What’s really changed after COVID?

In the thick of the COVID crisis, many pundits predicted how we do business would change forever. Now, a year after the official end of the COVID emergency, I’ve been thinking about what, if anything, is really different here at Algood. I’m usually skeptical about what the so-called experts say, but I have to admit, I’m surprised at the amount of change that has occurred. Here’s what I’ve noticed. 

Face-to-face is rare. Five years ago, if I told a customer I wanted to arrange a video call, the response would likely be, “Huh?” A good portion would not have had access to a Zoom or Teams account and if it were something important, the clear expectation would be that I would arrange to be there in person. Today, if I tell a customer I’m flying out to see them, they would probably want to know what’s wrong. Even with companies that haven’t been on the leading edge of the technology curve, the adoption of video calls is broad.

Hybrid is here to stay. There’s no question that a lasting impact of COVID is remote work, but it’s a multi-faceted dynamic. Many members of our management and administrative teams work from home for at least part of the week. The related work-life balance and time staff members can spend with family reduces stress and allows for greater focus. In addition, productivity has increased because contributions are measured in terms of availability, output or tasks completed, as opposed to simply hours worked. However, the inability to collaborate and brainstorm in person as a team is a clear loss.

Good employees are hard to find. The ‘great resignation’ and other COVID-related effects have significantly shifted the dynamics of the labour market. Skilled and responsible employees are now in high demand, leading to increased wages and a need for what I call, ‘forced flexibility’ in work arrangements. This shift is putting employees in a position of advantage, forcing businesses to adapt to whatever their demands might be.

Turning on a dime. Within weeks of the onset of COVID, at Algood, we were in complete overdrive, forced to respond to the never-ending needs of healthcare and related sectors. We had to pivot then and we have become even more adaptable since. Not only can we better engineer solutions, but our manufacturing processes can be re-tooled even quicker. We are definitely able to be more responsive.

Speed Matters. As I mentioned, the early days of the pandemic were just-in-time manufacturing on steroids. We simply couldn’t produce casters or wheels fast enough. While the urgency has been lifted, the demand for speed remains. In part, that results from the “Amazon next-day delivery” effect. Also, customers gained the upper hand during the pandemic, and they are not about to relinquish it. We are constantly being pushed to deliver faster.

Rich Relationships. For many reasons, surviving COVID required relationships you could count on—whether with long-time customers, suppliers, accountants, lawyers, or bankers. The importance of having those relationships has been maintained, and we see it in the day-to-day of our business. While we are thrilled to meet the needs of every customer—new and old—our goal, more than before the pandemic, is to create deep, long-term relationships.

No more jackets. In our more laid-back environment at Algood, dress was never a big deal – unless you were going to see a customer or an important contact. But, two years of dress shirts paired with shorts or pyjama bottoms changed all that. Jackets are a relic and in fact, sneakers have become a mainstay of business attire. As long as what you’re wearing is clean and unwrinkled, it’s a free-for-all.

What’s on your list? It’s interesting for me to think about what has changed from an Algood perspective. But I wonder how many of these are unique to us. I’d like to know what you are seeing in your businesses. What’s on your list of post-COVID changes?

Profit vs Quality: Boeing vs Algood

Recent events at Boeing are a cautionary tale for every manufacturer. They bring to life the ever-present tension between quality and profitability. That’s a very narrow path to navigate. Fall on one side, and your financial fortunes suffer. Falling on the other side puts your reputation – and, in the case of Boeing, lives at risk. Here are some thoughts about what really happened at Boeing and why I believe we’re doing a better job of managing the quality-profitability divide at Algood.

In January, a fuselage panel blew out on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max 9. The rapid loss of cabin pressure pulled the clothes off a child and caused oxygen masks to drop from the ceiling, but miraculously, none of the 171 passengers and six members were injured. This incident set off a mass investigation and the grounding of all Max 9 jets. Adding to Boeing’s problems, U.S. carriers that fly the Max 9 — reported finding loose bolts and other hardware in other panels, suggesting quality issues with the door plugs were not limited to one plane. Eventually, an investigation concluded that the fuselage bolts were never installed on the Alaskan Air jet and others.

This is about more than a couple of bolts. It’s a complete breakdown of safety procedures. If bolts can be left off a door assembly, who’s to say that they can’t be left off an engine or a wing?

