The ROI on Customer-Centric Manufacturing Culture

Challenges: Community, Growth, Read

Posted by Stan Martin

Martin Trunnion Tables began as a small family-owned garage shop I started in 1993. I like to say I made the original unit “out of laziness”, and that’s not far from the truth. Actually, I got tired of handling parts, so I designed and built the first trunnion table. With the ability to include four to five operations in one cycle, the trunnion freed operators to work on multiple machines at once  which immediately turned some of my least profitable jobs into my most profitable. It was like I turned our vertical machining centers into “poor man’s horizontals.”

Soon some other local shops in the Cincinnati area noticed the efficiency of the design and started ordering them from me. Now we design and machine custom work holding fixtures for manufacturers all over the world, with 80% of the business in work holding design.


From the very start, word-of-mouth marketing has been a part of our company’s success story, even before I knew exactly what that was. A few years ago my son Mike took over the marketing efforts for us and he has changed the game by thinking about how customers actually find information and talk about their projects in today’s market. Now our customers do a lot of marketing for us. For example, it’s not uncommon for customers to “unbox” a new Martin Trunnion that’s painted in the easily recognizable “Stallion Orange” and post a picture and tag us on Instagram.

 

Our production process

Positive feedback and word-of-mouth advertising is just the continuation of a conversation that started long before our product was shipped. Our production process allows time to get to know exactly what our customers are challenged with so we can get them exactly what they need.

We don’t have a product that can be produced at large scale. Every model we sell is customized to some degree. While it would be more profitable if we were able to mass produce, that is simply not possible in our market. If we only made standard units we would lose too many customers.

 

On average, we provide four or five variations of a design before a conclusion is made, and we are constantly advising customers on various machining and work holding options. To pull this off, our standard line is designed to be easily modified into a custom unit, allowing for hydraulic, pneumatic or manual work holding, as opposed to fixture builders who engineer, design, and build everything from scratch. This dramatically decreases lead times as well as our prices.

 

We also offer complete packages that allow for an easy integration of 4th axis machining. In this case, we mount the customer’s choice of trunnion and rotary table to a baseplate, allowing for the entire unit to be easily installed.  

 

Sometimes, for whatever reason, a customer may not want or need highly personalized services. That’s OK! Our standard line of trunnions can be purchased involving very little communication between the customer and our engineers. To accommodate a ‘hands-off” preference, we try to make sure as many questions as possible are answered through quote request forms on our website.

 

It’s also not uncommon for a customer to come to us with an overcomplicated design. Once we understand what he or she plans to use our product for, our team can often simplify their work holding ideas into one that is more cost effective and practical.

 A Satisfied Customer is the best business strategy of all

 

Our customer-centric sales and marketing

Any custom work holding company has to be customer-centric to a certain degree, but for us, being customer centric means more than just offering individualized service. Our model provides a positive customer experience before and after the sale in order to drive repeat business, customer loyalty and profits.

 

Committing to a customer-centric consultative process means more hours are put into the front end of the customer relationship, including more engineering revisions and more back and forth communication. We even invest in aesthetic paint and packaging to reinforce a positive feeling toward our products. That is an example of something Mike introduced.

 

Some might see these costs as unnecessary, but the return on this investment comes back in priceless ways, such as customers singing our praises and showing off their new products on social media. In other words, we give our customers something to talk about and they provide marketing for us that can’t authentically be purchased.

 

Of course, a model like this only works if you have the staff culture to back it up. I think another thing that sets us apart is having a staff of engineers and machinists that are just as personable as they are innovative. Everyone from machinist to salesperson is excited to talk and troubleshoot with our customers.

 

We arrived at our production model during our job shop years, as a result of poor communication from vendors we tried to acquire custom work holding from. We got frustrated and designed our own product. From there we decided we could do a much better job at customer service than what was available.

 

Today, Martin Trunnion Tables does not simply supply trunnion tables and custom work holding; we design and advise until we feel the final product is the most efficient and cost effective option for the customer.

 

Our return on investment

All manufacturing companies focus on taking and fulfilling orders, but many overlook the value of building relationships with their customers. For us, investment in personal touches is a big part of growing our customer base and creating “brand advocates” who feel favorably toward our staff and products, then take the time to pass on positive word-of-mouth messages about us to other people.

 

If you want to try to implement a more customer-centric approach, my first piece of advice is to make sure your design engineers understand the importance of making themselves available to customers at all times. As simple as this sounds, missed calls and voicemails should become extremely rare if not obsolete. It is also important for the entire staff to be knowledgeable enough about your line of products to give the customer a sense of reassurance.  

 

Second, I genuinely believe by using both traditional and modern marketing and sales approaches we prove to our customers they are our first priority. This is how Martin Trunnion Tables has created many long lasting, profitable relationships. Just for example, this past Monday, 80% of our orders were from returning customers. It really pays off to go the extra mile, and give customers things they didn’t even know they needed, such attractive packaging and an easy-to-use website. You may not have someone like my son, Mike, to come in and overhaul your marketing strategy, but I believe it is well worth the effort to find someone who can.

 

My final piece of advice is to remember that flexibility is imperative. Our ability and willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure our customers get exactly what they need to make their jobs profitable is our company’s greatest strength and my greatest source of pride. Remember, I am not only the founder of Martin Trunnion Tables, but I was also our first satisfied customer. 

 

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