You Can't Replace Face to Face

You Can’t Replace Face-to-Face

I will travel across continents to see a customer. With so many modes of communication at my disposal it seems crazy. I could call, email, chat or even video-conference without leaving my office. On top of that business travel can be very challenging with all its lines,  weather, flight and mechanical delays. Based on all that you might wonder why I would fly 3,000 miles for just one meeting. The answer is simple. You can’t replace face-to-face.

The truth is that I really enjoy personally meeting valued customers. It’s an opportunity to watch someone’s reaction as they handle a sample or sense their excitement as they talk about their business. It’s often a great way to help entrepreneurs see the potential that exists within their own customer relationships. Meeting someone face-to-face is doing business in real time and its very powerful.

At Algood, our casters are more than just a commodity. Every one of them includes the people that stand behind the product. When I meet with a customer, he or she  is literally seeing the face of Algood. With every commitment that is made, I am putting my personal reputation on the line.

Increasingly, our customers are being confronted by the erosion of good vendors. Loyalty is being replaced by opportunism. Customer service can’t compete with corporate sustainability. Our customers are in the trenches, day in and day out – trying to develop, build, sell, and provide – and they need a supply partner they can trust, that has their back and will stand behind a product. When I take the time to travel to see a customer, the message is clearly that Algood is taking the long view. We want to build relationships and establish trust. We’re looking for CFL – Customers for Life.

Being on site provide unique opportunities. I can meet with a group of sales reps or product engineers or buyers and give them first-hand explanations of caster design and engineering – or introduce them to a new product line. While it may be expensive to bring all those people together, the benefit of the personal interaction outweighs the cost.

Often times, I’m able to accompany customers on a visit to their customer’s work site and see first-hand the conditions in which a caster has to perform. When I am able to personally see the environment in which casters are being operated and truly understand the objectives that are not being met, it makes all the difference in the world. I can personally guide the design and engineering of products that will better meet the end-user’s needs, which, in turn, establishes our customer as a trusted supplier.

My personal interaction proves that we understand that a customer is more than just specifications and requirements – more than just an order. My visits are an opportunity to learn more about the people, not the companies, who are our customers. It also demonstrates that Algood casters are more than just product. They are our craft and our livelihood and I am proud to sit with customers and talk about the casters and wheels we manufacture in North America.

There’s no better feeling than the one that comes from completing a sale in person. While there are dozens of ways to complete and execute agreements, there is something irreplaceable about shaking someone’s hand. It embodies the mutual trust that is part of our customer relationships and it represents the promise that we make when we provide our products.

Frankly, getting out on the road and meeting with customers is just good business. And it leads to more business because being there is no substitute for being face-to-face.

I’m always looking for opportunities to meet with customers. If you would like to have a personal meeting please feel free to contact me.

Nice Guys Finish First

Nice Guys Finish … First

What does being the first to bring a product to market say about a company? Some might say it’s creative or innovative. Others might conclude it invests significantly in R&D. Still others might see that company as highly competitive. All of those things might be true, but from my perspective in the caster industry, being the first to introduce a new product means that you have powerful relationships with your customers – and that Leo Durocher was wrong when he said, “Nice guys finish last.”

All of the industry-firsts that we have developed were in response to customer requirements. For me, the most impressive example of that was when Algood was the first to put hub caps on casters.

At the time, thread guards were all the rage. Everyone was putting them on casters to protect them from dirt and debris. But they weren’t very attractive. We had a customer in the store fixture business that was working on a new display that needed to be totally outstanding. In fact, he told us he wanted a wheel on the casters that would make people say, “WOW!” So, we set out to satisfy our customer and break new ground.

The inspiration came, as it often does, in a very ordinary moment. I was in the car with one of our sales reps and noticed the great looking wheels on the car beside us. “That’s it!” I said. “We should we put hub caps on those casters and make them look as cool as that car.”

It had never been done before which meant we had to do tons of research. I went to the SEMA auto products show and came back with catalogues and magazines. Our design and engineering teams explored all the possibilities. We developed a number of designs and processes and worked with the customer to narrow choices. In the end, we came up with an industry-first, created a gorgeous caster and had a customer who was simply ecstatic.