All of this comes on the heels of a major quality lapse in the in-flight control systems that led to two catastrophic crashes in 2018, killing almost 350 people. That resulted in Boeing agreeing to pay $2.5 billion to settle a Justice Department investigation, admitting that employees misled regulators about the safety of the 737 Max. All Max jets were grounded worldwide for nearly two years.

You would have thought that Boeing would have learned its lesson. But almost unbelievably, that isn’t the case. Maybe that’s why the CEO of Alaska Air said, “I am more than frustrated and disappointed. I am angry. My demand on Boeing is, what are they going to do to improve their quality programs in-house?”

So, here’s what I believe to be the problem. The people at the top at Boeing are all finance guys. The current CEO, whose predecessor was fired because of the previous fatal quality issues, is a former Blackstone executive and rose through the ranks of accounting and finance. And clearly, he hasn’t turned the company around. For a company like Boeing, safety and quality must come first and the bottom line second.

There is always tension between meeting financial goals and maintaining quality and safety standards. But when those in charge are only concerned about the next quarter, it has a cascading impact on training, assembly, designers, engineers, and quality assurance. There needs to be a culture shift at Boeing.

Corporate ownership exacerbates the tension because the measure of success demanded by shareholders is always financial – even if it comes at the expense of quality. In an owner-managed operation like Algood, we have the freedom to proudly stand behind every caster and every wheel that leaves our fully integrated manufacturing facility.

No manufacturer is immune from quality assurance challenges. What sets companies apart is the way they deal with them. Many years ago, we had a major problem with our high-temperature wheels. When we discovered they were not meeting quality standards, we shut down the production program. Completely. In a day. We probably forfeited well into six figures in sales over six to eight months. We understood there was a failure, and the wheel material was not performing.

We started from scratch, re-developing a compound to meet the requirements. In fact, we created our own testing lab to ensure that the wheels functioned perfectly within the specified temperature range. We weren’t going to sell a product unless we were completely confident. It took nine months to perfect, but we haven’t had a single wheel fail since then. Interestingly, we’ve also tested many of our competitor wheels only to discover that many don’t meet industry standards.

We used to have a customer who would tell us that “quality is free.” In other words, he wasn’t willing to pay anything extra for quality. The reality is that there is a cost to quality. If you buy North American-made casters and wheels, you understand there is also value in that quality. Customers always want to pay less, and there are always ways of cutting costs. But there is a limit at some point because you have to believe in the quality of the product you’re selling.

At Algood, our QA and Engineering teams take the lead on product development, and I’m proud to listen to them. If they’re not satisfied, I’m not satisfied, and we’re not bringing that product to market. If the costs are too high, we’ll look for a way to produce a high-quality product at a more reasonable price point. But our customers understand that Algood’s quality is worth the peace of mind it comes with.

Dare I say that if Boeing were a little more like Algood, they would be flying a lot higher.

Mixed Signals

Here in Toronto, as we enter the third quarter, the weather has turned dramatically colder. It feels like autumn. That may be the clearest signal facing us. The economy, global politics, the caster industry and even our own customers are all sending mixed signals. You are likely facing some of the same unpredictability. In the spirit of offering our customers and colleagues some insight, here’s what we see and what we’re doing about it.

Higher interest rates are continuing to have an impact. The cost of capital investments has become prohibitive to some and potentially destructive to others. In our own business, we had the foresight to delay some planned projects and the acquisition of equipment. We will be fine but some of our affiliated companies as well as some of our customers are in precarious positions. With the potential for even higher interest rates, the economy remains hard to read.

The labour market has become much tighter. It’s really hard to get well-qualified employees with specialized skill sets. We have decided that we’re not going to feel pressured and settle for second best. For example, it recently took us months and countless candidates to hire a superb electrician. Other businesses may not be in the position to wait for the right talent.

On the positive side, supply chains are strong. Prices of raw materials and other production inputs have steadied. That’s allowing us to effectively plan for 2024 by securing our supply chains and ensuring that our manufacturing capability remains dependable.

However, the price of oil is precarious. Current events in the Middle East have the potential to put dramatic upward pressure on the cost of oil. That, in turn, could have cascading effects on supply chains.

The move toward reshoring is growing. We continue to receive calls from customers who want to reduce or eliminate their offshore purchasing and replace it with North American-made materials. In fact, our orders from customers specifically switching to materials made in North America have increased significantly.

Many of our customers have ambitious plans for 2024 and that is fueling our research, design and engineering efforts. Our R&D initiatives are progressing very well. We expect to introduce a number of new casters in the coming year.

