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Employees - Engaging and Keeping The Lifeblood of Your Business with Steve Burke
Episode 1017th January 2022 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:28:09

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Connect with Steve Burke:

Website: https://www.hitech-industrial.com/

Phone: 219-707-5956.

Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan, and welcome to the Manufacturer's Network Podcast. Our guest today is Steve Burke. Steve is President of HiTech Industrial, a multiline distributorship representing over 30 manufacturers. They support many sectors from steel, chemical, healthcare, transportation, automotive, and manufacturing. And after being in business for just over two years because of their focus on customer service, they have both made a profit and exceeded their goal. So, Steve, welcome to the show.

Steve Burke: Good morning, Lisa. Thank you for having me.

Lisa Ryan: Absolutely. So, Steve, share a bit of your journey and what led you to found HiTech Industrial.

Steve Burke: My background is as a pipe fitter. For about 23years, I had the privilege of working in many different industries. I then moved into a service technician, multi-state, working in all the industries we

usually cover: steel, chemical, heavy manufacturing, automotive, and more. And this allowed me to see exactly what's going on in their maintenance teams and some of the issues they're having.

Lisa Ryan: Okay, so share a bit of that background, like where you were and then why you decided to start, what were you looking to create that was different from what you are seeing out there.

Steve Burke: As a hands-on technician, I saw a distinct repetition of maintenance issues lubrication, hydraulics piping things that were not being done in their optimum way. Frequently, I would make suggestions, which would positively influence the customers' maintenance. So they would ask me to do other things like, Can you show some of my guys this? Could you work with me on that? What's this stuff about a Lubrication audit. So I broadened the spectrum of just being a parts replacer or providing a part to someone who provided a consultant service to increase reliability and help their maintenance teams.

Lisa Ryan: And so then, how have you translated that into what you're doing with HiTech? Because, again, starting a business and meeting goals and making a profit right off the bat, you have to be doing something right. What do you attribute that to?

Steve Burke: Well, I worked as a distributor for a pipe fitting for about ten years. So again, this took me deep into the engineering and the maintenance teams, working with them on significant problems that they were having and finding out other issues in hydraulics and lubrication things of this nature. Once I saw that I started asking questions and saying, Well, is this the first time this has happened? And often I heard, no, this happens all the time. I've got to make this repair. I've got to do this process over and over again.

And when you started to ask why the answer was Gee, I don't know. It's the way we always did it. Henry Ford had a saying where he said, if you've always done what you always do, you always get what you always got. And I think that's true. And HiTech industrial is trying to bridge that gap and help them move into an area where they can find solutions to reliability and their maintenance problems.

Lisa Ryan: So when some of the things that we talked about, some of the things that you focus on, things like being transparent, taking a sincere interest and actively listening to your customers and doing service, that goes one step beyond what are some of the philosophies that led you to do that, like transparency. I'm sure that you sometimes have to tell your customers things that they don't necessarily want to hear, but that transparency also does well for you. So talk a bit of that. We'll start with transparency.

Steve Burke: Sure, it's been a key for us to work personally with our customers, whether it be a maintenance manager, whether it be the President of a manufacturing company, or whether it just be a technician. And we have to make some hard statements like you mentioned, you can't do it that way. It doesn't work. You're not fixing it. You're just putting a new part on a problem, and it's going to fail. We got into discussing that more in-depth with them. What do you mean, it's going to fail?

And what I found out is that people have assumed roles where they don't know the history of the maintenance issues. So they find out that we're replacing parts repeatedly and not looking at a root cause, not looking at a process that has been changed, not looking at additional equipment that's been added that is affecting or contributing to the downtime failures.

Lisa Ryan: Really, what you're doing is instead of just selling parts, you're going above and beyond and giving them the service, and probably over time, maybe you're not going to sell as much because you're not replacing the same parts because you've fixed the problem, which then would lead your customers to trust you more. So is that what you're finding?

Steve Burke: That's precisely correct. Yes, we do shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak, for not replacing every part or making an extra couple of dollars replacing a part. But we prefer building a relationship with our customers, understanding their personal needs because that's going to bond our customers or join our customers to partner together to create more reliability and profitability. And in some cases, we even make a safer alternative for them to operate.

Lisa Ryan: I know that training is a significant component for you. So is that looking at both the people you employ to ensure that they are trained personally and professionally and your customers or talk about your focus on training?

Steve Burke: Training is just one of the most overlooked things in the industry today. We don't have time to train. We don't have the budget to train as things we hear. We don't have the people to teach who could train on this system. Joe and Bob and all the old-timers are evolving. They're retiring. They're leaving the industry and taking with them 30, 40 years of a wealth of knowledge, the young people coming in, qualified, great guys willing to work. They don't have the knowledge or experience we're trying to get to that process. Find out how and where we can help them solve their problems.

