More Trade, Less Show
For the first time in almost 20 years, Algood is returning to the Promat trade show in Chicago this year. It’s a huge show with over 700 exhibitors in the material handling, supply chain and logistics business. There are two reasons we’re coming back. One is that we have more confidence than ever in both what our company has to offer and in the future of the industry. The second reason is that trends have shifted and these large expositions have returned to being more about the trade and less about the show.
Exhibiting at a show like Promat represents a very significant investment. There are lots of materials and presentations to be prepared. But more than that, the man-hours required both in advance and at the show come with a hefty price tag. That’s money that could be spent on product development. So you can bet that we want to be very sure that this will be a good use of our time and money.
Why? Because we have a story to tell. We want current and prospective customers to see the breadth of our product line and have the opportunity to interact with our people. Our “Think Algood. Think Big” slogan is as much about our large, high capacity, heavy duty casters as it is about our ability to help customers see the big picture and seize opportunity. Websites and catalogues display product but when people hold and feel an Algood caster or wheel, they really see the quality and workmanship that are built into it. We are confident that as Castersmiths – true masters of the caster industry –– we will demonstrate our knowledge, capability, ingenuity and dedication to our customers.
Let’s face it. There’s also a bottom line to an investment in a trade show. We take a no-nonsense approach to ROI for a show like this. While its great to promote awareness and enthusiasm, they don’t pay bills. We believe that we can generate significant business by converting introductions into meetings and meetings into sales.
We are also confident about the industry. More and more often, we are hearing about the frustrations of dealing with offshore producers both in terms of product reliability and meeting delivery times. North American producers are upping their game, becoming more sophisticated and adding resources. As one of a small number of true manufacturers on the continent, we are optimistic about the growth potential and are witnessing many customers turning away from offshore suppliers.
We stayed away from Promat and other large shows for years because, in my opinion, many of them had become more about the show and less about the trade. There were glitzy booths; lots of small talk, handshaking and backslapping; and of course, the required amount of drinking. But there was very little to be found in terms of innovation, product development and a commitment to better serve the industry. The result was visitors did a lot of tire kicking but found little to attract their attention.
Times have changed. Companies sending employees to visit a show are demanding more accountability. They want them to go with goals and come back with the product ideas and solutions that will ensure those goals are realized. In part, that explains why exhibitors have raised the bar on what they are offering. They are also looking for measurable results. So, you’ll see more innovation, more commitment to meeting customer needs, more steak and less sizzle. In a word, it’s the value that being sought by both exhibitors and visitors that is driving changes in trade shows.
Algood’s tremendous growth in capability and confidence combined with the changing nature of these huge expositions have created the opportunity for more trade and less show. And that’s why we’re back.
If you’re going to be at Promat be sure to come visit us in booth #2797. If Promat isn’t on your calendar yet, there’s still time to make plans and you should consider attending. It could be a smart investment.
This meeting costs over $1,000 a week
This regular meeting was our response to the economic downturn in 2008. At the time we had to make a choice. We could lay-off, cut back and retreat. Or, we could figure out how to be more efficient, how to be a better supplier, a better caster manufacturer and ultimately a better company. We chose the latter and have never looked back. As one of the first measures in this new approach, we took what had been an occasional ad hoc meeting and made it part of the weekly schedule. Gathering our best minds – from sales, production, design, manufacturing, engineering and management – we started plotting the future of Algood.
Now, six years later, this weekly multi-disciplinary meeting is reaping important benefits for Algood and for our customers. Here’s how:
Comprehensive Customer Care
We begin every meeting with an update on customer concerns and product requests. We take customer feedback very seriously. Issues range from component malfunctions to the boxes we use for shipping. The resolution can involve anything from an improved production process to additional quality control measures to the design of new machinery. Because every department is represented, there’s no such thing as a superficial Band Aid fix. We develop lasting solutions that meet both the current and future needs of our customers.
Integrated Problem Solving
The inter-departmental representation at these meetings mimics Algood’s vertically integrated manufacturing environment that includes in house tool & die, injection molding, metal stamping and engineering departments. It means that there is no finger pointing and there is open communication between all departments. Nothing is swept under the carpet. Items requiring attention are given target resolution dates and stay on the agenda until they have been dealt with successfully. Participants at the meeting take collective responsibility for the success or failure of initiatives.
There is no such thing as a bad idea at these meetings. The out-of-the box thinking has resulted in most of the product innovations for which Algood is known. In the last two years, Algood has introduced almost two dozen new products to the marketplace and we are developing our own proprietary production equipment. While other caster companies have turned to offshore solutions, we are investing in North American manufacturing. With shorter lead times and outstanding product quality, Algood is being recognized globally for its innovation and commitment to customer care.
The commitment to re-imagining the future of Algood with the goal of ultimate customer satisfaction is what earned us recognition as a “custom-product powerhouse” in a recent Financial Post article. What’s even more impressive is we achieved this on the strength of the traditional values that come from being a family-owned business. As multi-nationals and investment-firm-backed competitors turn to offshore supply chains, I am proud of our ongoing commitment to being a leader in North American caster manufacturing. Our weekly engineering meetings were the key to turning the corner last decade and our powering Algood into the future. The price tag associate dwith the meeting may be high but it’s an investment that will pay dividends for many years to come.
Want to find the perfect supplier? Trust your gut.
There’s no question that if you’re an Algood customer you benefit from the diligence we use in selecting suppliers. Our commitment to quality and service can only be maintained with a superior vendor network.
So, how do we pick those great sellers? For starters, we look at all of the obvious criteria. We check to make sure that the people in charge of the operation are well qualified. What’s their reputation in the marketplace? We conduct a site visit and make sure that the work environment is safe and clean. We look carefully at the testing facility and apparatus being used. Our engineering department reviews testing reports and ISO qualifications. We ensure that early production runs match the samples we were given.
The next level involves discovering how they have innovated. Can they be responsive to the very particular customer requirements that we routinely meet? We need suppliers that can be as creative and solution focused as we are. And can they keep their costs in line so that we can meet our pricing commitments?
But here’s the thing. There are companies that meet all those standards that I still wouldn’t want to do business with. I’ve met lots of people who were well qualified on paper but really didn’t know what they were talking about. Ultimately, I want suppliers that are going to take care of me the same way we take care of our customers. I want to know that my business means something to them. Because that way I’ll get top of the line service, an outstanding product and tack-sharp pricing – and I will pass every one of those benefits on to my customers.
Finding those special suppliers comes from the gut – and sometimes takes guts. More than once, I have given business to a vendor who lacked experience but had the drive, the passion, the raw ability and the high regard for quality that would make him successful. We will take the time to “train” a supplier that has the right kind of potential. I have to be personally impressed to take that kind of chance but when I have been, it has almost always worked out well.
A big part of that approach comes from a lesson that I learned from my father. Everyone needs a break in business. At Algood, we owe some key successes to the right break. So, sometimes you end up with a great vendor by giving someone else a break. Business is built on breaks and with them come the trust and loyalty that are invaluable in setting up a high quality supply chain.
There’s nothing worse than being stuck with a supplier out of necessity. And there’s nothing better than having suppliers who are highly motivated and quality driven. It’s all about trust – implicitly trusting that a supplier will help us meet our customers’ needs. And trusting our gut in finding those suppliers.
Sometimes the Best Sale is No Sale
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.
Airlines, Algood and Customer Service
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.
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is no Big Deal
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.
We made the front page
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.
We thank the recession for our new facility
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.
What’s a Castersmith, you ask?
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.
Casters make my world go round
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.