Despite the uncertainty, we recently introduced a new website and are committed to continuously enhancing our online presence through greater CAD functionality and more resources for our customers. Our online catalogues are continuously updated so that you can always get up-to-date product information. We are constantly seeking to improve the user experience on the website. Please share any feedback.

These mixed signals make it very hard to predict what will happen with the economy and the caster industry in the coming months and into 2024. But we are certain that if we continuously improve our integrated manufacturing facility in Toronto and maintain our commitment to outstanding design and engineering, we can’t go wrong. More importantly, we know that our success will be guaranteed by keeping our customers at the centre of everything we do.

What are the mixed signals you are seeing in your businesses? Take a moment and let me know. Who knows. Together, we might be able to make both our companies stronger.

On a more personal note, I want to thank all of you who have called or emailed with your kind messages about what is happening in Israel. With many relatives and friends in Israel, the current events weigh heavily on me and my family here. Your wishes and concerns are comforting.

The Three E's Keeping Me Up

Three E’s are Keeping Me Awake

I monitor economic news and insights very closely. It’s part of my daily media routine and there are several people whose opinions I seek out and follow. Based on all that, there are three interconnected E’s that are keeping me awake lately. The situation in Europe, the impending global energy crisis and the economy all have my full attention these days. I’m concerned but I’m also very confident that Algood’s manufacturing will remain strong.

Europe’s supply of gas has been cut off by Russia and the effects are rippling through every country. Electricity supplies may not be enough to sustain the winter. In some places, raw material production and manufacturing is being shuttered.  Production of everything from manufacturing components to toilet paper is being reduced. Not surprisingly, both unemployment and prices are soaring.

Algood ships worldwide, including to Europe and some of our components are manufactured in Europe. Both of those factors may present a challenge to our business over the coming months. In addition, what happens in Europe does not stay in Europe. There will be global repercussions to the current state of European affairs.

Gasoline and oil prices in North America peaked about six weeks ago but in California, there is a severe energy crisis. The Californian electricity grid can’t keep up with the demand and electricity imported from other states is not enough to close the gap. The state is re-evaluating its decision to mothball nuclear power plants. All of that makes the state more dependent on fossil fuels. While Russian oil represents only three percent of total imports to the U.S., nearly half of Russian oil shipped into the U.S. last year, or close to 100,000 barrels a day, ended up primarily in California, Washington and Hawaii. And California’s economy is the largest in the U.S. and the fifth largest in the world.

California may be the canary in the coal mine. We can expect extreme weather to put demands on energy grids throughout North America. While oil prices have been declining, reductions in global supply will reverse that trend. Rising energy costs will affect every type of production, having an impact on supply chain, employment and the cost of goods.

That brings me to E number three – the economy. The inflation rate is high. While the cost of some goods like steel, wood and paperboard have started to come down the cost of other supplies and components is rising, hurting manufacturing. Central banks in the U.S. and Canada are increasing interest rates with no ceiling in sight. While experts debate about whether the economy is officially in a recession, the economic outlook gets bleaker. Stock markets are losing value.  A recent PwC study indicated that 50% of firms in the U.S. are forecasting layoffs. The future is, at best, uncertain.

A number of our suppliers and customers reducing output and laying off employees. We expect that supply chain issues will persist for both manufacturers and consumers. The impact on sales is unclear but it’s unlikely that our revenue will not grow this year.

Our employees have always been our most important asset and we are concerned for them. The cost of food, clothing and other items is increasing rapidly, straining personal budgets. Families are being forced to do more with less which increases stress levels.

We have faced tough situations before and not only did we survive, we thrived. In 2008, we didn’t lay off a single employee and made a decision to reinvest in our business. Over the past two years, we very successfully guided the company through the pandemic and emerged stronger.

Throughout it all, we have grown by being responsive to the needs of our customers. We have innovated by bringing new products to the market and by finding unique solutions to meet customers’ requirements. The quality of every caster and wheel that leaves our plant is guaranteed and our reputation for on-time delivery is unmatched.

