Things sure have changed in the last few years. In the summer of 2020, an article featuring Fox Valley Metal-Tech was published in The Fabricator, a leading publication serving the metal fabrication industry. In it Kevin Gosselin, VP of Business Development at Fox Valley Metal-Tech, shared about the state of the industry and how the company was refining its focus on higher value customers.
“We’re not just looking for the next purchase order,” said Gosselin. “We’re looking for opportunities that have the potential to transform our business.”
The dynamic team has been growing the business further since the article first published. Today, we’re sharing an updated interview with Kevin Gosselin to reflect on where the company was then, where it is now, and what the future holds.
We’ve embraced the fact that we cannot be all things to all people and are focused on a core set of customers that meet certain criteria. While it sounds counterintuitive, we’ve reduced the number of customers we do business with significantly, yet we’ve improved our bottom line; that was the intended result. We did a thorough analysis and discovered that only 10% of our revenue resulted from 90% of our customers. We needed to refocus.
We determined that our specialty is providing tight-tolerance complex fabrications for defense and subcontracting businesses, plus a few niche commercial applications. To meet their demands, we freed up our resources and strategically aligned our core competencies with the customers who benefit from them the most. It’s been a win-win.
Like many other organizations, one of the biggest challenges has been getting people to come back to work, and with the reduction of the workforce comes higher wages. We’ve raised wages across the board and implemented other incentives like sign-on bonuses. Still, recruitment, retention, and development remain a challenge. It’s something every industry is facing. In manufacturing, though, the challenge is exacerbated by a push for high school students to pursue four-year degrees instead of promoting the trades. There are efforts being made to change that going forward, but there are decades of lost opportunities behind us.
But there are positives that came out of the pandemic, too. We used to take a very traditional approach to tours and didn’t offer a lot of flexibility for remote work. Because of the pandemic, our company had to use technology differently to accommodate remote workers and virtual meetings to stay up and running. We were forced to do a virtual facility tour for a prospective customer we had been courting for two years and it went phenomenally well. That would have never happened before. It opened our eyes to a lot of possibilities.
We’re not the lowest priced manufacturer in our industry, and we don’t pretend to be. But what we do provide are products that meet our customers’ exact specifications. Rework is almost unheard of. They can build and assemble their products using the components we manufacture because of the quality workmanship and processes we deliver. It’s very rare that they have to return a product because they can’t assemble it due to poor tolerances. They tell us that our fabrications save them time on their end because of the quality. It fits. It works. It’s to spec, and all the documentation is complete and accurate as well.
Rejections in the defense industry are often due to incorrect documentation, not always poor workmanship. Something as simple as using the letter O instead of the number zero (0) in documentation can be reason enough to reject a government project. We have an extreme attention to detail on every aspect of a project.
Another example of value is our manufacturing process and in-house engineering services. Most fabrication companies will build to the customer’s print even if the print is wrong. When it doesn’t work, the fabricator might walk away and say it isn’t their problem because they built it to spec. Our mentality at Fox Valley Metal-Tech is different. We’ll go through the drawings to determine the process for making the product and confirm its design for manufacturability before production starts, identifying potential issues or incorrect dimensions. It takes extra effort, but in the end it’s much less time and money than it would take to do it over.
The expansion allowed us to approach the variety of products we build differently. We were tight for space, but we now have dedicated bays and cells for specific product lines and defense programs. Work flows more efficiently through the facility and there’s simply more breathing room. It also allowed us to bring our specialty coatings and painting capabilities in house where we’re building the projects, eliminating some risks and extra transport to and from multiple facilities. Having everything under one roof allows for much better control.
It’s also an advantage for recruitment. The state-of-the art equipment and cleanliness of our facility are differentiators. The entire building is climate controlled and well lit, making it a comfortable place to work. We’re dispelling the myth that metal fabrication is dirty, dingy, dark, and dusty. That’s not us.
We expect to increase growth even though we currently have a backlog; we’re hiring more workers to keep up with demand. There are additional opportunities to support defense-related shipbuilding programs for aircraft carriers, submarines, frigates, and destroyers. We’re also looking to work directly with shipyards to help with capacity and capability constraints they may have.
I recently spent time in Washington D.C. to connect with representatives from the Submarine Industrial Base Council and the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Council to discuss the state of the industry and its future, and gain a greater understanding of how Fox Valley Metal-Tech can continue to support their efforts. Both events made it clear that there are decades of opportunities for companies like ours. We have people working on projects now whose kids will be able to work in our facility when they grow up. We’ll continue to pursue NAVSEA defense subcontracting projects while still supporting some key commercial accounts.
We make a lot of cool stuff. Some people might not realize how important the work we do every day really is. Everyone plays an important role in supporting various programs for our military and commercial clients. Unlike commodity manufacturers, however, most of our employees don’t get to see the finished product in action. We’re working to change that with additional signage, murals, banners, and other promotional items around the shop. We’ve also brought in Navy officers and admirals to share their appreciation. The sense of pride among our employees has grown as a result of hearing first-hand how the work they do matters for our military soldiers and our country.
Our flexible work environment has also helped strengthen our culture, as has our facility expansion. There likely isn’t another manufacturer in the state with such a clean and organized shop floor that is air conditioned and well lit. Our investment in our facility really has been an investment in our employees and culture.
I encourage anyone looking for a career with a company that has a clear mission, a bright future, and a strong culture, to check out our career opportunities below.