor and we were thrilled. Our integrity is worth way more than any amount of money that could be made on an order that was flawed from the outset.
Here’s another example. A few years ago we manufactured a series of casters for a customer in the retail sector. They were made to their specs with a Polyolefin wheel, which is very hard. They didn’t tell us that the caster was being used on high-end hardwood floors – that were, of course, destroyed by the hard wheel. We replaced all the wheels with our Protech™ series – a softer wheel that offers great floor protection. Sure enough we recently received an RFQ from the company that specified the original hard wheel. We spoke to the buyer and reminded him that we had to change those wheels to protect the floors in their retail environments but he was insistent. You see, the softer wheels are more expensive. We verified that the casters were still being used on hardwood floors and tried once again to explain what would happen. It was all to no avail. So, we did the only thing that our integrity would allow us to do, and refused to provide a quotation.
We could likely have got the order but it just wasn’t worth it because we would be providing what the customer wants – not what they need. No doubt, there was a competitor that had assured the client that their floors would be just fine with the cheaper (but harder) wheel. We didn’t want to be the supplier responsible for damaging floors a second time.
A lesson I learned from my father many years ago was that you always have to think long term. The short term gain of taking an order that is going to be a problem for the customer is way less important than our reputation. That’s worth more than any order.
I’ve been travelling a lot lately. There was a trip to the Orient followed by two trips to Western Canada to spend time with customers, including many of our distributors. The air travel portion of these trips made me think a lot about customer service – or more accurately – how to get – and give – good customer service.
I’m a member of Air Canada’s Altitude million-mile program (that’s the award I got in the photo) and as a result I get some special attention and great perks like express check in and no checked baggage fees. In this case it’s not membership, but rather loyalty that has its benefits. The truth is that there’s a snowball kind of effect to loyalty and benefits. Increased loyalty brings more benefits, which in turn makes me even more loyal. That’s one of the reasons I went from being an Elite to Super Elite. So, I’ve figured out that one of the ways to get great customer service is to be a very loyal customer.
Over many years of flying, I’ve also come to realize that the airlines that offer the best service are the ones that are hungriest for passengers. While Delta is probably the most successful major airline today, ten years ago they were hurting. During that rise to the top its seemed like they knew they had to work harder and when I flew Delta, I got better service. But once an airline reaches a certain measure of success, there’s a kind of complacency that settles in and you just can’t get the same kind of attention. While I understand why these things happen, it has always struck me as a less than perfect way of doing business. Outstanding customer service should be a core value of any business, whether they are number one or one hundred in their industry.
All of which brings me to our number one focus at Algood – Customer Service. While it is our pleasure to pay special attention to our best customers, we are always looking for ways to be better able to help all our customers succeed. We have been giving a great deal of thought to service lately and here’s what our customers can count on.
Outstanding product quality – Using the ISO methodology we have re-examined and in some cases enhanced many of our manufacturing processes. We track our performance diligently and we are proud to report that 99% of orders shipped meet the specifications provided and are delivered on time. That’s as close to perfect service as you can get.
New product releases – We have a number of new products or product updates that will be released over the next couple of months. Most of these have been developed in response to customer needs or requests. Look out for our new ProTech Sizes, Flat Free Wheels, Pneumatics with Precision Ball Bearings and Zero Gravity Spring Loaded.
Distributor networks – As I said earlier, much of my travel has been to spend time with our distributors and see how we can help them be better suppliers and problem solvers. I spend most of my time asking questions and listening carefully. As a result, we’re introducing some new programs that will make it easier for distributors – and their salespeople – find the right products to meet their customer’s needs. If you want to know more about these programs or have an idea about how we can help you, please be in contact.
At Algood, we may not have a million caster program, but we do believe that continuously improving customer service – for our most loyal customers as well as our first timers – is the most direct path to future success.
One comment on “Airlines, Algood and Customer Service”
Well, not at Algood anyway. Don’t get me wrong. The Ice Bucket Challenge is doing great things for a worthy cause. And last week, one of our distributors, Caster Connection, even used our Ice Wheels in their quirky take on the ALS Challenge. We are honoured to have our products being used for such a charitable purpose and proud to answer the challenge by donating $100 to The ALS Association. But at Algood, supporting the community and charitable causes is way more than this one campaign. It’s part of who we are and the way we do business.