Despite my concerns, I am confident that none of that will change.  We are moving forward with product development projects and capital equipment acquisition. I am watching these three Es – Europe, energy prices and the economy – very closely. But I’m also ensuring that we will be there for our customers and remain the next generation of CasterSmiths.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all our Jewish customers, colleagues and friends a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Our Employees – Our Greatest Investment

Our Greatest Investment

While everyone in the manufacturing sector and the business world is consumed with news about inflation, supply chain and the lingering pandemic, I’m concerned about something far more important – the physical and mental well-being of our employees. They are our most valuable asset and we are doing everything we can to help them and protect them.

The last two years have been unbelievably challenging for our employees and current circumstances aren’t much better.

Masks may now be optional but the risk of getting Covid remains high. While the current strain of Covid is less likely to cause serious illness, being infected is still disruptive. We provide employees with as many paid days off as they need to be healthy and safely return to work but family members may get sick or have to isolate. That presents financial and practical implications. Just think about kids and school, grocery shopping as well as getting to appointments. The constant worry about getting sick is unprecedented and takes its toll on people.

The pace of manufacturing in our plant has been intense. We are often struggling to keep up with demand, particularly as customers are challenged by off-shore suppliers. That, in turn, puts immense pressure on our staff. Every part, every component and every caster is critical. There is little to no down time. The pressure to produce and meet customer requirements is unending. It’s really hard to sustain the physical and mental effort needed to be “on” all the time. As I walk through the plant, I can see the strain on employees’ faces and it worries me.

The price of everything from gas to groceries to health and beauty supplies is rising quickly. And, as interest rates climb, housing costs are going up. To offset some of the impact, we give our employees store gift cards every other month. While that helps, a pay cheque definitely doesn’t go as far as it did a few months ago. The financial pressure on employees is dramatic.

We are slowly bringing our customer service staff back to the office. Working from home offers lots of convenience and flexibility but being isolated from fellow employees creates loneliness. It’s clear that employees crave the camaraderie of being in the office together. In the coming months, we’re hoping to have everyone back together again and to restore the family atmosphere that was a hallmark of Algood. And I am definitely looking forward to our first summer luncheon in almost three years.

While we consider capital manufacturing enhancements to mitigate supply chain issues and buffet us from inflation, we know there is no greater investment we make than in our human capital – our employees. Even though I am very concerned about their physical and mental well-being, I believe that, with a little help from us, our employees will weather the storm. They just want to get back to some sense of normalcy and I couldn’t agree more.

More Trade Less Show

Algood at 53. Then, Now and the Future

Last Friday, Algood Casters celebrated its 53rd birthday. Much has changed since our father, Max Guttmann, started Algood in 1969. But there’s a lot of truth to the adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same. There’s no question that looking at Algood then and now creates a portrait in contrasts (as you will see in the photos below). While my brother, Sean and I strive to make our own mark on the company, we feel our father’s presence and the values he held dear every day. And now, there’s a new generation who will add their very own touches to the culture and tradition that are so much a part of who we are.

Our father was a tool and die man, making stampings for brake drums. When the opportunity arose, he borrowed $3,000 to buy the machinery to make casters. He had two lines – one for small furniture like the TV dolly pictured below and one for office chairs. It was small and easy to manage. Then in 1972, he showed his competitors that he was a fighter by acquiring his own injection moulding equipment, which allowed him to produce plastic and urethane wheels. Perhaps more than any other business decision, that one made him the master of his own destiny.

Max was a problem-solver and a creative one at that. When the people at McCullough were struggling to produce a shroud for their chain saws with ten dies, he found a way to do it with three. That earned him a trip to L.A. Later, he found was one of the first people in the industry to find a way to simultaneously lock the wheel and the swivel on a caster. The ALock is a mainstay of our available brake options to this day.

If our father could see Algood today he would be blown away by the equipment and the processes as well as by the number of people that work here and the sheer volume of casters we produce in any given week. At the same time, there is much that would be familiar.

My father never forgot how he was welcomed to Canada as an immigrant. He made a point of helping other refugees families get settled in Canada, including the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. He also maintained a strong commitment to doing business in Canada and supporting other Canadian businesses. A number of years ago, with Dad’s principles in mind, we made a major commitment to invest in our own equipment and our future here in Canada. The events of the past two years have strengthened our on-shore resolve and made us even more proud to be a North American manufacturer.

Max respected and was connected to his employees. He appreciated what they brought to the company, never taking them for granted. Today, there is nothing that we value more than our staff. We are particularly proud of the ways in which we have protected and accommodated employees as we faced the challenges of Covid. With numerous people who have been with the company for decades, we have a deep sense of responsibility for every employee.