Some of them have more knowledge than myself because they've been highly trained in an area, but they don't have the broad understanding that 30 plus years of experience working in the industry has provided. So we're joining with the maintenance managers and finding out your biggest problems. And this is a fundamental question that's not being asked when you call up a mega house or a large supply house. And you say, I need part XYZ. That's what they do. They give you part XYZ, but they don't connect with why you need part XYZ, and who knows how to replace it? And how many times have you replaced that in the last year? Because they should last in multi-years. So we're kind of explorers. We're kind of investigators asking these questions.

Lisa Ryan: And when you talk about the fact that, yes, we do have the silver tsunami of baby boomers that are retiring and taking their 30 and 40 years of experience with them, is there anything that you're doing to capture some of that knowledge before the people walk out your door.

Steve Burke: We are looking to maintain a relationship with our customers. We're a small company, Lisa. So we're not big, but we take people and train them to have a comprehensive knowledge of the products that we carry. And then we work with them. Often I go out with them to look at a job, meet with a team, and ask the questions that they haven't learned how to ask yet, because you can't just ask Gee, why is it broke or what have you done to fix it?

Steve Burke: You have to go to the second level and third level questions to funnel down, create an understanding of what is your real problem, reliability. And how can I help you?

Lisa Ryan: Yeah. So really taking it into the real world instead of textbook what's supposed to happen because we know in maintenance, there's no way you're ever going to see anything that can go wrong in maintenance.

Steve Burke: It's true. We're finding that maintenance teams, managers, and leadership are being asked to do more right now with fewer people. Manpower is plaguing the nation right now, let alone manpower that wishes to work in a hands-on, hands, dirty environment. And we're working with them to optimize the steps they are taking to create the maintenance programs that keep things running.

Lisa Ryan: And one of the things I know that you do to our customer audits to help with that, to investigate those problems and provide solutions. So, could you share with us a bit of your process? What does that look like? Maybe some steps that if somebody is listening to the podcast today and would like to incorporate that thing for their customers, how would they get started?

Steve Burke: You had a tricky question to answer. We're covering multiple product lines. Let me just take one example. That is easy to share, and that will be in lubrication. Lubrication touches anywhere. There's moving parts in manufacturing, steel, chemical. It's a universal issue. And yet it is also one of the most specialized knowledge banks there is. It's not a glorious or a sexy industry to be in. Everybody wants to stay away from it. It's constantly the last component of a piece of equipment that's looked at for liability.

But lubrication is the lifeblood of the industry. So we'll come in, and we talk with people, and they start asking some fundamental questions about lubrication from single-point lubrication to multi-hundred-point lubrication systems. Do you have them? What are you doing with them? Who's your lubrication guru, and the answers often are. We don't have one. We haven't had one for years. I just had a customer who told me that 24 of their automated systems are no longer operational. Five of them are limping along because they have nobody to provide the technical expertise and the time to come in and fix it.

Sometimes we have to do this on a fee basis where we work with our customers and find out how we can help or work with your team to get a start point to get this quired knowledge of your issues, and we'll work with them. We'll find out where the problems are. We'll find out where their high maintenance issues are, and we'll start from there and roll it out. Often that means talking to maintenance managers, supervisors, and technicians to understand their level of lubrication and how to maintain it.

And right now, there's a vacuum in that area. People are trying, and they're looking online to find stuff, but there's no real active resource. So we'll take it and work with them. From the basics, Lisa, from what lubrication is and how to maintain your system to that complete process.

Lisa Ryan: Yeah. And as we're going more and more into automation, that lubrication part will be, like you said, the lifeblood of keeping that equipment going. And when we think about maintenance, the best thing about maintenance does not have to use it. If you maintain your equipment correctly and even start with the basics that you talk about of Lubrication 101. Too often, people assume, vendors assume, that people know what to do, where to put the parts, and how to work anything. But the fact that you're starting from that ground zero and not assuming anything seems like that will be invaluable to extending the life of your customers' equipment.

Steve Burke: And that's what we found over and over time. And if you take and make these repairs and create a process for successful maintenance of these systems, they're very durable. They last a long time. Without that maintenance, without that understanding, they can become a daily maintenance issue that impacts profitability and downtime and, again, sometimes even safety. For example, some statistics show that 65% plus bearing failure is directly related to improper lubrication. So that's a huge number. And when people start to hear that and see that, and you can show more, you can extend the life of a bearing, extend the runtime of a piece of equipment, protect their assets. You become a valuable resource to them.

Lisa Ryan: Yeah. And one of the ways that I think you also stay a resource is in your follow-up. So you're not just going in there doing an audit, giving them the right pieces, and then okay, see you later. Let's go on to the next one. You are also staying in touch with them. So what are some of the ways that you continue to be a resource for the long term with your customers?