A lesson that I learned from late father Max and from my Jewish upbringing is that we all have a responsibility to care for the community and the individuals within it. On this issue my father led by example by providing financial support to and involving himself in dozens of organizations. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a relatively new term that describes the impact that companies can have on the community. At Algood we’ve been practicing CSR for over 45 years.
For the past 16 years we have organized and been the lead supporter of a golf tournament that raises money for children with special educational needs. This is a cause that was very dear to my father and although none of his kids required any related services, he worked tirelessly and personally raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. We started the tournament both to pay tribute to my dad and to continue his amazing work. It’s not a high profile cause. Kids needing special education don’t look different than other kids. It’s tough to raise the money but we have done it to give back to the community and to invest in our children. Over the years the tournament has raised over a million dollars. And that’s not all that we do. We support a whole range of causes including hospitals, healthcare organizations and schools.
For us at Algood, success isn’t just measured by the bottom line. It’s what you do with that profit that defines you. We’re not a corporate subdivision. We’re a family company and our values and reputation are very important to us. Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I couldn’t agree more.
P.S. If you’d like to help me raise money for special education, you can sponsor me at this year’s golf tournament.
The Financial Post is one of Canada’s premiere business publications and is read throughout North America. So, it was quite an honour to be featured on the front page. The article followed an in depth interview and tour by writer Rick Spence who was extremely impressed with Algood. He compared Algood to some corporate giants when he said, “It’s the type of design innovation that made firms such as Braun and Apple famous.” Spence also noted Algood’s exemplary reaction to the economic downturn, writing, “By bringing sales, engineering, production and customer service together to eliminate roadblocks, install best practices and develop new materials and processes, Algood became a custom-product powerhouse.” We’re very proud to have received the attention and thought that our business associates might enjoy knowing what the gurus of business are saying about Algood. You can read the full article online.
If you get a chance, let me know what you think. It would be great to hear from you. Just leave me a comment.
You see, when the economy tanked five or six years ago, we did some serious thinking at Algood. The knee-jerk response of many companies was to cut costs and lay off staff. We weren’t prepared to play that game because our employees are our greatest asset. Instead, we chose instead to re-evaluate and consider what was going to make us a better manufacturer. Many of the efficiencies that resulted from that process are at the heart of our double-digit growth today. One of our conclusions was that our current facility couldn’t support the flow between our various integrated functions like injection molding and metal stamping.
It was over 40 years ago that my father originally acquired the building that we will leave on July 7. In truth, it was only one unit in the building. Over time, as the company grew, we expanded and broke down walls until we occupied all seventeen units of what was supposed to have been unrelated industrial condos. The result is a hodge-podge of contiguous but non-aligned spaces.
Once we’d made the decision to move, finding the right place was the cause of many sleepless nights. It had to be just the right configuration with appropriate access and great potential. Location was a huge factor. We mapped the home addresses of our employees and were determined to find a location that did not increase the commute time for most. In the end, not a single employee is leaving because of the new location.
Interestingly, the search process was also a learning process. I had the opportunity to speak to many manufacturers who were finding innovative ways to use space effectively. Companies were downsizing to smaller spaces not because sales were down but rather because they were looking for the optimal manufacturing flow and configuration. That helped us realize that a building with less floor space but higher ceilings could be more efficient. Our new facility has less square feet but with 30 foot ceilings, we have increased our total space by over 10,000 cubic feet.
Now that the decision has been made and the new facility is taking shape, we can see the vision becoming reality and that’s cool. From the outset we established a moving committee with key players from manufacturing, plant operations, engineering, logistics and sales. We labored over every aspect of the move – each with its multiple choices and outcomes.
And it paid off. We have reduced the maximum walking distance between departments from 550 feet to 225 feet. We have a layout that allows for the perfect manufacturing flow. Production will be even better integrated and in some cases we will shave days off lead times. Incredibly, our new home has the capacity to double our output.
Even so, a move of this magnitude is a massive leap of faith. We are investing over $1 million in the new facility. There are over 2000 new rack spaces, over 70 T5 lighting fixtures that were installed, leasehold improvements and the cost of the move itself.
Our move is an expression of our commitment to North American caster manufacturing and our belief in an even brighter future for Algood Caster Innovations.
