Each year I schedule tours for each of my department leads (Metal Shop, Woodshop, Structures, Model Shop, and Paint) at an outside company or organization that relates to the lead’s department. It’s a great way to see new processes, equipment, or organization ideas and, in general, gain exposure to lots of fresh ideas that always get us excited to try in our shop. In March, my Metal Shop Lead, Tony Taylor, and myself visited a supplier we’ve used for a number of years, Chicago Metal Rolled Products in Chicago. We eagerly anticipated the visit and the opportunity to discover new ways we could use Chicago Rolled products and also come back with some organization ideas we could implement in Taylor Studios’ Metal Shop. As expected, we did come back with new ideas, ideas that we’ll begin trying our best to emulate fully at Taylor Studios, but what we learned and experienced on the visit ended up being so much bigger than better ways to fabricate metal. The much bigger thing we learned is some clues to:
How do you build a business that will last 100 years?!
Chicago Metal Rolled Products has been in business since 1908, an amazing 103 years. Let that sink in for awhile. Teddy Roosevelt was President in 1908. Ford Motor Company was five years old. Geronimo was still alive. 1908 was a long time ago. Very, very, very few businesses last over 100 years. Of the original 12 stocks that comprised the Dow Jones Industrial Average compiled in 1896, only General Electric is currently part of that index. How does a company defy the odds? I certainly don’t know all the answers, but after spending some time with George Wendt, the President and owner of Chicago Metal Rolled Products, I think I have some of them.
Since the 1920’s, Chicago Rolled Metal Products has been owned and operated by five generations of the same family.
Treat Your Customers Right
This doesn’t mean produce the highest quality products, ship on time, or give the best value. Those are all important but they have almost become a commodity. Do you know any company not trying to do those things? They’ve actually become the bare minimum to keep your doors open. The 100 year club requires more.
We are a very small customer of Chicago Rolled, but when I first inquired about scheduling a tour I was immediately contacted back not by some junior sales rep but by George himself. You could “feel” his earnestness in his email…”We’d be happy to”…”Whatever date and time works for you”…”Looking forward to your visit.” Upon our arrival, the security guard welcomed us and said “George is waiting for you; his office is around the corner.” No questions, no gate keeper, just walk right in. George greeted us like we were one of his top 10 customers and even had a slide show prepared to educate us about his company’s capabilities.
Be Enthusiastic About Your Company
I came away holding Chicago Rolled in even higher regard because I could tell how proud George was of his company. He should be. They have done a lot of high profile jobs (University of Phoenix Stadium to name one) but George was just as enthusiastic showing some of the smaller, artistic works for which they have supplied products. Enthusiasm is contagious. Enthusiasm is sincere.
Don’t Disregard Niche Markets
George explained that they group their customers into three categories 1. Architectural 2. Manufacturing and 3. Artistic. Artistic is obviously the smallest segment, but George expressed a great appreciation of the niche’s potential. It was clear he didn’t want all of his eggs in one basket and was willing to take the time necessary to develop new markets.
Embrace New Ideas and Technology
Even though Chicago Rolled has been in the family for five generations, they’ve kept up with the times. Besides major investments to continually increase capability and capacity, it was also obvious how much time they have spent on implementing most of the key components of Lean manufacturing. George was also focused on implementing Social Media as a marketing tool and asked a number of questions regarding Taylor Studios’ use of Social Media.
Use Your Technical Expertise to Advise Customers, Not Intimidate
One of the reasons we have been a loyal customer to Chicago Rolled is how easy it is to work with them. They do not act irritated if you don’t know exactly what you need to order. They use their experience and technical expertise to advise you. We often do not know what the perfect gage or even the type of metal that would be best for a component. We sometimes don’t even have a formal construction drawing before we call them. They are always a tremendous help. A typical response is “Send us a rough sketch and we’ll get back to with a recommendation.”
The above list isn’t complete, but hopefully it gives everyone something to think about. I wish to thank Chicago Metal Rolled Products, CMRP, for providing so many good ideas on how to survive 100 years. We at Taylor Studios are going to do our best to join them in the 100 year club in 2091.