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Breaking Down Barriers to Create a Winning Manufacturing Culture with Rick Winter
Episode 4620th September 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
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Contact Rick Winter:

Email: rwinter@SNCMfg.com

Website: SNCMFG.com

Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers Network Podcast. My guest today is Rick Winter. Rick is VP of sales and marketing at SNC manufacturing. 

Rick began his manufacturing career at a very early age. During summers after high school, Rick worked in a paper mill to pay for college, and after graduating college with a BBA in marketing, Rick worked for polaroid. Then, he moved on to a company that specialized in custom extruded aluminum components for the telecom industry. He now works for SNC manufacturing, a leading custom transformer manufacturer of single-phase and three-phase industrial control transformers, with manufacturing facilities in Oshkosh, Mexico, and China. Rick, welcome to the show.

Rick Winter: Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa Ryan: Share with us a bit of your background. What attracted you to manufacturing, and what's kept you here.

Rick Winter: I grew up in a blue-collar area, mainly the paper industry. My father worked in the paper mill his whole life, and I worked in that paper mill in the summertime to pay for my school, so I was exposed to it early on. It was the lifeblood of my upbringing. That's what pretty much everybody did in the area.

As I moved through my career, I worked for companies that manufactured products. So I started in the different side of it, and then, as I moved into, I've always enjoyed being in the factory and seeing the production being done.

It's always had a hands-on feel, so it's enabled me to be better at the front-end of the business and better understand what goes on behind the scenes in the plant.

Lisa Ryan: I know that you like being in the plant. What are some things you've done with your workplace culture in connecting with your employees and engaging them? What helps you keep them?

Rick Winter: That was a challenge. I've been at SNC for five years now. One of the things that I took on pretty early on was changing the culture at SNC. This is our 75th year of being in business. We have many long-term employees, and with that comes a lot of the traditional, historical, cultural things that may be outdated in many ways. So we are trying to get the culture to be more interactive and break down that barrier of the front office versus the factory—that and getting everybody to understand that we're more of a team.

One of the first things I did was to set up quarterly all-hands meetings. During these sessions, we talk to the employees, just like everybody else. We tell them how things are going, how we're doing against our revenue goals, our bottom-line goals, and then the other initiatives we're doing.

We're getting them to feel a little more ownership and understanding of their stake and making them understand that they're an important cog in this whole system. Without them, we can't deliver on our end. So that was one of the things we started doing was getting more employee events. Recently, we took the entire factory to a local minor league baseball game. We do that once a summer, and they bring their families. We do stuff like that throughout the year. We have events on-site and host dinners or barbecues where the staff grills out for the employees.

We try to get our employees to realize that we appreciate what they do by doing small things with more interaction.

Lisa Ryan: So you say it's an all-hands meeting that you're having - the office staff, along with the leadership team and the people in the plant?

Rick Winter: Correct. It's everybody from the owner of the company on down. The management team will do the presentation. We have a template that we use. We do it during the lunch hour, and we'll usually bring in lunch that day for the employees - whether it's food trucks or we have a catered. We go through 15-20 minute quick updates on what's going on with business and making sure they're informed.

Lisa Ryan: Many times, you see that there's this kind of us versus them mentality, with the people in the office versus the plant. I'm assuming that this has helped in developing more of those relationships. Do you have any before and after stories? What was it like before you started doing these meetings with the office and the plant people now that they're getting together like that regularly?

Rick Winter: During last year, we couldn't have in-person meetings. We heard a lot of people say that they missed them and they enjoyed having them. One of the things we always stress in the meeting is a customer highlight because, for all they know, they're just handling all these components and putting together parts, and they have no idea what they're going to do. So we tell employees what the part is, what it does, what it goes in, and connect it. As a result, we've seen improvement in our quality. 

We're trying to show the bottom line and how being more efficient improves the bottom line. We can do more things with benefits and raises. We stress, for example, in Wisconsin, we make a lot of military parts. We can tell them, "Hey, this part is going on to the new navy destroyer," and they take a little pride in that. They understand that. They're paying a little bit more attention to what they're doing, knowing the importance of what that thing is that they're making and where it's going. Those are some of the benefits of it.