Steve Burke: Yes, staying in touch is a law start. Customer service is a law that starts right now. They want a large house. A large company often wants to get that call taken care of and off their list, and they won't ask or follow up a need with them. Situations like, hey, I sent them a text. Hey, I send them a voicemail. Hey, I left them an email, and they didn't get back to me. Maintenance teams are overworked right now. You have to be the source that gets back to them repeatedly until you talk to them. And we sometimes apologize for being overly enthusiastic, if you will, and trying to reach out to our customers. And, hey, I know this is the third email. I know this is the third call. Please excuse me. If you'd like me to stop, let me know. But if you're just too busy, I'll wait for you, and I'll make my efforts to get a hold of you. And I didn't trust that way by being a Bulldog. I've been called you're a Bulldog. Well, sometimes you have to be a Bulldog to help people. And I always apologize and say, if that's ever an inconvenience, let me know, and I'll change.

Lisa Ryan: And the fact that you're giving them the choice of, hey, if you don't want to hear from me, fine. But the fact that you keep going after probably most of your competitors give up when they sent that one text or they sent that second voicemail and they didn't hear back. So they move on to the next one where you are, letting those customers know that this is important. They are essential to you, and you're there for them.

Steve Burke: That's correct. And we hear that routinely. Thanks. I got to get to that. But I had this. I had that we had a tornado here. We had this. There are many different reasons why they can't get back to you and what you would like to be prompt information, but often they'll say, yeah, thanks. I got to get that done. Let's get this and move forward. And that's where we earned reliability, trust. Or that's where we've gained a hey. This guy cares because we do. We care about our customers, and we care about finding the solutions.

Lisa Ryan: I think that's such an essential lesson for everybody, not only in manufacturing and distribution but in every industry. When we're reaching out to potential customers, and they're not getting back to us, we think it's all about us. Oh, they must not like me. They must not want to do business with me. I must be getting on their nerves. But, in most cases, it's got nothing to do with you. We don't know that they just had a tornado, that they just had a flood, that they just had a major breakdown, that their maintenance guy quit, or all of these other things that are taking their attention.

And we are such this tiny dot on their radar. We don't think about it. So if we can take ourselves out of the equation and just let them know, okay, I'm here from you. I'm here for you when you need me. I'm here for you when you need me, but just keep on keeping on that. You're adding value and keeping your ego out of it. It sounds like it's true.

Steve Burke: And I often ask questions like, when would you like me to reach back to you? I understand how busy you are. Is there someone you can delegate this to? I can take this off your plate and perhaps work directly with a technician. And we do that routinely because technicians are the keys to maintaining reliability. It's not in a CEO's hands. It's not in a maintenance manager's hands. He directs these solutions to go out there and fix things. If they're going to do it, they can if they have the knowledge and ability to do it.

But they can't do anything if just because somebody wants them to. If they don't have the tools, the knowledge, and the experience to get it done or the resource, we can help them out with that resource, right? So I still get dirty, Lisa. I still go down into the dirty pits, and I still get my hands all greasy if that means helping out a customer well.

Lisa Ryan: You're also setting an excellent example for the people who work for you, which I want to get into a little bit, too, because I know that you have a small company and that labor is hard to find. But it sounds like you are building a heck of a team by doing what you're doing and letting your employees know that you are just as willing as they are to get your hands dirty. So what would you say are some of the things you are doing to create that workplace culture that keeps people working for you and not going down the street to a competitor.

Steve Burke: What a challenge. When I started this company, I asked the people I was bringing to the team. Is this what you want to do? Is there anything else you want to do? Because if there is, now is the time to go and do it. But if you elect to stay here, if you like to move forward, success will follow because we will be working harder than the next guy. We will be providing services that the next person isn't providing. We will be sincerely focused on delivering what our company is designed around.

That is to provide solutions to the industry. Once I gave some time, and I said, don't answer now. You cannot answer me right now. Don't just nod your head. Don't just say yes. I want you to go home, talk with your wife. I want you to think about it. I want you to look at it. And I want you to see if there's anything else that could make you happier. And once they did, once they came on board. How are we going to make this the best company?

How are we going to strive for excellence daily? One of our slogans is always better, never best, because we want to improve daily for our customers. And for us. It may be adding a paper void packing machine. It may be buying a piece of equipment in one of the cases of hose crimper, the state of the art where you could buy one that was less money. But we're going to buy the best one to make sure we can do it quickly, efficiently and provide the best product for our customers.

So those kinds of things and listening to their input. Well, think we should do this. One of the cases is we take parts and get them in from a customer, and they're Rod. They're just a piece of metal. Okay, we bag them and vacuum seal them, and then we put a label on the outside of them because some of our customers don't have the luxury of having a climate-controlled area to store their parts. And when they store metal steel, they'll find that they'll get corroded, rust, covered, damaged, and it's hard to see them.

Sometimes it's hard to read numbers that are stamped on or laser etched down. So we put them in a half-inch yellow and black label, and it's easy for them to read. So we try to simplify everywhere we do bin management for our customers because of that.

Lisa Ryan: So I think a vital lesson, too, is making sure that your employees have that commitment to you by not making them. When we think about bringing people on board, we're like, oh, no, you have to give me an answer right now where sometimes when you take the time you let them process, and then when they're ready to commit to you, the employees know where you're coming from, and they're willing to make that commitment. And it

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