In 1969, small business strategy was simple. Produce goods of outstanding quality and deliver them on time, every time. Guess what. That hasn’t changed. We know that in 2022, what distinguishes Algood is our ability to produce casters of superior quality and get them to our customers exactly when we said we would. As an ISO 9001 company, we make an ongoing commitment to every aspect of quality.

So, what has changed in 53 years? For starters, we are totally committed to high-quality industrial engineering design. Through investments in CAD and 3D printing as well as the expertise to leverage the technology, our casters are well-engineered and beautifully designed. That same industrial design capability has also allowed for the in-house production of four robotic welding cells as well as numerous automation enhancements to our equipment.

We have become more innovative and our product line has increased exponentially. Many of those products have become industry leaders, like our RollX™ wheels with their sister Lava™ high temperature wheels and our iLock™ multi-positional braking system.

While some of the equipment our Dad bought over 40 years ago is still running well, we have more machinery – and more sophisticated machinery – than ever before. The production floor includes stamping and injection moulding equipment, three CNC machines, automated assembly stations and more. We also have a fully integrated manufacturing facility that includes a complete tool and die centre as well as our engineering and design complement.

Perhaps more than anything else, Algood’s success has been founded on a deep sense of family values. We are not a corporate conglomerate. We make decisions based on principles, integrity and honesty. The Algood stamp on every product signifies the personal responsibility that we take for its quality. Together, with our employees, we see ourselves as a family. And of course, starting in 1992, the second generation of our family took the reins in leading our company – with me as the President and Sean as the Vice President of Manufacturing.

Now, as my son Elie has made a personal commitment to be part of the future of Algood, he becomes the third generation that will take responsibility for the company. Undoubtedly, he will make his own unique mark, as I have made mine. What is equally certain is that he will be guided by his grandfather’s enduring values and principles.

Forget AI – Give me a Person!

Forget AI. Give me a Person!

I love technology. I am an Apple junkie with my iPad, iMac, iPhone and Apple Watch. I only read magazines using a device. My iPhone wakes me up in the morning and my watch tells me how well I slept. But despite my infatuation with the world of tech, I’m the first person to acknowledge that there are skills and knowledge that cannot be replaced by the microchip. No matter what advances are made in artificial intelligence, there are things that only I or another human being can do.

In my personal life, the limits of technology are also pretty clear. I haven’t found a computer yet that can figure out which way the wind is blowing and then hit a tee shot so that it lands in the centre of the fairway a hundred yards from the pin. Hell, I can barely do that. No technology will replace the thrill of attending a Raptors game or any other live sporting event. Even with my tech swag, I’m still taking out the garbage and walking the dog.

In the business of caster manufacturing we have automated huge parts of our production. As I have written about before, those advances didn’t eliminate jobs in our company. Rather, they changed what we need people to do. For example, while the new CNC lathe we purchased will expedite production, we had to hire someone to program it in the first place.

Personally I get involved in a guess-timating element of production planning and that cannot possibly be replaced by artificial intelligence. We proactively anticipate customer requirements based on a combination of market trends, buying patterns, and personal interactions. And, we usually get it right so that we are almost always able to meet our customers’ needs.

In addition, there are functions that only a person can fulfill. When someone calls our customer service department, they want to speak to a person – someone who can provide solutions based on a unique set of requirements. In fact one of our distributors advised us not to include too much automation in the new website we will launch next year because, beyond a certain point, it will take a person to find the best caster or wheel to meet his needs.

That’s also the reason we have resisted having an automated attendant answer our phones. Despite the efficiency, we know that our customers enjoy talking to real, live, human beings.

The best quality assurance systems can’t replace what happens when someone looks at and touches a caster to make sure it’s what the customer ordered and has been manufactured to standards. And here’s one for you. Find me a computer that is going to load a truck so that it’s organized to match a delivery route.

It seems to me that the key to technological success is a combination of embracing what computers can do and, at the same time, recognizing their limitations. At the end of the day, there are some things I will never want an AI driven matrix of microchips to do for me. Sometimes, you just need a person.

Two Takes on Tariffs

Two Takes on Tariffs

It seems like every manufacturing conversation I have these days is somehow connected to tariffs. Whether it’s our customers, colleagues or our competitors, the current tariffs, and the looming 25% surcharge at the end of the year, are having a huge impact on the caster business. Many of the people I speak to are frustrated and see the tariffs as a kind of destructive doomsday. While I hear them and sympathize, there are clearly two sides to the tariff situation.