Lisa Ryan: And it gives them that feeling that they're part of something bigger than themselves, no pun intended. They see the pride of this piece. So when you're saying it's going on a destroyer, they're going to make darn sure that it's not their point that their product that fails on that, so it's just these little things. 

A couple of years ago, when I spoke for the Industrial Fastener Association, one of the guys said they had a part of the week. So they took a particular fastener, and they showed what the part was and showed where it went. 

So it's these little things that you're doing that's building that connection that, like you said it improves quality and improves pride. You're getting the conversation going by being transparent and letting all the employees know what's happening - the good, the bad, and the ugly, particularly this last year.

Rick Winter: yeah yeah, exactly.

Lisa Ryan: So what are some of the things that keep you up at night?

Rick Winter: We're challenged like I'm sure everybody else out there with Labor issues. We've had to increase wages to compete with everybody else, fighting for the limited worker out there. That's nothing new.

The other thing is the supply chain. Logistics are significant problems and have become a daily battle where we're spending excessive time.

Just communicating with customers and often not giving good news, A part typically has a two-week lead time. It's now six to eight weeks. Sometimes we can't even provide a lead time or commit to a ship date because we're not getting committed ship dates from our suppliers, which makes me responsible for our customers.

I'm extra vigilant in ensuring that if they need something, they will look to see if they can get it somewhere else. We are trying to make sure that we can secure the parts. We value those relationships with those customers and keep them updated monthly. I send out customer updates with a newsletter of what's going on. We update our customers on the challenges we're facing with our supply chain and logistics. 

We're doing the best we can to meet their commit dates. But, again, it's about keeping those lines of communication open. We let them know that we didn't suddenly lose the recipe and couldn't make parts in a timely fashion. It's been a challenge maintaining customers. These are some of the things we're doing.

Lisa Ryan: The newsletter is an exciting idea because it does give a bit of communication and transparency. Also, it's probably not something that your competitors are doing. So at least customers know where they stand with you. They might not necessarily like it, but the point is that they know.

So what are some of the things that you communicate? For example, you're communicating timelines, and what are some of the other things you're putting in that? Have you gotten any feedback from your customers after sending that out?

Rick Winter: We let customers know if we get a new piece of equipment. For instance, we got an automated welding system which we put into our Mexico plant. I talk about how we use it and the benefits to our plant efficiency and quality. 

Also, if we launch a new product line or introduce a new product, we let them know. We do a lot of custom work and have some standard offerings, but I'll talk about that in the newsletter if we bring on some new stuff. Also, if we qualify for a new mil-spec or any of those product lines, we will inform them that the product line is now updated with this certificate.

Lisa Ryan: It also gets your customers saying, I didn't know you did that. You're letting them know all the different ways that you can help them instead of just the one product that they had been ordering from you before they knew the other things that you offer.

Rick Winter: One of the benefits we've seen is where somebody has come back because we may have been making one or two custom parts for them, and also they come back. Oh, I didn't know you guys did this. So it's helped, and that's an essential piece during the pandemic. The ability to meet and see customers were restricted. I don't know whether that business is ever going to come back.

It's been increasingly more challenging over the last decade or so, using the Internet. You can't walk in and cold call people. With COVID, it makes it even more challenging. We use the newsletter, and we're also using a lot of email communications to customers. We communicate with them as a primary lead generation tool. We let them know what we're doing and see if we can do anything for them.

Lisa Ryan: How often does that go out?

Rick Winter: we're just we just started it about three-four months ago. We're starting monthly at this point, and it varies. We have different programs, so we have certain target accounts or other market sectors that will go after, and depending on those, sometimes they may be, every couple weeks. So it's that delicate balance of being an irritant and informative and so for our general customers is monthly.

