Given the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been reaching out to manufacturers and suppliers that have been deemed essential. As these companies never shut down, we’re asking what advice they may have for others in the industry that are starting to or just considering re-opening.
To this end, Craig Slass, the co-president of Rotor Clip, recently joined us to discuss how his company has been handling the challenges. Rotor Clip is a global and essential manufacturer of retaining rings, springs, clamps, and other components. You can read a full profile about the company company here.
In this conversation, Slass shares some insightful tips on how businesses must change and adopt new ways of conducting business to stay competitive in the current market.
Here’s the interview…
The following is a lightly edited transcript…
Fastener Engineering (FE): Hello, everyone. Thanks for listening! I’m Michelle Froese, an editor with Fastener Engineering. We’ve been reaching out to manufacturers and suppliers that have been deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. As these companies never shut down, we’re asking what advice they may have for others that are either contemplating or just starting to reopen.
Recently, Craig Slass, the co-president of Rotor Clip joined me to discuss how the company has been handling the current challenges. Rotor Clip is a global and essential manufacturer of retaining rings, springs, clamps and other components. Early in the pandemic, Rotor Clip announced that it was giving its full support to customers that produce medical components or the equipment needed to treat or halt the spread of COVID-19.
Here’s my conversation with Craig…
FE: Hi Craig! Thanks so much for your time today.
Craig Slass (CS): You’re very welcome. And I just want to thank you for inviting us to join this meeting and for being able to participate. I hope that the people who are listening to this get a chance to use this information for their own businesses to see how they’re doing and if we’re working together on the same line. So, we look forward to participating!
FE: Absolutely. It’s great to talk again! I know we spoke a few months back about Rotor Clip’s history, and there’s a company profile we put together that I’ll link to in the notes for this recording. But for those who may be unfamiliar, can you please provide a brief description of Rotor Clip and also touch on how it’s been able to support the fight against COVID so far?
CS: So, one of the things that we, when we all first faced this challenge, was realizing just how shocking it was. It’s the first time in our lives that we had to go through something of this severity, and the way we handled it at Rotor Clip was that we immediately took action for the safety of our employees.
Secondarily, we asked: how are we going to respond to the people that need to use our products to keep this country and the world safe? What we did was we put teams in place and reorganized our teams for safety. Obviously, like a lot of other companies, these safety measures took certain people out of the mix because they didn’t have to come to the job or the factory, and they could work from home.
One of the other major things we did was that we separated ourselves, so if somebody got ill, we were able to have other management cover them and other machine operators — from the night shift, day shift, different shifts, and throughout our global operations stepped up to support each other. We’ve also been supporting a lot of programs, such as the specialty programs for the N95 face masks or the ventilator projects…for all of this different medical equipment, which is helping drive us through these programs. We’re trying to help the best we can.
We’re trying to keep these programs going and keep the safety up. And, obviously, the supply chain has been very challenged. But one of the things that Rotor Clip has in its place: we have the ability to make and shape our own materials in-house, which gives us what they call the most vertically integrated operation possible. This helps guarantee the product to the end-user.
Fortunately enough, we only had a very few people cases, horrible cases where one or two of our employees got very, very ill, but weren’t-
FE: I’m sorry to hear.
CS: Well, we dealt with that and that was one of the things that we just had to do. So, I hope that this beginning statement offers enough information. As a family business, being able to work through it and maintain the safety of our employees first were keys. And then, of course, keeping our manufacturing in tiptop shape to be able to support the safety of the world followed next.
FE: Right. Can you speak to some of the companies that you supply to? Were any of those new customers, given the fact that you were able to provide to medical devices or any of the equipment that, say, went into hospitals? Or, were you even aware of what companies and what your end products would be used for?
CS: It’s kind of funny because we never paid attention to this area of our business as much before. And it opened our eyes to see how much our products went into these other products…such as the cleaning equipment or for holding oxygen systems in place, etc. It was just incredible. So, my learning experience from just hearing when customers started calling and saying, “I need it,” and we said, “Okay, how was it used?” This really changed our minds to recognize, oh my gosh, our products are in everything!
The joke of the matter is when people ask me what I do for a living? I always joke around and say, “When you open that car door, you kind of depend on us. You steer it, you use the brakes, that air there goes off, my products are holding everything in place.” Now I say, “I save lives. I hold the oxygen machine in place, or I’m cleaning the floors, or I’m on the brushes and holding all the cleaning equipment, or the sterilization equipment or the automatic faucets and the automatic systems…the automatic soap dispensers, the automatic door openers.”