The other great thing about this project was that it demonstrated how casters can contribute to the overall aesthetic of a product. So often casters are an afterthought. We’ve seen many situations where casters aren’t even included in the product specs. Then we get a panicked call from a buyer, engineer or product manager either needing casters in a real hurry or having to meet some unusual spec – or both. It was wonderful to work with a customer who saw the caster as an essential part of the product.

Of course, other caster producers tried to copy the WOW hub cap but none of them matched the quality and attention to detail. We are used to having our products copied. It goes with the territory. On more than one occasion, I’ve been in offshore manufacturing facilities and have seen exact replicas of one of our proprietary products being made. It’s frustrating for sure, but I prefer to see imitation as the highest form of flattery.

The truth is that, in some ways, we are always creating new products. With our integrated manufacturing facility we have almost unlimited resources at our disposal. We routinely modify existing products with new moulds, dies and stampings. Our 3D printing station allows us to go beyond visioning and be able to closely examine prototypes. Whether it’s custom stems, modified top plates or unique braking systems, we are always innovating. These products and components may not be as sexy as hub caps, but they are just as much a result of our dedication to meeting customer requirements.

Product innovation also makes our casters less of a commodity. It’s great for us to be able to quickly satisfy buyers with “off the shelf” products that can be delivered quickly. On the other hand, our customers know that we have the unique capability to create configurations that don’t exist in any company’s catalogue.

Ultimately being the first to market with a product is a result of putting your customers first. When you value your customers you’re prepared to innovate to meet their requirements. In turn, they value your commitment and creativity. When that happens you’re both number one.

The Law of LeBron

Watching this year’s NBA playoffs was disappointing (to say the least) as a Toronto Raptors fan, but ultimately there were lessons to be learned from watching all those games – not just in basketball, but in business as well. One of those is that you’ve always got to close the deal and the other is what I call the Law of LeBron. It’s always tempting to believe that one superstar player is going to single-handedly win the championship or that an incredibly talented individual or a sensational department is going to carry the whole company to success. But the Law of Lebron confirms those things aren’t true and that it takes a well balanced team or company to win the day.

Boston and Houston were each within a heartbeat of an appearance in the finals but they couldn’t close the deal. They each had a moment in game seven when they could have put the game and the series out of reach for the Cavaliers and the Warriors respectively. But they couldn’t finish.

There are so many times in business when you need the extra effort to perfect a design, to find a solution, to think out of the box, to deliver a little sooner or to make the sale. Take your foot off the pedal and you open the door to failure. There’s lots of stuff going on every day and it can be easy to lose focus or to be convinced that 80% is good enough. The caster business is incredibly competitive. Forget about having to beat one other team. There are many, many companies that would be only too happy to scoop up what we leave unfinished. Our success has been built on always going the extra mile for our customers. Whether that’s manufacturing and delivering 72,000 casters in 45 days or designing the caster that finally solves a nagging ergonomic problem, we are always finishing.

LeBron played brilliantly making highlight reel plays that were often unbelievable and setting playoff records in about a dozen categories. But clearly it wasn’t enough and this year’s playoffs demonstrated that one player, even the best player of a generation, doesn’t make a team and can’t deliver the ultimate win.

How many times have you seen the hotshot salesperson who is convinced that he alone is responsible for the company’s good fortunes and the people in planning, production and fulfillment don’t do anything special? What’s even worse is the opposite situation – a company that has pinned all its hopes on one person. What’s true of individuals is also true of departments. Apple’s design team may have basked in the limelight, but without engineering, production and marketing expertise, they would have had great looking technology that never got to market and didn’t work. At Algood, we have learned that it takes a well-balanced company with a team of contributors to achieve success.