Lisa Ryan: It sounds like a great idea, mainly if along the way you started highlighting different customers or customers of the month or product of the month. If people or companies are mentioned there, we all like to see our name up in lights.

Rick Winter: We'll do a similar one. We'll do a quarterly newsletter with the contract reps. I'll do the same thing. I'll feature a new sales success with a person because all the sales guys want to see their name in print. I'll list all the new customers and new reps, or if they've done anything that stands out as well, we'll talk about that in there. You're right; people always want to see their name and in print or some media.

Lisa Ryan: If you're looking for ways to engage employees using different tools, like having an intracompany newsletter. You're highlighting successes and highlighting the company's mission and the other products that you have. It is a great tool to keep in touch with your customers. 

It's also a great tool to share information, along with the meetings that you're doing. Looking for ways to create those relationships to happen because, as you mentioned, we're all fighting for the same people to come and join our firm. When you have good employees, they create a culture that they don't want to leave. They're not going to go down the street for 50 cents more an hour because they feel connected and enjoy what they're doing. They think they're part of something bigger.

So if you were to think about from a networking standpoint, what would be some of the things that you would potentially like to learn from other manufacturers, and what would you be willing to share with your expertise with other manufacturing colleagues?

Rick Winter: Well, I read a lot about automating and everybody they talk about automating; to get over the labor challenges that we're all facing and replacing it with automation which, deep down, nobody wants to do. You don't want to replace all these jobs with machines, but you may inevitably have to be a viable organization at the end of the day.

I'm interested to know what other manufacturers are doing in long-term automation lines. Have they been aggressively going after it? For example, there's a big show coming up in Chicago in a couple of weeks called FABTECH where it's just you go there, and it's like a playground of automated equipment.

Lisa Ryan: yep, I love it. I'm speaking there, so I'm very excited about going there.

Rick Winter: We go every year. We'll go, and we'll walk the floor. I'll go down there with our VP of operations. We go through and look at all the different types of equipment that are there. The last time we went, we bought some equipment that helped streamline some of our molded capabilities by automating them. We didn't replace any employees with it. Still, it significantly contributed to the bottom line because we allowed those to automate that area, which took four employees. We were able to repurpose those employees into other roles.

I'd be curious to see what other manufacturers are doing along those lines and then what they are doing in their marketing and sales activities. The challenge is getting in front of customers and the lack of trade shows. We cannot get in to see people. What other tactics may they are they employing that are successful.

Lisa Ryan: The funny thing is with automation is it does become a recruiting tool, because when you have employees come in and see some big fancy robot or some automation, it's like, wow, that's cool, I want to work on that, so it does have some other positive benefits from a recruiting standpoint.

Rick Winter: Even though we have automated a few different things for the welding line and this molded line, we didn't reduce staff. It's just increased efficiency and allowed us to focus on those people in other areas. So in our industry, not a lot has changed in the transformer world. Of course, there are automated multi-spindle machines and all that. They are a little bit sexy, but all at all, it's not that sexy of an industry.

Lisa Ryan: And what would be some of the things that you would be willing to share if people wanted to reach out to you.

Rick Winter: I would be willing to talk about what we're doing and in our customer outreach or are programs that we're doing to keep customers updated and try to get new customers. I'd be happy to talk about any of those activities and what we're doing internally to make our place of employment more desirable for people to work and want to be here.

Lisa Ryan: So, and as we're getting to the end of our time together, if you had one tip for manufacturers today as far as working on that culture, the thing you feel would be the easiest for somebody to start implementing what would be your best tip.

Rick Winter:

  1. Talk to people.
  2. Talk to your employees.
  3. Talk to other people in your industry as well as other people in the manufacturing field.
  4. See what they're doing and see what's practical.

The most important thing you can do is ask questions and ask what they like or, more importantly, what they would like to see. That can steer you in many different directions and answer a lot of those questions and help at least get you going in some direction.

Lisa Ryan: Thank you so much for being on the show today. If somebody did want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Rick Winter: Shoot me an email at Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers Network Podcast. My guest today is Rick Winter. Rick is VP of sales and marketing at SNC manufacturing. 