Let’s back up a step. Earlier this year, President Trump imposed a 10% tariff on imported goods from China including steel, casters and caster components. Subsequently he announced plans to increase those tariffs to 25% on January 1- and that’s what’s really got the industry in an uproar.

Importers are scrambling to get product landed by the end of the year. That means they are behind on completing orders. With transit time from the China of at least four weeks, we are about a month away from last day to produce goods that can be sold at the pre-tariff cost. That’s causing chaos. Beyond that, they must re-conceive post 2018 business models that will see a huge portion of their bottom line stripped away.

Suppliers that both import from overseas and manufacture in the U.S. are working furiously to re-align their operations and quickly increase their on-shore production capacity. That’s kind of like turning a cruise liner. It doesn’t happen fast and they are not able to respond to the demand. In addition, I hear that some manufacturers are having trouble finding qualified staff to support the intended production increases.

Distributors may no longer have stable supply chains. Their vendors are raising prices and restricting delivery. That’s not a good combination. Fabricators who use casters as part of a finished product are in an even more tenuous position. They have quoted and provided delivery dates on goods but with the chaos in the caster market, are at risk of being late and above budget. That’s also not a good combination.

While all of this is playing havoc with the industry and there will certainly be companies that become casualties, there is a clear upside to the situation. For years, the reshoring movement struggled to convince companies to bring manufacturing back to North America. But the unbelievably low prices on imported goods were irresistible to a competitive marketplace where small differences in price accounted for huge differences in sales and profit. The tariffs will do what moral and patriotic arguments could not. When the storm subsides, there will be more casters being manufactured in North America, which means more jobs, more investment and more growth. There will be lots of short term pain but it’s very possible – maybe even likely – that it will be overshadowed by the long term gain.

For us at Algood, there is a bit of a boon in all this. Our products are not subject to tariffs and we have a fully integrated manufacturing facility in Toronto. We can deliver product that meets very specific requirements at competitive prices and in very favourable timelines. That is making us an attractive option for distributors and fabricators. We’re getting new business and we’re not complaining.

It’s distressing to me when I talk to our distributors and other customers who feel trapped by the current state of affairs. As a business owner, I empathize with their frustration and deep concern for their businesses. Unquestionably this is a situation that sucks for many companies and many employees. I feel their pain.

And then there’s the other side. That’s the real possibility that all this will lead to a renewed, healthy and vibrant North American manufacturing sector and increased demand for casters and wheels produced on-shore.

I guess there really are two sides to the tariff tale.

Walking the Talk, Literally

Walking the Talk, Literally

I take a walk every morning that is absolutely critical, but has nothing to do with exercise. My morning walkthrough of our manufacturing facility is the most important 20-25 minutes of my day. This is the walk that makes sure we’re walking the talk and fulfilling our quality casters commitment we make to our customers every day.

Our ability to deliver high quality casters & wheels on time is the lifeline of our business and the morning walk-through is my opportunity to get an unfiltered, first-hand look at how we’re doing. And because I take my walk with our VP of manufacturing, our plant manager and our quality control manager, key production decisions get made on the spot. No one can say, “I’ll get back to you on that” and there’s no room for procrastination.

The walk-through keeps me in touch with the heart of our business. It’s my summary of the day and it keeps me in touch with our production activity. The route I take through the plant is always the same.

The first stop is Injection Moulding where I check to see which moulds are running, spot check some of the wheels that are waiting for assembly and check cycle times.

The next stop is Welding – our two robotic stations and our hand-welding centre. There, I’m looking at changeovers, cycle times and taking a close look to make sure the quality of the hand welding is up to our standards.

Then, it’s on to Stamping to see what’s on the presses, check the accuracy of the stamped parts, and look closely at the finish of the steel.

After that comes Assembly where it’s just a matter of seeing what’s being finished and doing the occasional quality spot-check.

Testing is last. What’s on the machines?  How are they measuring up? Are we using testing procedures that will provide the data to match up with customer requirements?

The walk-through has other benefits. We take a close look at equipment and machinery, making sure it’s operating properly and being maintained well. We make sure that employees are using safe practices with the right protection. Likewise, it’s a chance to make sure that there’s a safe working environment with clear aisles and clean floors. Although it sounds trivial, it’s an opportunity to say Good Morning to our staff and let them see that we take a personal interest in what they are doing and their well-being.

