Just call them the pinch hitters.
Employees at A.E. Cole Co., an East Columbus manufacturer of injection molds for plastics, have made a habit of coming through when clients get stuck short of a deadline.
In fact, it happens so often that the company is carving a niche out of this service. Just a few years ago, the rush jobs which company project and sales engineer Jay Minor calls escalated deliveries made up about 20 percent of A.E. Coles business. Now, its closer to 35 percent.
Take, for example, a recent project for The Ohio Plastics Co., a Honda supplier with several plants in the state. Minor quoted Ohio Plastics a 12-week delivery time for the requested molds, but like many such orders, the product development and design process on the clients end took longer than expected. By the time the job arrived in Minors hands, he had only seven weeks to complete it.
Minor sees this ability to deliver in emergencies or incredibly tight time frames as the most important service he offers customers.
Quality is expected, he says. Im not going to get customers because our quality is good, because everybody can produce top quality in this market. I cant compete with everybodys price. One thing I can do for my boss or my customer is to make sure the product can succeed by making sure their delivery date is set.
The result: customer loyalty. A.E. Cole president Ron Cole says repeat customers make up about 80 percent of his business.
The $2 million company makes a profit on about 60 percent of its rush jobs, Minor says, but even the break-even or money-losing jobs are worthwhile if they allow the company to introduce its skills to a client or prove its ability to meet a hefty request.
To prepare for the pinch-hitter role, A.E. Cole focuses on:
- Cross training Everyone at A.E. Cole knows how to run certain machines, Minor says, and some jobs can be completed by numerous different employees.
- Technology Last summer, A.E. Cole invested $100,000 in a computer software program that enabled the company to quickly alter an entire project with a change in one detail along the way. The software came in handy during a recent short-deadline project for Mid-South Electronics Inc., a Kentucky refrigerator parts supplier. We were able to jump in and build our end of the mold while they were still developing the part, Minor says.
- Scheduling Minor says he often sets up a microschedule, where a seven- or eight-week job, for example, is plotted hourly to show what deadlines employees have to make to complete the job on time.
- Flexibility A.E. Cole can switch to shift or weekend hours if necessary to complete a job, and its employees can choose flex time to put in extra hours early in the morning or later in the evening. Even though we demand a lot of hours of our employees, we try to make it less intrusive into their private life, he says, adding that during slower production modes, employees are permitted to leave at noon.
In what Minor calls a very competitive market, A.E. Coles ability to respond to a client in need gives the company the upper hand.
In our industry, there are so many varieties of shops that build molds. There are garage shops, with two to three machines, where [a] brother and son-in-law are doing the work. Then you go to Dayton or Detroit, where 300 employees are building molds, Minor says. For a 25-man shop to exist in that kind of competition, weve got to be above and beyond.