The Law of LeBron also applies to the iron triangle of pricing, quality and timing that I wrote about last month. We are proud that our customers don’t have to sacrifice any one of those to get the other two but we also realize that each of those components contributes equally to our success. If you think that great pricing in the absence of a quality product is going to save your butt, think again. Many years ago I was at the Neocon furniture show and there was a vendor taking orders for office chairs at an advertised price that was a fraction of any other supplier. It turned out that he couldn’t deliver the chars at that price and what he was really doing is collecting business cards. He’s not in business today.

For us, one of the benefits of having an integrated manufacturing facility is that everyday we are reminded that every one of our teams contributes to our success. While it’s tempting for the engineers and designers or the guys in the tool and die area or the injection moulding operators or even me as the President, to think that our contribution is the greatest, it ‘s just not true.

The Law of LeBron proves that the recipe for success includes a large helping of humility and a holistic, balanced, team approach in order to guarantee success. Perhaps more than any of his contributions to basketball, what we should really be thanking LeBron for is an important business and life lesson.

Two Out of Three Isn't Good Enough

Two Out of Three Isn’t Good Enough

In 1977, the rock singer Meatloaf released a hit song called “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” While that statement may be true in love and relationships, in business two out of three isn’t good enough.

This also relates to the Iron Triangle, a concept that says there are three primary interrelated components to any project and, to maintain the triangle, you can change two but not all three. In sales terms this gets translated into this statement: “Price, quality, time – choose any two.” The inference is that to meet your budget and have outstanding quality, you’re going to have to settle for slower delivery times or to get quick delivery without blowing your budget, you will have to sacrifice quality. At Algood, we think that in today’s customer driven marketplace, the Iron Triangle (and Meatloaf’s formula) doesn’t cut it. To be a truly customer centred supplier, you have provide three out of three.  That’s why we deliver outstanding quality in what are sometimes lightning-fast delivery times while remaining perfectly within budget. Here’s how we do it.

Believe it or not this is a story that starts ten years ago. In response to the economic downturn of 2008, we re-examined our business model and decided not to take the easy approach and slash costs, lay off employees and cut corners. Rather we took the path less traveled and decided we needed to become more efficient, more design focused and to better leverage the advantages of being a fully integrated manufacturer. We re-committed to putting our customers at the very centre of our operation.

That led to innovation in our production processes as well as in engineering and product design. Over the past ten years we have introduced more new product designs and improvements than we did in the preceding forty years. Many of those have been industry-firsts but all of them have been in response to the needs of customers.

We focused sharply on quality control and adopted strict ISO standards, examining processes and materials to ensure that every caster was perfect – before inspection. That, in turn, has led to NSF certification of many of our products and more impressively to a proven 99% quality completion rate.

We have become agile manufacturers using all the advantages of our in-house facilities – engineering & design, tool & die, robotic welding, stamping and injection moulding. As opposed to many corporately owned enterprises, we can turn on a dime to react to the marketplace. We are experts at creating custom solutions, from product design to the design of materials and processes and that makes us better able to react to the unique needs of our customers. We have more standard caster configurations than any other manufacturer. At a moment when the demands of time and the need for precision quality are leaving offshore suppliers at a competitive disadvantage, more of our customers are bringing us more business opportunities and we are converting more of them into sales.

That’s also because we spend a tremendous amount of time face to face with customers. I personally log thousands of miles, traveling to see our customers, and in the case of our distributors, often meeting with their customers. We educate and advise our customers, bringing them up to date on developments in the caster industry and frequently on ways they can improve their own productivity.

Getting back to the Iron Triangle concept, we are routinely delivering on quality, schedule and budget. Going from concept to drawings to tooling and final production can be done in six to eight weeks. We recently completed a custom order for 72,000 rigid and 72,000 swivel casters, going from concept to carton in 45 days. Every piece met our quality standards and our customer’s budget was left in tact. And that’s not a one-off. We are more frequently fulfilling those types of requirements.

It seems to me that in 2018, telling customers that we can only meet two of their three main requirements won’t work and isn’t the way we want to do business. Customers want it all – quality, schedule and budget – and we’re committed to giving it to them three out of three.

