A strong workforce sets Central Ohio manufacturers up for success

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has always had a very talented workforce, says Mike Lukemire, the 5,000-employee company’s president and COO. Finding good people is something the company has always been good at.

“We’ve just never worked together,” Lukemire says. “The enemy was us. We would compete in our own space.”

The company’s brands weren’t working together to create the best solutions for consumers. When that’s the case, it’s hard to reach your full potential. Fortunately, the problem has been addressed and the result is a workforce that feels a lot more like a team. Collaboration has grown and everyone has a stronger sense of purpose.

“We’ve never really had that, and I’ve been here 21 years,” Lukemire says.

Whether you’re a small or large manufacturer, your workforce is critical. From finding talent to building a culture of collaboration, people are a differentiator.

Every SMG business unit overproduced in the first quarter of 2017 and the company is using that spirit of collaboration to work better with retailers, such as taking inventory out of the overall system.

Chairman and CEO Jim Hagedorn says there’s always room for improvement. But the company is happy with its strategy of focusing on its North American core, reconfiguring its portfolio for fast-growing areas like live goods and hydroponics, which is utilized by the cannabis industry, and remaining shareholder friendly.

“I think the best company we could buy is us. I like our company,” he says.

At the other end of the spectrum, Columbus Canvas Products, which only has 12 employees, also focuses on its people.

The custom manufacturer has increased its prototyping so it can grow new product lines, such as covers for the foam pads at trampoline parks or radiology straps for health care providers. These custom products are then sold business-to-business, rather than business-to-consumer, which means larger production runs.

President Jan Kellogg says the company added automated equipment to handle the larger orders. But more technology and automation didn’t cut back its workforce.

“It sounds like we might be reducing labor, but actually the labor shifts. It shifts to a younger group with computer understanding and CADD drawing,” she says.

The trick is finding people who are passionate and want to learn, because then you can teach them anything, Kellogg says.

“Change does not come without some growing pains, certainly, but we have a great workforce that has been very interested in figuring it out — and that has made all the difference in the world.”

Personnel is the most critical part of a business, but it can also be the most challenging to address. Some companies struggle with finding people. Others find it difficult to take those people and build a strong culture. The best organizations develop a plan that remains fluid and adaptable to a changing environment, but always has the end goal of putting the best people in the best position to succeed.

Start with the recruiting

Kahiki Foods, a manufacturer of Asian frozen foods, is growing quickly enough to expand its workforce. President Martin Kelly says the company just finished adding people so it can run three production lines on both first and second shift, with an ability to go up to five lines in the future.

Martin Kelly, President, Kahiki Foods

“It’s important to start with understanding what it is you’re trying to build from a cultural standpoint, which then focuses your recruiting efforts,” he says. “The ability to retain the people you bring in is a direct function of how well you hire for your culture and the work that’s being done.”

Over time, Kahiki has gotten better at this. It surveys people two to four weeks after they are hired. Recently, those people are happier about their decision to come work for the company because the upfront screening has improved.

Columbus is a very desirable place for businesses to locate — so companies are coming to the area.

“That creates more demand for a lot of jobs,” Kelly says. “That’s a risk for the established folks who have ongoing needs. There’s more competition, so you have to have your game on in order to be competitive, whether that’s having competitive pay, a supportive environment or just thinking through what’s important to the group of folks you’re trying to recruit into your organization.”