The point of the walk-through isn’t to micro-manage. It’s the way I fulfill my responsibility as an owner and the president of the company. An important part of what differentiates Algood in the marketplace is that we’re not owned by a corporate conglomerate and that our management is hands-on. Walking the talk every day is the way we maintain our commitment to our customers and has been a huge part of our success for almost 50 years.

Betting on Research & Development

Betting on Research & Development

New product development is in some ways a really expensive betting game. It comes with a price tag of $30,000 to $200,000 excluding capital costs. That means we need to be really confident about the decisions we make. Also, when developing a custom caster, customers are looking for aggressive timelines. In many cases, we go from concept to engineering, design and prototyping in three to six weeks. Beyond the cost, that requires a tremendous amount of resources to be dedicated to one project.

So, the question is given the high stakes involved, how do you decide on which products to develop and which are a pass?  The answer to that question often has a lot to do with where the product idea is coming from. From my perspective with almost 30 years of experience in caster manufacturing, there are four sources of new product ideas.

  1. Customer Driven. There are many occasions when customers bring us unique specs and requirements that can only be met by developing a new product. Obviously, in these cases, we need to evaluate whether the development cost will be offset by the sales potential. But you’ve also got to consider the relationship value. We always do our best to support our customers and provide them with the products they need to develop markets and opportunities.  Sometimes, the application or environment in which the caster will be used presents a unique opportunity that we want to be a part of. A great example that meets all of these conditions is the Hero caster we developed last year. I’m proud to say it is now being used in the most state of the art healthcare settings. It also helped to cement our relationship with our customer and we believe it is a caster of the future with tremendous sales potential.

  2. Market Driven. Sometimes all you have to do is listen. I spend a tremendous amount of time on the road meeting with customers and distributor partners. In fact over the next three weeks, I have 15-18 appointments lined up. I’m always asking customers for their opinions and what they’re looking for. When you hear the same thing often enough, it could be a good indication that there is a product that needs to be developed. We made the investment to develop the Freedom – a moldon urethane wheel with an aluminum core – based on many different customers telling us “it would be great to have a crowned tread wheel that was really versatile with lots of capacity.” The orders that have followed validated that decision and we believe there will be even more sales growth in the future.

  3. Hunches. It’s true. Sometimes you‘ve just got a feeling that new product development is going to pay off. We developed our RollX™ nylon glass filled wheels based on little more than an inkling that the market would respond. We saw a similar material being used in much smaller wheels but this wasn’t just a matter of copying an existing product. I have always maintained that if we can’t make a product better, we’re not going to make it at all. We knew it would take significant resources to dramatically improve the product and develop it into something with the potential for wider use. We committed to experimenting with different materials and the accompanying testing. At the same time, our design and engineering teams worked on innovative moulds that would minimize weight while creating a great looking wheel. In the end, the hunch paid off. We’re getting very positive response to RollX and Lava, its sister high temperature wheel, and as more customers hear about it and see it, the sales potential climbs.

  4. Natural Growth. There are times when products take on a life of their own and need to be supported with continued development. Last year we developed new sizes for our Protech treaded wheels in response to customer requests and because it was a natural evolution for the product. This year, we have developed a new 3” tread widths for our RollX wheels and will soon be releasing new sizes for the same reasons.

In the final analysis, a huge part of our success over the past 47 years is a result of our commitment to new product development. It’s expensive and time consuming and not every new idea is successful. But it seems to me that to continually meet the needs of customers and respond to the market, you have no choice but to be product driven. Success, on the other hand, is a matter of sensing potential, being smart and just plain listening.

If you have an idea for a new caster or wheel product that will help your business expand or make your operation more productive, I’m ready to listen. Please contact me.

Competition in the Rear View Mirror

Competition in the Rear View Mirror

At Algood our competition keeps us on our toes but over the years we have learned that the best way to compete is to do what we do best and the best way to view our competitors is in the rear view mirror. Here are six ways in which we think about competition.