So, it’s really opened our eyes to see there’s a lot of new opportunities that we could say not just, “Okay, we’re selling them accidentally or we’re selling these industries,” but now we can say, “Okay, how can we help them improve their products?” I’ve really gone into driving WebEx meetings with these engineering groups and able to help them improve their product. So, that’s the exciting part for me as an owner of Rotor Clip.
FE: I can hear that! How have you been able to maintain employee productivity and keep morale up over the last few months, especially given that you, unfortunately, experienced some people who got sick? That must’ve been tough.
CS: I’ve got to be very honest with you. That’s the challenge and if anybody tells you that everybody is doing great…well, if I had to write a book today and I had a person like yourself as a ghostwriter, I would say that the world has really struggled through this because it doesn’t know what’s going on. There’s uncertainty. Some people are loving being home without having to go to work and some people are coping with it and going into work every day and fearing that they’re going to get their families sick.
And I have taken this moment to make sure that people are in the best environment they can be in at Rotor Clip. We’ve given some overtime to try to help people out through these difficult times. And that’s really been a good deed, I would say. And where we couldn’t do that, we made a couple of difficult decisions. At some point, you have to say, “Okay, these positions really, no matter what, if your business crops X percentage, what do you have to do to stay alive?” And there are some challenges and anybody says that they haven’t experienced that, I think they better go for a truthful test in honesty.
I, Craig Slass, the co-president of Rotor Clip, along with my brother, value people’s livelihoods and know how many years they’ve stood by us, so we try to stand by them. And that’s the way we kind of challenged ourselves to keep Rotor Clip an honorable, good manufacturing company. If this means taking money out of our own pockets to pay for people for a short period, that’s okay with us. But at a certain point, what’s the affordability factor? And, I would say as of right now, the government sponsoring and helping out is definitely a big benefit. But really, what can I do by the day to help drive more opportunities where we have to hire more people back? Let’s forget about this little short-term blip.
So, what I’m trying to do is find more opportunities to grow and that’s why we talked about how much more we can enhance our product lines by going into these industries, newer industries, or industries we never paid attention to. Being down and dealing with personnel attitude, we also talked about how do you motivate people that are coming into work and you’re scared? Well, you try to create a comfort factor and what’s comfort? One family member got sick, okay, we’re going to isolate you. We’re going to quarantine you for two weeks because we got to keep other people safe also.
And I think we’ve gotten through it….the worst of it. I actually walked around the factory the other day and I’ve got to tell you, the attitude of people was just so amazing in my eyes. They looked relieved. They looked happy. And when I went to them, I told them how I’m driving the sales and we’re buying machinery through this pandemic and we’re telling them all the positive things. That’s what you can continue to do as an employer. And you can make sure that their families are safe, you ask questions and you make sure that they’re feeling safe. That’s all you can do in my opinion.
FE: For sure. You mentioned the social distancing, what other modifications have you had to make to equipment or working conditions Craig?
CS: In our offices, we’ve been trying to maintain a six to 10-foot profile between desks. I don’t want to make a guarantee of that because one person would walk next to the other guy, but everybody is wearing masks internally and it’s the rules, cleaning their hands, and providing the right social distancing. Education here is obviously a keyword.
Are we doing an outstanding job? I would say we’re doing a very good job. Are we measuring people’s temperature? Absolutely. We’re doing the standard things that a lot of businesses are doing today. But I’m not doing a lockdown like a bank, where every person walks into the bank and there’s a whole group of people standing together outside. And then there’s one going in at a time in the bank but standing within a foot of each other outside.
No, I’m not doing that kind of procedure where every one person is walking into our factory and testing and running the machine and then the next person comes in. No, that’s not possible. But our machinery is well separated…it’s got a minimum of 15 to 20 feet per machine in some areas. And in other areas, it’s five to 10 feet away from each other. So, we’re doing everything possible. There’s no one answer that can fit perfectly here. We continue to use masks, we continue to use cleaning, and we continue to emphasize social distancing.
FE: Makes sense, for sure. And what lessons have you learned and are there any tips that you can share with other businesses at this time that may just be reopening?
CS: As our governor has said, “Be smart, use your intelligence.” And if somebody is just going to be a hotshot, throw them out of your company. You want a straight answer. If somebody thinks they’re going to be a rebel and that they’re going to jeopardize a lot of our other employees because they have no respect for safe social distancing, then get out. But I haven’t experienced that at Rotor Clip. My company is a family business and they respect that and everybody wants to see each other’s families safe.
