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posted: 8/13/2012 6:00 AM

Adapting advice makes Wheeling firm 'better off'

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I was hooked as soon as I read Bruce Gillilan's email. President of Simmons Engineering Corp., Wheeling, Gillilan wrote in June that he had "encountered one of your old articles. As I reread it, I was struck with how pertinent it still is today.

"We actually did a number of the things you recommended."

What counts isn't that my ideas were so good, although my impeccably perfect memory says the September 2009 column was chock full of great ideas. What counts is that "We're better off for what we did," Gillilan said during an interview earlier this month. "Our gross revenues are about what they were in 2008 (before the recession took hold), but our profitability has improved dramatically."

Ultimately, profits matter most.

Gillilan went a big step beyond the column's mostly marketing recommendations. "I didn't embrace this as good only for marketing but as good for all aspects of our business," he says.

Almost any business owner could do today what Gillilan did three years back to assure that his company might prosper. Gillilan acted.

"I believed (the recovery) would be slow," Gillilan says, "but I didn't expect the pace to be glacial. I lost my patience waiting for the improvement. I said, 'We can't change the external factors, so let's take the initiative and start moving forward.'"

At Simmons Engineering, which manufactures band and reciprocating blades for a wide range of industry sectors, moving forward included:

• Enhancing lean manufacturing techniques. (Lean manufacturing, universally credited to processes created by Toyota after World War II, focuses on ways to improve manufacturing efficiencies, control inventory and reduce costs.)

At Simmons last year, part of the lean process was a bonus program that would share $100,000 among the company's 40 employees -- if they could reduce the cost of production three percent. They did. The company did, too.

• Restructured debt, which mainly involved finding a new bank with lower rates and enhanced credit availability.

• A focus on new opportunities. When the original column was written, "60 percent of our business went to the foam industry" Gillilan says, "but that business was leaving the U.S. and heading to China.

"We refocused our domestic efforts on what had been a minor aspect of our product offering, blades for the food industry. We also stepped up our export efforts, especially to China."

The company was "fortunate in both respects," Gillilan says. "Now about 40 percent of our domestic sales are to the food industry, and export has nearly doubled, to 15 percent.

"We expect substantial sales growth in China." Simmons also is looking at food processing opportunities in Vietnam.

• Added staff, including a son-in-law strong in finance and lean instructor experience as a new general manager-sales manager.

• Created a now two-year old advisory board, a mix of company insiders and outsiders.

• The company's website is being refreshed; a new catalog has been released, and "We just did" a distributor training event.

"Planning and action" made a difference at Simmons Engineering, Gillilan says. "We did things."

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at 2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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