The Truth About Economics

Loyalty: Not What It Used To Be

One of the most significant changes in the caster business over the past two decades is that customer loyalty can no longer be based on an imbalance in product or industry knowledge. Today, we deal with both distributors and end users who have a sophisticated understanding of casters and wheels. To garner their loyalty we always have to be on the leading edge of innovation and always operating at peak performance. It keeps us on our toes and we like it that way.

When I started working in this business 30 years ago, our customers really didn’t know much about casters or wheels. Distributors were often glorified order takers. They would simply take the specs provided by one of their customers and shop around to find the manufacturer that could come closest to the spec and provide the lowest quote. They lacked the knowledge to advise their customers or to offer any insight about product choice. Unfortunately that led to distributors being taken advantage of and to manufacturers demanding loyalty based on price but not necessarily quality.

At the same time, end users seemed to see casters as a necessary evil – as that final, almost forgotten component that allowed something to roll. The ways in which casters could contribute to overall performance or the visual appeal of a product were almost never considered. That also made loyalty an easily gained commodity.

New generations of business owners and managers combined with a more complex marketplace have changed all that. Our distributors today are sophisticated players in the market. With many more available options including offshore suppliers, they must be able to help their customers spec requirements and evaluate product choice. When I visit distributors these days, I am asked complex questions about our products and the industry. In fact, I will often conduct seminars with a distributor’s sales people and buyers to help them be up to date on industry and product developments. We work closely with distributors, helping them craft approaches to their customers that distinguish them in their knowledge base.

These days, end users are also pushing the envelope, seeking more powerful and efficient solutions. Our engineering and design teams are often put to the test as customers seek ways of increasing capacity and performance within the constraints of budget and project schedule. Thresholds are minuscule and the margin for error is almost non-existent.

It’s a demanding environment in which we are constantly being challenged and we like it.

We would much rather deal with educated, sophisticated customers that demand we are always on our game. We prefer to have to earn customer loyalty through a combination of craftsmanship and advanced technology – what we call CasterSmith-ing. We are pleased that our distributors can independently evaluate options and, at the same time, gratified when they come to us for help with specific approaches. While it often leads to challenging moments, we appreciate end users who push us to the very limit of our capability.

Some manufacturers might look nostalgically at the days when loyalty was so easily gained and customer ignorance made it so much easier to operate. Not us. We are excited by the tremendous increase in customer knowledge and are actively engaged in ensuring that it’s a continuing trend.

The late Sy Sims, a trendsetting and hugely successful fashion retailer coined the phrase, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” We couldn’t agree more.

Frequently Asked Algood Caster Questions

My Personal FAQs

In the past month I’ve been to Dallas, Houston Columbus and Cleveland – and that was only an average month. You see, I spend a lot of time on the road meeting with our distributors and manufacturing customers. Inevitably I get asked the same three questions, or some variation on them, every time I’m with a customer. Here they are:

  1. On your website and catalogue you call yourselves Castersmiths. What the heck is a Castersmith?
  2. An in-depth industry question. The last one was, “Do you think there’s a future for roller bearings?”
  3. What does your company do best?

My answers to those questions reveal a great deal about the way Algood and I do business.

So, what’s a Castersmith?

A Castersmith is a true craftsman, someone who knows every millimeter of a caster like the back of his hand and every tiny detail that goes into making a caster from beginning to end; someone who understands the artistry of caster-building, who implicitly recognizes the balances, the gives and takes in making casters; a master of his trade who is well schooled in every ounce of material and every minute of work that goes into creating a quality product; a true professional who can make casters that add value while solving problems; a veteran who takes pride in every product that carries his name. At Algood we are a company of Castersmiths.

And, is there a future for the roller bearing?

The short answer is probably not. Traditionally, the value in a roller bearing was that its components could be made or purchased cheaply and with a little bit of labour, you had a simple solution that allowed a wheel to roll easily and dependably. However, labour costs have risen and the installation of a roller bearing is difficult to automate. At the same time, the material cost of ball bearings, the most logical alternative to the roller bearing, has decreased. In addition, ball bearings can be installed more quickly and the ball bearing allows for bi-directional movement. While ball bearings still cost more than roller bearings, the gap is narrowing and the value scale is tipping in favour of the ball bearing.