9 comments on “We thank the recession for our new facility”
You may have noticed that Algood’s new tagline is The Next Generation of Castersmiths and I would bet your first question is, “What the hell is a castersmith?” I can tell you a lot about Algood by answering that question and explaining the new tagline.
Castersmith is a term that we coined based on all of the qualities that are understood when talking about other smiths – like silversmiths, blacksmiths and locksmiths. What follows is what I believe makes us true castersmiths.
- Craftsmanship. We have mastered the trade of building casters. We manufacture our own casters and wheels we know every part, every ounce of material and every minute of work that goes into creating a quality product. We know every tiny detail that goes into making a caster from beginning to end. Our integrated production facility includes tool & die making, metal stamping, injection molding and assembly – all under one roof.
- Attention to detail. There is no part of the design and production process that is too small to deserve our attention. Our fully resourced R&D and engineering departments make sure that every aspect of a caster’s performance is considered from the outset. We create our own prototypes, test them extensively and modify them until we’ve got it right.
- Pride. Every caster or wheel that leaves our 80,000 square foot manufacturing facility has our name stamped on it. It’s a stamp that says we stand behind our products and guarantee their quality. Through our commitment to ISO testing and compliance, we have achieved a near perfect 99% quality completion rate. As our shipping inserts say, every Algood order is packed with pride.
Here’s what “The Next Generation” part of the tagline is all about. Obviously, we’re the next generation because this is a family owned business and my brother Sean and I have taken over where my father, who founded the company, left off. My father is my hero and I try every day to emulate his dedication to our customers, his creativity in developing products that meet our customers’ needs and his commitment to hard work and honesty.
The Next Generation also means that this is a business that has embraced technology and innovation. We develop our own equipment. We integrate casters with advanced hydraulics and electronics. We are creative and have dozens of patented or patentable products. We have more standard caster configurations than any other manufacturer. Don’t just take our word for it. Algood was recently recognized by a huge Fortune 500 company as its most innovative supplier in 2013.
Far from being a meaningless marketing line, The Next Generation of Castersmiths provides a sense of purpose for all of us at Algood. It is our mission and we aim to live up to it every single day.
7 comments on “What’s a Castersmith, you ask?”
I called this blog “My world is Round” because it’s true. Yeah, I know that Christopher Columbus or Magellan or a Greek philosopher figured out the world is round centuries ago, but the point is that my world is round. I spend most of my life living and breathing casters. And its been that way for 25 years. That’s what happens when you’re the president of one of North America’s largest caster manufacturers that just happens to be a family business. When I was a kid our family life was centered around this caster business. I can still remember going to the plant with my mother to bring my dad dinner on nights that he had to stay late.
My world is also round because I spend so much time traveling the globe – throughout North America, to Europe as well as the Near East and the Orient – seeing customers, suppliers and strategic partners. In posts to come, I’ll talk about how I deal with that part of my world.
But, to start, I wanted to tell you what’s truly important in this round world of mine. Of course, it’s casters. But what I learned from my father – and on my own for the past 15 years – is that there are principles and values that go way beyond what we actually make. There are actually some very old fashioned – you might even say square – ideas that I learned from my dad and that make my world go around. Here they are:
Take pride in what you build and sell. Always strive to do better and don’t ever be satisfied unless you’ve done the very best you can. There is no product or delivery error that is ever tolerable. We may have a 75,000 square foot facility that turns out hundreds of thousands of pieces a year but every caster with Algood stamped on it, comes with our personal guarantee.
Your word and your reputation are worth everything. When you say you are going to do something for a customer, it happens – even if you lose money doing it. When you shake hands on a deal, there’s no turning back. Dishonesty is the slippery slope to failure. Whether you’re one of our customers, partners or suppliers, you’ll always get the straight bill of goods.
Treat your employees with respect and care. Value their contributions. Never take them for granted. Give them the opportunity to reach higher and do more and then reward them when they do it. At Algood, we are proud that we employ almost 100 people in our manufacturing facility. Our employees are our greatest asset – and they know it.
Never compromise your values. Never settle. Never put profit ahead of principle. When you deal with Algood, you’re not dealing with a corporate sub-division. You’re dealing with the people who make all the decisions and are have to live with the consequences. So, there you have it.
This is my round world and I welcome you to it. In the coming weeks and months I look forward to sharing more of it with you. In the meantime, if there’s something about my world that reminds you of yours, or anything else that you’d like to comment on, I’d love hear from you.