  1. Competition can be a motivating factor. There are actually two ways in which competition can be a positive influence. On one hand, we will often combine competitive influences with our own capacity for innovation to create new products or improve existing ones. On the other hand, the practices of our competitors sometimes provide a guide in how not to do business. I am frequently shocked by the quality and deliverability standards of many of our competitors.
  2. I take no comfort in negative comments about our competitors. Increasingly I am hearing more negative comments about our competitors from both distributors and OEMs. In fact, there have been times when I have witnessed a caster company being totally trashed by a customer or prospective customer. Believe it or not, I take no satisfaction in hearing those comments. If anything I am saddened by them because, to some degree, a negative comment about one company is a statement about the whole industry.
  3. We have no desire to mimic our competition. We can learn from our competition. We are humble enough to understand that everyone is this business has the potential to teach us something. But we have to be true to our values and the high standards to which we are committed. For example, I would never ask our sales team to be like the salespeople of our competitors. We breed our representatives to be true castersmiths that combine rich knowledge with impeccable principles.
  4. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. My father taught me that when another producer knocks off one of our products, to take it as a compliment. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me at all when we are copied. If anything it is validation that we are providing the right products to the marketplace.
  5. We understand the pressures of pricing. We understand that project budgets are critical and that cost-savings are a huge contributor to business success. We work closely with our customers to deliver the right product at the right price. However there are times when we are asked to match a competitor’s quote and our most responsible response is to pass. If matching a competitor’s price means putting our quality standards at risk or, in any way, not being able to deliver a product of which we are proud, it’s not worth it – no matter how much we want to help or how big the project.
  6. Achieving excellence is the most effective approach to competition. We can never stand still and never be complacent. If we focus on using our integrated manufacturing facility to always be innovating to truly meet the needs of our customers; if we dedicate ourselves to producing the highest quality product and delivering it on time; and if we bend over backwards to service our customers to death, we will always be in the driver’s seat – viewing our competition in the rear view mirror.
This is a Dangerous Business

This is a Dangerous Business

When I heard about the recent criminal conviction of a site manager whose negligence took the lives of three employees, it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was incensed at the fact that someone in a management position would risk the lives of workers in order to save time or money. And I was reminded that manufacturing is a dangerous business that imposes an almost sacred responsibility on management for the safety of workers.

That may sound funny. People wouldn’t ordinarily view manufacturing casters as a dangerous occupation. The reality is that our employees work every day with all kinds of machinery that exerts huge amounts of force. If the equipment is mishandled or if a malfunction is not responded to properly, then injuries can happen. Believe me, I’ve seen my share of minor mishaps and even one or two serious incidents – and they are not pretty.

Safety is always top of mind for me. It’s always on my agenda and here’s what we are doing about protecting the safety of our staff.

Daily Walk-Through. Every day at 7:15 am, I’m accompanied by our VP of Manufacturing, our Plant Manager and our Quality Assurance Manager on a full walk through of the plant. While production is a large part of our focus, I am always watching out for matters of safety. Are employees wearing the correct safety gear? Are the exits clear? Are aisles uncluttered? Is machinery being used properly? If I see anything that is amiss, it gets dealt with immediately.

Health & Safety Committee. Just having such a committee isn’t a big deal but fully vesting it with independent authority is. The majority of our Health & Safety Committee members are employees, not management. And yet they have tremendous responsibility for the ongoing safety in our plant. They meet regularly, conduct their own frequent walkthroughs and create policy. I purposely stay at arms length from the Committee because even the tiniest possibility that safety would be sacrificed  – or be perceived to have been sacrificed – for any financial purpose is reprehensible.

Incident Response. When something goes wrong, I want to understand what happened in complete detail. On occasion I have spent hours reviewing video from the plant floor in order to be fully understand the cause of  – and the response to – a safety situation. Ultimately, it’s never just one factor that leads to an accident. There are always numerous cascading causes and being able to trace the root of the problem is critical.

Communicate. When it comes to safety there is a straight line from the factory floor to my office. I want to know about anything that is having an effect on the safety of our staff.  When something goes wrong, I personally speak with the production team involved. The point of the conversation is not to criticize or berate but rather to determine the steps that will make sure the problem never re-occurs. At full staff gatherings, it’s important that I’m the one who speaks about the importance of safety so that our employees understand that it’s an absolute priority.

Whenever I hear about a worker that is seriously injured or God forbid dies on the job, I am mortified. Every one of those incidents is preventable and I often think that if company owners or managers had been less concerned with profit and more concerned with safety, the incident would never have occurred.

At Algood our greatest investment is our employees and we will do whatever it takes to keep that investment safe and secure.

1 (800) 254-6633

Algood Casters has manufactured, designed and developed industrial and specialty casters, brakes and wheels since 1969, in capacities from 25 to 65,000 lbs.