What always strikes me when I get asked questions like that is that people expect the president of a mid size caster manufacturer to be able to answer them. And I can. In fact, a big part of the value that Algood offers is that its owners are deeply involved in every aspect of the business. In fact, our customers frequently consult me personally on issues related to caster construction and design.

Finally, what do we do best?

In part, it’s a combination of the previous two answers. We leverage the expertise of Castersmithing and combine it with deep knowledge of the caster business to create products that meet the requirements of our customers. That knowledge extends to our sales reps, who have a remarkable understanding of the caster business and are seasoned problem solvers.

With a fully integrated manufacturing facility, we can marshal the resources to develop unique solutions and meet uncommon deadlines. We frequently create and manufacture 60,000 of a one-off caster design. It’s not unusual for us to go from concept to carton in 45-60 days. That agility allows our customers to maximize both efficiency and opportunity. That capability also enhances our expertise and our ability to advise customers on the best way to confront challenging circumstances.

Our owner-managed, non commodity based approach is what truly differentiates us in the marketplace.

There you have it. Three answers that say an awful lot about Algood and the way we do business.

The Algood Casters Catalogue Hasn't Croaked

The Catalogue Hasn’t Croaked

Given that it’s 2018, you might think we are cutting back on printing catalogues. After all, at over 200 full colour pages, they aren’t cheap to produce and, oh, by the way, hasn’t everyone stopped reading catalogues and is now buying everything they need online? Guess again. Far from having croaked, demand for our printed catalogues has never been greater and, according to most reports, we are not the exception. So, what’s going on? Here’s what I think are six reasons that catalogues are very much alive and kicking.

  1. Holding is believing. There is still something unique about holding a catalogue, feeling the texture of the paper and its weight in your hand. You can lick your finger to flip the pages and fold over the corners of the ones you want to remember to revisit. The catalogues that are dog-eared or well worn are clearly identified as the ones used most often. Also, casters and wheels are a high-touch business. There is no better way to understand the mechanics of a caster or appreciate its aesthetics than by holding it in your hand. The tactile nature of catalogues is a great complement to a tactile business.

  2. Catalogues add convenience. In most ways, catalogues are more convenient when sourcing casters. Every one of our caster series comes with a matrix of options – wheels, bearings, brakes, stems, etc. The end result is thousands of possible configurations per series. The reality is that it’s way easier to assimilate information by running your finger along a page in a catalogue and then using a pen or pencil to circle the specs that are most important. On top of that, it’s much easier to compare the features of different casters by flipping between pages in a catalogue than it is to flip between the pages of a website. Whether you’re a corporate engineer or a distributor trying to find the best caster for your customer, a printed catalogue has advantages that can’t be matched online.

  3. Catalogues are more personal. Our customers have told us that there are limits to the usefulness of a website and, at a certain point, they really want the option of having an in-depth conversation with one of our customer service reps. They want to be able to have a catalogue in hand as they work with a member of our team to find the right caster.

  4. Catalogues brand. The graphics, imagery and colours of a catalogue produce impressions that can’t possibly be re-created online. Print’s unique communication opportunity is why many companies are investing heavily in catalogues and, interestingly, Sears brought back its Christmas Wish Book having shelved it six years ago. Our catalogue makes an important statement about our values and priorities. It’s an important part of how we communicate our brand.

  5. Catalogues are reality. Not every one is living the life of an Apple ad, looking at messages on their watch, searching the web with their phone, sourcing products on their tablet, and making purchases on a laptop. In fact, there are millions of people who want to visit a showroom, touch and feel a caster and then leaf through a catalogue to find the configuration that best meets their requirement.

  6. Catalogues can be up to date. We are continuously updating our catalogue as new products and releases become available. Digital printing allows us to put the latest possible information into our customer’s hands giving them all the benefits of a printed catalogue combined with the latest information.

The first thing on my to do list after finishing this blog post, is to check on the status of a large run of our printed catalogues. Clearly, Algood and the caster industry aren’t saying farewell to the catalogue anytime in the foreseeable future.