Rick began his manufacturing career at a very early age. During summers after high school, Rick worked in a paper mill to pay for college, and after graduating college with a BBA in marketing, Rick worked for polaroid. Then, he moved on to a company that specialized in custom extruded aluminum components for the telecom industry. He now works for SNC manufacturing, a leading custom transformer manufacturer of single-phase and three-phase industrial control transformers, with manufacturing facilities in Oshkosh, Mexico, and China. Rick, welcome to the show.

Rick Winter: Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa Ryan: Share with us a bit of your background. What attracted you to manufacturing, and what's kept you here.

Rick Winter: I grew up in a blue-collar area, mainly the paper industry. My father worked in the paper mill his whole life, and I worked in that paper mill in the summertime to pay for my school, so I was exposed to it early on. It was the lifeblood of my upbringing. That's what pretty much everybody did in the area.

As I moved through my career, I worked for companies that manufactured products. So I started in the different side of it, and then, as I moved into, I've always enjoyed being in the factory and seeing the production being done.

It's always had a hands-on feel, so it's enabled me to be better at the front-end of the business and better understand what goes on behind the scenes in the plant.

Lisa Ryan: I know that you like being in the plant. What are some things you've done with your workplace culture in connecting with your employees and engaging them? What helps you keep them?

Rick Winter: That was a challenge. I've been at SNC for five years now. One of the things that I took on pretty early on was changing the culture at SNC. This is our 75th year of being in business. We have many long-term employees, and with that comes a lot of the traditional, historical, cultural things that may be outdated in many ways. So we are trying to get the culture to be more interactive and break down that barrier of the front office versus the factory—that and getting everybody to understand that we're more of a team.

One of the first things I did was to set up quarterly all-hands meetings. During these sessions, we talk to the employees, just like everybody else. We tell them how things are going, how we're doing against our revenue goals, our bottom-line goals, and then the other initiatives we're doing.

We're getting them to feel a little more ownership and understanding of their stake and making them understand that they're an important cog in this whole system. Without them, we can't deliver on our end. So that was one of the things we started doing was getting more employee events. Recently, we took the entire factory to a local minor league baseball game. We do that once a summer, and they bring their families. We do stuff like that throughout the year. We have events on-site and host dinners or barbecues where the staff grills out for the employees.

We try to get our employees to realize that we appreciate what they do by doing small things with more interaction.

Lisa Ryan: So you say it's an all-hands meeting that you're having - the office staff, along with the leadership team and the people in the plant?

Rick Winter: Correct. It's everybody from the owner of the company on down. The management team will do the presentation. We have a template that we use. We do it during the lunch hour, and we'll usually bring in lunch that day for the employees - whether it's food trucks or we have a catered. We go through 15-20 minute quick updates on what's going on with business and making sure they're informed.

Lisa Ryan: Many times, you see that there's this kind of us versus them mentality, with the people in the office versus the plant. I'm assuming that this has helped in developing more of those relationships. Do you have any before and after stories? What was it like before you started doing these meetings with the office and the plant people now that they're getting together like that regularly?

Rick Winter: During last year, we couldn't have in-person meetings. We heard a lot of people say that they missed them and they enjoyed having them. One of the things we always stress in the meeting is a customer highlight because, for all they know, they're just handling all these components and putting together parts, and they have no idea what they're going to do. So we tell employees what the part is, what it does, what it goes in, and connect it. As a result, we've seen improvement in our quality. 

We're trying to show the bottom line and how being more efficient improves the bottom line. We can do more things with benefits and raises. We stress, for example, in Wisconsin, we make a lot of military parts. We can tell them, "Hey, this part is going on to the new navy destroyer," and they take a little pride in that. They understand that. They're paying a little bit more attention to what they're doing, knowing the importance of what that thing is that they're making and where it's going. Those are some of the benefits of it.

