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“It had to work like a watch” An interview with our first customer

Our first customer recalls the experience of working with an unproven supplier.

Fred Winner is a self-proclaimed perfectionist. When he does something, he likes to make sure it’s done right.

He’s retired now, but when we knew him, he was the plant manager for AdvancePierre Foods near Hickory, N.C., the largest integrated sandwich facility in North America. And he was RPM’s very first customer.

When we met him, Fred was facing two main challenges in his facility. He needed to reduce his labor costs, but he also had to fill production roles. Those two problems seem to contradict each other, but it boiled down to the fact that he both didn’t have enough people, and his costs were too high.

So we provided him with a solution. Our TL3 machine would help him get a handle on labor costs, and at the same time eliminate some of the jobs he struggled to fill the most – getting people to load the sandwiches into cartons.

“Everybody’s trying to sell you something.”

There was just one problem. This was 2016 and we had been in business for four years, but we hadn’t sold a machine yet. All we had were prototypes and promises.

Fred, being a shrewd professional, was skeptical when we first met with him. “Everybody’s trying to sell you something,” he told us when we caught up with him recently.

But he told us he was impressed with our ideas, our presentation, and our confidence the machine would do what he needed it to do. “(RPM founder Scott Thiede) was very relaxed, very competent, and very confident,” he said. “That’s what gave us comfort.”

Of course, his faith in us would be dashed if we failed to deliver, and the stakes were very high. Upstream from our machine sat millions of dollars’ worth of production equipment. If our little machine wasn’t tough enough to do it’s job, heads would roll.

“Everything had to work like a watch.”

That’s where Fred’s perfectionism came into play. He was going to make sure it worked. “I get really involved with these processes. I felt like it was my job,” he recalled. “I worked around that machine quite a bit when we first installed it, because it was important to me.

“Everything had to work like a watch.” And sure enough, within six months, Fred said our machine was the most reliable machine on the line.

But it didn’t happen instantly. It was our first machine, after all, and we had a few lessons to learn, mainly about vendors and component suppliers. “There were a few issues, but Scott came in and made modifications at no cost,” he said.

“He really stands behind his product.”

On a personal note, we at RPM owe a debt of gratitude to all of our customers, but especially our first few, like Fred. At that time, we had no heritage or reputation, just our ideas. It would have been easy for Fred to go with a more established brand.

He took a risk by working with us. And it paid off for everyone.

 
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