What do you think?
Are printed catalogues an important part of your business? Do you rely on printed catalogues? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Regardless of NAFTA, I’m Optimistic

Over the past few months as negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico have been feverishly discussing the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), I have been conducting business as usual speaking to and meeting with our many customers in the U.S. And my expectation is that whatever the outcome of the NAFTA negotiations, I will continue to meet the needs of our American distributors and manufacturers. You may think I’m naïve, but I believe I’m just being a realist and that over a century of friendship won’t be erased in the course of 6 months.

The truth is that the U.S. and Canada are likely the world’s strongest trading partners. In fact, Canada is America’s largest trading partner next to China. Notably, the U.S. and Canada are relatively equal trading partners. The U.S. overall trade deficit with Canada is only 2% or $11 billion. To put that in perspective, the U.S. trade deficit with China is a whopping 60%. Here’s another statistic to add some context to the depth of the trading relationship. The trade across the Ambassador Bridge, between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan, alone is equal to all trade between the United States and Japan. In addition, the strength of the Canada-U.S. trading relationship is far from a new phenomenon. It has been in place for decades. While the trading relationship has been marked by all kinds of tariff and duty disputes, it has withstood the test of time.

Perhaps even more important than the financial benefits, the U.S.-Canada relationship is based on shared values. We take some of those for granted but our common respect for individual rights and a belief in democratic government create a powerful bond. Both countries foster and thrive on the competitive marketplace. In addition, there is a shared emphasis on worker health and safety as well as a growing awareness of the ecological impact of industry in both countries. I know that when I visit customers and colleagues in the U.S., these common beliefs pave the way to our business discussions.

The Canadian and American manufacturing sectors have a particularly strong connection forged in large part on the automotive industry. These days, manufacturers in both countries share a common interest in bring business back to North America. In fact, the reshoring movement is gaining traction as customers tire of long lead times and the uncertainty associated with overseas shipments. Greater emphasis on supplier agility means that inventories change over faster and customers are looking for the project focused shorter runs that can best be accommodated by manufacturers in Canada and the U.S.

Also, the physical closeness of the two counties can’t be discounted. That proximity creates opportunity with most goods being moved in a matter of days – and sometimes hours.

So for all of these reasons I remain optimistic. I can’t predict what the outcome of the NAFTA negotiations will be or whether NAFTA will even survive. However I am certain that, based on the strength of our time-tested relationship, our shared political and economic values and our common interest in the revival of the North American manufacturing sector, we will continue to do business and create opportunity with our customers, colleagues and suppliers in the U.S.

Suffering from Extreme Optimism (EO)

Suffering from Extreme Optimism (EO)

As this year winds down and we set our sights on 2018, I realize that I’m suffering from a condition that I haven’t experienced in a long time. It’s one that admittedly can have a pretty dramatic downside, but right now it feels damn good. I’m talking about EO – or extreme optimism – and let me put aside my wood-knocking superstitious side for long enough to tell why I believe 2018 will be a great year for Algood.

Really there are three reasons for this bright outlook.

1. The Economy is Very Healthy

Most economic indicators in Canada and the U.S. are strong and trending positively. Interest rates are still quite low and very stable. Not surprisingly then business investment in machinery and equipment is up significantly and unemployment rates are falling. GDP in both countries is growing. Markets are at all time highs as investors express their confidence. All of this is confirmed by what I see and hear when traveling to meet with our customers. It’s clear that businesses are investing significantly in new equipment and new technology – and that investment will have a positive ripple effect throughout 2018.

2. The North American Caster Industry is Strong

Here’s a statistic that ought make you sit up and take notice. According to the Reshoring Institute, through the first three quarters of 2017, approximately 180,000 jobs have been transitioned to the U.S from locations outside of North America. There are many strong economic factors driving that trend. My interactions with customers indicate that a major dynamic is that offshore production is subject to long lead times, making it harder to meet deadlines and tying up capital that could be used to improve local productivity. Customers are becoming increasingly demanding and simply won’t tolerate waiting months for product that may or may not match specs. In addition, a number of market segments experiencing significant growth are ones that use casters in their final products.