I miss the people though. I miss the camaraderie, but I still have to protect the health of the people. Am I driving for people to come back to my company today? Absolutely, because let me tell you something…you’re going to go too long and businesses are going to lose their core competency. People benefit from the interaction of seeing each other, working with each other, and getting ideas from each other. If you think that the computer can do it all or via these WebEx meetings? I mean I love them but it’s not ideal. Though I’ll probably, in the future, do 70% less travel and do mostly WebEx meetings, but that’s social distancing at its finest.
We’re emphasizing to our employees to please be cautious and to truly think about other people and their coworkers every day. So, to answer your question…well, in German, we say, genau as in a precise way, right? Do the right thing just like our governors are saying.
FE: That’s great advice, Craig. Do you have any new initiatives or products that Rotor Clip has planned for the future? I know you mentioned some new opportunities, but anything else that you can foresee for the next few months or even next year?
CS: We came out with some brand-new things that are brilliant during this time. We came out with new kinds of wave springs that are now reducing what they call “shimmed top ends,” which are now single turn. We’ve got a patent on it. They get used in a lot of these ventilators, in a lot of these types of components. It’s a single-turn and offers great savings in the wave spring area. On the retaining ring side, we’re doing things that are just brilliant. I can’t tell you all the secrets, but we’re taking manufacturing and making it much more efficient because we put our nose to the grindstone and said, “How can we do better at certain things which helps drive productivity gains?” And as they’re all companies need productivity and savings in their programs, we’re always driving it.
For example, I just spent three hours on the phone with a company that is used in renewable energy. And we were just talking about some of the levels of things that we’re doing internally from processing raw materials in-house to shape in our own wire, to making their parts that get used in the renewable energy. And I’m going to not say the name of the industry, but I’ll give you a hint. It’s out there, putting them in the ocean, they’re putting them on the field. So, use your own judgment.
FE: That sounds interesting.
CS: It’s exciting! But at the same time, their business is off the charts right now. They can’t make them fast enough. So, we’re supporting them. Our parts are getting used with new technology that’s going into these, and there’s a lot of other unique products coming down the line as well. Industries are seeking support such as in the medical sector…for ventilators and in insulin pens. There are actually a lot of companies that are doing things with these insulin pens and they’re trying to control the amount of volume of fluids precisely each time they get adjusted. And we have some technology that’s very, very unique that hasn’t been totally introduced to the markets yet. But it’s about to get used.
And I’ll give you a little secret…we’re going to help them logistically. This means we can help guarantee that if something like this ever happens again that they’re never going to get hurt because we’re ready to partner with these companies by putting equipment in their premise and helping them make the product and manage it with them so that they’re guaranteed products.
FE: That’s amazing to hear and great that you’re able to support new industries that you haven’t typically worked with before. Are there any other messages or words of advice that you’d like to share with others in the manufacturing world at this time?
CS: Anything that gets shared with other manufacturers? I could tell other manufacturers that I’m fearful right now, as an owner of a business, about how we are about to get possibly stopped again if this virus goes crazy — and jus when we all feel like our lives are starting to get going again. I think we need to be calm about the situation. I think we need to be prepared and we need to be thoughtful about how to go. Let’s not beg our governments to give us more and more money. Let’s really take it and figure out how to do our work the best way without bankrupting our children’s future.
FE: Those are good tips, Craig. Lastly, if listeners would like to learn more about Rotor Clip, where can they go?
CS: Well, we have a website number one, and we have a new website being launched very shortly. We are always available via phone. I’m an owner that’s pretty much, believe it or not, I’m a crazy owner that’s given my name to probably a hundred thousand people over my lifetime. And I always tell people, “If you have a question, call me.”
But I love doing WebExes by the day. I had a group last week or two weeks ago that literally, we were educating them from one person in the UK, one in Germany, a couple in the U.S….one in Missouri, one in Florida. There were people in several different locations, and we were able to have an amazing meeting and show them some new technology.
So, I highly suggest to companies that please…your sales force, your salespeople, well they’re dreaming if they think they’re going to go out there and visit customers. Learn how to do your business differently. Figure out how to create new opportunities and look at this as not just a savings, but look at it as a challenge. When you have your sales force that could be doing three calls a day via car, then versus doing 20 WebEx meetings a day and get right to the customer and have the right people and have everybody at your fingertips.
Use your technology to your advantage. And for those who think you’re going back to old-line salesmanship or old-line selling or working together with companies, I would start figuring out how to get to customers differently. Everybody’s time is very valuable, so get the engineers involved, get the right people involved. That’s my suggestion for a lot of other businesses.
FE: That’s more great advice, Craig. I appreciate the conversation. Thank you so much for your time and thanks to everyone else for listening today! I am Michelle Froese with Fastener Engineering.