Lisa Ryan: And it gives them that feeling that they're part of something bigger than themselves, no pun intended. They see the pride of this piece. So when you're saying it's going on a destroyer, they're going to make darn sure that it's not their point that their product that fails on that, so it's just these little things. 

A couple of years ago, when I spoke for the Industrial Fastener Association, one of the guys said they had a part of the week. So they took a particular fastener, and they showed what the part was and showed where it went. 

So it's these little things that you're doing that's building that connection that, like you said it improves quality and improves pride. You're getting the conversation going by being transparent and letting all the employees know what's happening - the good, the bad, and the ugly, particularly this last year.

Rick Winter: yeah yeah, exactly.

Lisa Ryan: So what are some of the things that keep you up at night?

Rick Winter: We're challenged like I'm sure everybody else out there with Labor issues. We've had to increase wages to compete with everybody else, fighting for the limited worker out there. That's nothing new.

The other thing is the supply chain. Logistics are significant problems and have become a daily battle where we're spending excessive time.

Just communicating with customers and often not giving good news, A part typically has a two-week lead time. It's now six to eight weeks. Sometimes we can't even provide a lead time or commit to a ship date because we're not getting committed ship dates from our suppliers, which makes me responsible for our customers.

I'm extra vigilant in ensuring that if they need something, they will look to see if they can get it somewhere else. We are trying to make sure that we can secure the parts. We value those relationships with those customers and keep them updated monthly. I send out customer updates with a newsletter of what's going on. We update our customers on the challenges we're facing with our supply chain and logistics. 

We're doing the best we can to meet their commit dates. But, again, it's about keeping those lines of communication open. We let them know that we didn't suddenly lose the recipe and couldn't make parts in a timely fashion. It's been a challenge maintaining customers. These are some of the things we're doing.

Lisa Ryan: The newsletter is an exciting idea because it does give a bit of communication and transparency. Also, it's probably not something that your competitors are doing. So at least customers know where they stand with you. They might not necessarily like it, but the point is that they know.

So what are some of the things that you communicate? For example, you're communicating timelines, and what are some of the other things you're putting in that? Have you gotten any feedback from your customers after sending that out?

Rick Winter: We let customers know if we get a new piece of equipment. For instance, we got an automated welding system which we put into our Mexico plant. I talk about how we use it and the benefits to our plant efficiency and quality. 

Also, if we launch a new product line or introduce a new product, we let them know. We do a lot of custom work and have some standard offerings, but I'll talk about that in the newsletter if we bring on some new stuff. Also, if we qualify for a new mil-spec or any of those product lines, we will inform them that the product line is now updated with this certificate.

Lisa Ryan: It also gets your customers saying, I didn't know you did that. You're letting them know all the different ways that you can help them instead of just the one product that they had been ordering from you before they knew the other things that you offer.

Rick Winter: One of the benefits we've seen is where somebody has come back because we may have been making one or two custom parts for them, and also they come back. Oh, I didn't know you guys did this. So it's helped, and that's an essential piece during the pandemic. The ability to meet and see customers were restricted. I don't know whether that business is ever going to come back.

It's been increasingly more challenging over the last decade or so, using the Internet. You can't walk in and cold call people. With COVID, it makes it even more challenging. We use the newsletter, and we're also using a lot of email communications to customers. We communicate with them as a primary lead generation tool. We let them know what we're doing and see if we can do anything for them.

Lisa Ryan: How often does that go out?

Rick Winter: we're just we just started it about three-four months ago. We're starting monthly at this point, and it varies. We have different programs, so we have certain target accounts or other market sectors that will go after, and depending on those, sometimes they may be, every couple weeks. So it's that delicate balance of being an irritant and informative and so for our general customers is monthly.

Lisa Ryan: It sounds like a great idea, mainly if along the way you started highlighting different customers or customers of the month or product of the month. If people or companies are mentioned there, we all like to see our name up in lights.