3. Algood is in a Very Good Place

As consolidation continues in the caster industry and caster products increasingly become a commodity, Algood’s craftsmanship and expertise become more valuable. It takes true CasterSmiths to really understand a customer’s needs and then design and create the product to meet business goals. Having a fully integrated manufacturing facility means that we can develop customized solutions while being nimble enough to meet deadlines and budgets. In addition, by putting the customer at the centre of everything we do, we are positioned to leverage our design and engineering capability, innovating and developing new products. In 2017, we introduced almost a dozen new products or configurations and that trend will continue into 2018. We will be investing in our own operation next year with increased automation, product development and a powerful new website.

So, there are my reasons for extreme optimism. I look forward to continuing to meet the needs of every one of our customers by offering unparalleled service combined with the wisdom and knowledge that comes with almost 50 years of success.

On behalf of the Guttmann families and all the staff at Algood, I wish all of our distributor partners, customers, suppliers, colleagues and friends a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year which brings you much health and happiness.

Our No BS Automation Plan

Our No BS Automation Plan

Adding another robotic welding station to our plant has made us really think about automation.

Our approach to and experience with automation actually runs contrary to much of what you might be hearing in the news. First, automation has not reduced the number of people we employ. It has increased it. In addition, complete automation is not the be all and end all of manufacturing and is not, in any way, our goal. We are very aware that automation can dramatically change the nature of a business and have developed an automation plan ensuring that we continue to meet our customers’ needs and that we remain the kind of manufacturer we want to be.

We added our second robotic welding station for a number of reasons. The most obvious is that it adds to our capacity. Unquestionably we can now produce more casters – and get them out the door faster. We have also improved the quality of our casters because the automated process yields a better weld and does it consistently.

Interestingly, the robotic welder didn’t replace anyone or reduce the number of our employees. In fact, we hired an additional staff member to run the welder. In addition, we maintain our manual welding station that is manned by a full time licensed welder. That allows us to produce shorter run or custom manufactured items in a reasonable timeframe.

Our experience is that automation has necessitated hiring additional staff. As was the case with welding, automation often requires adding workers with very specialized skill sets. On top of that, our increased capacity leads to more sales and the need for more personnel in customer support and administration.

From a bigger picture perspective we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how automated we want to be. While automation increases and stabilizes productivity, it also locks you in. The cost of automation can be astronomical and its return on investment can only be realized by producing large volumes of single SKUs. It’s a template-based process and that’s not the manufacturer we want to be.

Rather we ‘ve opted for a semi-automated strategy that allows us to be nimble and responsive. There are over two million caster configurations represented in our catalogue and it’s that ability to meet the precise needs of our customers that accounts for our success. As opposed to some suppliers who try to shoehorn customer requirements into the closest available product, at Algood we pride ourselves on producing casters that are an exact match to what our customers need. What’s more is that we can do that in very large quantities with delivery dates that outpace offshore and other fully automated producers. That creates a very unique value proposition for our customers.

It’s not that we’re dragging our feet on automation. It’s quite the contrary. We are well aware of what technology can offer our business and have been innovative in adopting it. But I have seen many suppliers become a victim of their own automation, transforming their business into something very different than they imagined.

Our considered approach to automation will allow us to stay true to our strengths and principles – and allow us to continue to use our expertise as castersmiths to meet the needs of our customers and the industry.

Raising $600,000 for Special Education

Raising $601,000

$601,000 is a lot of money. And while it has nothing to do with our sales or profit at Algood, it has everything to do with our bottom line. You see, if the only purpose in making money is to increase the value of a company or the wealth of its owners, we’ve missed the point. That’s why my brother and I, following in the footsteps of our father, just helped to raise $601,000 in support of special education programs for children in our community.

Over 25 years ago, my father became a supporter of educational programs for kids with special needs. It’s 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. When he died 19 years ago, we founded an annual golf tournament in his memory to make sure that his legacy of support lives on. While the tournament has grown and been transformed, the winner’s cup is still lovingly named in memory of my parents Max and Sheila.

There are hundreds of children in the community who learn differently than most other kids and they require additional resources, materials and expertise. It would cost individual schools hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet the needs of these children. The reality is that, on their own, the schools simply couldn’t meet that challenge and scores of children would be denied the future that education brings. It’s only with additional financial resources that these children will reach their goals and achieve success.

It’s tough to raise the money but we have done it to give back to the community and to invest in its children. Over the years the tournament has raised millions of dollars. And this year, we are so proud to have surpassed the amount raised in any previous year.

In addition to this initiative, Algood supports a whole range of causes including hospitals, healthcare organizations and schools.

For us at Algood, success isn’t just measured in profits. That’s because we’re not a corporate subdivision and our deep family values remind us that it’s what you do with profits that defines you. When you use your success to make a difference in the world, you add to a much more powerful bottom line.

Pictured above is (l to r) my brother Sean, tournament co-chairs Ron and Perry Steiner and me.

Apply Envy

Apple Envy

Apple was in the news again this week with the introduction of new iPhones and Apple watches. The fact is that I’m an Apple addict. I use a Mac, I have an iPad, iPhone and an Apple watch. This isn’t some mindless infatuation. I use Apple products because they are brilliantly designed, incredibly functional and increase my productivity, helping me be more successful. Apple is also an inspiration for me. I admire the way they lead, innovate and design. The truth is that my ultimate goal is for Algood to be the Apple of the caster industry. Here’s how I think we might be able to do that.

Innovation is so important to us that we changed our name two years ago to Algood Caster Innovations. That kind of sets expectations and takes being a “me-too” company off the table. Rather, we are constantly pushing the boundaries on new product development. Last week, we introduced our new iLock mechanism for our smaller light duty series casters. We could have just miniaturized the existing design but rather we chose to re-think and consider what would make the product more useful for our customers. As a result, we extended the brake pedal to make it more accessible, added a lip for easier engagement and improved the teeth so that it will lock both hard and soft wheels. We also recognized that design without performance is superficial. We extensively tested the new mechanism subjecting it to 5,000 cycles of engagement and re-engagement. The result is not just a new product but new thinking.

Really, there are two aspects to design in the caster industry. First, you have to develop products that satisfy customer’s needs and specifications, while meeting the highest standards of performance. Our internal design and engineering team is relentless in pursuit of perfection. There’s no limit to the number of prototypes we will create to make sure we get it right. But here’s what’s most interesting. We have all the most up to date technology like 3D printers but that’s not what gives us our edge. Instead, it’s the fact that every team member feels a personal commitment to creating the very best products possible.

The other aspect to design is aesthetics and we understand that casters can and should look good. That’s why we were the first manufacturer to put hub caps on casters. We understand that casters add to overall visual appeal of any unit or fixture and reflect on the company whose name is attached to it. Design inspiration can come from all kinds of sources which is why I frequently go to trade shows for other industries and read (on my iPad of course) a wide range of magazines and journals.

One of the keys to Apple’s success is what they call unboxing – the experience of unpacking your new iPhone or Mac. We know that in the caster business, the joy of unboxing is opening a carton to find exactly what you ordered in perfect condition. That may sound simple but over the past few months I have heard countless stories of shipments from caster suppliers that contain substituted or defective products. What makes matters worse is that these suppliers are totally inflexible and refuse to take product back or issue refunds. Stories like that tick me off because they reflect badly on the industry but at the same time I understand that we differentiate ourselves by delivering the right products on time and on budget.

Customer experience is also determined by the quality of the contact with our customer service reps– and we make sure that every one of them are keenly aware of the impact they can have and that they are prepared for every call. Time and time again, when I travel to visit with our customers, I am thrilled to hear about their positive experiences with our CSRs.

Being the Apple of the caster industry may ultimately be an impossible dream. But by constantly focusing on those elements that have made Apple so successful, we will continue to do an unbelievable job of meeting our customers’ needs and be a caster manufacturer that is constantly improving. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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.