Rick Winter: We'll do a similar one. We'll do a quarterly newsletter with the contract reps. I'll do the same thing. I'll feature a new sales success with a person because all the sales guys want to see their name in print. I'll list all the new customers and new reps, or if they've done anything that stands out as well, we'll talk about that in there. You're right; people always want to see their name and in print or some media.

Lisa Ryan: If you're looking for ways to engage employees using different tools, like having an intracompany newsletter. You're highlighting successes and highlighting the company's mission and the other products that you have. It is a great tool to keep in touch with your customers. 

It's also a great tool to share information, along with the meetings that you're doing. Looking for ways to create those relationships to happen because, as you mentioned, we're all fighting for the same people to come and join our firm. When you have good employees, they create a culture that they don't want to leave. They're not going to go down the street for 50 cents more an hour because they feel connected and enjoy what they're doing. They think they're part of something bigger.

So if you were to think about from a networking standpoint, what would be some of the things that you would potentially like to learn from other manufacturers, and what would you be willing to share with your expertise with other manufacturing colleagues?

Rick Winter: Well, I read a lot about automating and everybody they talk about automating; to get over the labor challenges that we're all facing and replacing it with automation which, deep down, nobody wants to do. You don't want to replace all these jobs with machines, but you may inevitably have to be a viable organization at the end of the day.

I'm interested to know what other manufacturers are doing in long-term automation lines. Have they been aggressively going after it? For example, there's a big show coming up in Chicago in a couple of weeks called FABTECH where it's just you go there, and it's like a playground of automated equipment.

Lisa Ryan: yep, I love it. I'm speaking there, so I'm very excited about going there.

Rick Winter: We go every year. We'll go, and we'll walk the floor. I'll go down there with our VP of operations. We go through and look at all the different types of equipment that are there. The last time we went, we bought some equipment that helped streamline some of our molded capabilities by automating them. We didn't replace any employees with it. Still, it significantly contributed to the bottom line because we allowed those to automate that area, which took four employees. We were able to repurpose those employees into other roles.

I'd be curious to see what other manufacturers are doing along those lines and then what they are doing in their marketing and sales activities. The challenge is getting in front of customers and the lack of trade shows. We cannot get in to see people. What other tactics may they are they employing that are successful.

Lisa Ryan: The funny thing is with automation is it does become a recruiting tool, because when you have employees come in and see some big fancy robot or some automation, it's like, wow, that's cool, I want to work on that, so it does have some other positive benefits from a recruiting standpoint.

Rick Winter: Even though we have automated a few different things for the welding line and this molded line, we didn't reduce staff. It's just increased efficiency and allowed us to focus on those people in other areas. So in our industry, not a lot has changed in the transformer world. Of course, there are automated multi-spindle machines and all that. They are a little bit sexy, but all at all, it's not that sexy of an industry.

Lisa Ryan: And what would be some of the things that you would be willing to share if people wanted to reach out to you.

Rick Winter: I would be willing to talk about what we're doing and in our customer outreach or are programs that we're doing to keep customers updated and try to get new customers. I'd be happy to talk about any of those activities and what we're doing internally to make our place of employment more desirable for people to work and want to be here.

Lisa Ryan: So, and as we're getting to the end of our time together, if you had one tip for manufacturers today as far as working on that culture, the thing you feel would be the easiest for somebody to start implementing what would be your best tip.

Rick Winter:

  1. Talk to people.
  2. Talk to your employees.
  3. Talk to other people in your industry as well as other people in the manufacturing field.
  4. See what they're doing and see what's practical.

The most important thing you can do is ask questions and ask what they like or, more importantly, what they would like to see. That can steer you in many different directions and answer a lot of those questions and help at least get you going in some direction.

Lisa Ryan: Thank you so much for being on the show today. If somebody did want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Rick Winter: Shoot me an email at rwinter@SNCMfg.com 

Lisa Ryan: Thank you so much for your time today. It's been great chatting with you.

Rick Winter: Thanks. Lisa enjoyed it.

Lisa Ryan: I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers Network Podcast. See you next time.

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