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10/1/2019 | 6 MINUTE READ

Employee Buy-In Drives Chicago Powder Coater

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S&B Finishing Company is a 5-Time Products Finishing Top Shop Recipient, thanks to its long-time employees.

Kenny Spielman has four basic tenets to running his business, S&B Finishing Company in Chicago. The powder coater has over 40 years in the finishing industry, so, when he offers advice, it would be wise to take it.

His first mantra is simple, but not often followed by many shops: surround yourself with great people and continuously provide training. Out of the 55 people who work at S&B, 20 of them have been with the company for more than 20 years.

“Our average experience is about 12.5 years,” Spielman says. “We have over 30 people with 10 years of experience and that doesn’t count the people who have retired from here. I tell people when I hire them, ‘This is your last job.’”

 

That extensive staff experience is one of the reasons S&B has been named a Products Finishing Top Shop five years in a row, a rare accomplishment among liquid and powder coating operations. The shop on West Franklin Boulevard (about 15 minutes from downtown Chicago) provides powder coating, liquid coating and multistep coating services, including assembly, packaging, design and silk screening.

 
two men on plant floor

Jose Gutierrez, plant manager, and Uju Nkemena, general manager, have aided Spielman in making the shop a 5-time Top Shops recipient.

Spielman’s other tenets are: always follow up with a customer, make time to pay attention to a supplier’s salesperson who may have some great advice, and always exceed customers’ expectations. Spielman credits his team for S&B’s success and makes sure to include them in the decision-making process, whenever possible. For example, employees vote on what benefits they want to receive (such as bonuses versus extra vacation) and which holidays to take.

“At this point, everyone here has four to five weeks of vacation because of their longevity,” he says. “But it’s their benefits, so I let them decide. It gives them a voice in how we operate.”

Employee Buy-In to Quality Approvals

workers on shop floor

Employee involvement was a big reason the shop won ISO 9001 approval that S&B established several years ago.

That experience and employee involvement goes well with an ISO 9001 approval standard that the S&B established several years ago. It wasn’t at the direction of a specific customer request. Instead, the facility decided to undertake the quality standard in order improve its processes and procedures, and Spielman says they had complete employee buy-in during the process.

The different departments mapped and examined every powder coat process for improvement opportunities, including steps such as purchasing the correct materials, powder coating the parts and properly packaging and shipping the product when it was completed. Spielman says that, if there was a nonconformance, the problem was resolved through team meetings to fix the problem for good. As a result of the ISO 9001 program, he says employees are more confident and competent in their work, and they also clearly understand what they need to do and continuously improve.

“Our people truly embraced the quality standard once they realized how it was going to improve their work,” Spielman says. “You can take a reject and always look at the painter and point a finger at him, but it made us ask the question of ‘why’ did this happen? Was the part not hung properly, did it have water dripping from the part, and any other variable that we would need to solve so it didn’t happen again.”

One of the changes S&B made several years ago was to get rid of their automatic coating processes and put in manual booths, as well as spray-to-waste and use all virgin powder when coating. Those changes almost immediately reduced the amount of rejects.

“We have virtually no rework now,” Spielman says. “We simply slowed the line down to paint the part and inspect it. If the line is running 20 feet a minute and our inspectors can look at only one out of every 50 parts, then you are leaving it up to your customer to look at the other 49 parts for you.”

Long-Time Customers Keep Business Growing

woman masking parts

As a result of the ISO 90001 program, Spielman says employees are more confident and competent in their work, and they also clearly understand what they need to do and continuously improve.

Spielman started S&B with his father, Ralph, in 1977, but the family’s involvement in the finishing industry goes back much farther to when they made paints and chemical coatings as Capital Chemical, which they sold in the 1970s. A few years later, Ralph wanted to go back to work, so the son purchased a finishing line from a lamp company and modified it to a fully automated operation and rebranded it S&B Finishing.

The company is now in its second location, a 35,000-square-foot facility where it coats products for larger OEMs, such as Caterpillar, Ford, Freightliner, General Motors, John Deere and others. Spielman says S&B still has many of the same customers it started out with more than 40 years ago. Couple that with the many experienced employees gives them a longtime partnership that can’t often be beat and accounts for 90% repeat customers.

“I just think we get so used to each other,” he says of their customers.

Bill Marmitt can attest to that, too. He has been an outside sales rep at S&B Finishing for more than 35 years and says that, despite significant changes in the technology used to communicate with clients, a straightforward, honest communication is the key to their success.

“To have longevity in any area you need to be genuine, you really do,” Marmitt says. “Customers pick up when you’re genuine.”

Tony Modro has been with S&B for over 30 years and says the personal relationships he has developed with customers is key to the company’s growth.

“Sitting down in front of a customer face-to-face allows us to have the tools right in front of us,” he says. “The client can bring in the actual piece part or I can bring a bunch of sample chips. Everyone hides behind the computer and cell phone these days. There are companies that will order up a chip sample without knowing what the true application of that product should be.”

Progressive Employee Benefits

men powder coating parts

The company has a training center across the street from the shop which Spielman purchased several years ago in order to keep team members up-to-date on best practices and refreshing their knowledge.

S&B is also very progressive when it comes to the benefits Spielman offers his team members, as well as his interactions with the neighborhood in which the shop resides. S&B offers tuition reimbursement for employees who want to further their education, although Spielman says he will pay for a yoga class if that helps an employee become more well rounded.

The company has a training center across the street from the shop which Spielman purchased several years ago in order to keep team members up-to-date on best practices and refreshing their knowledge. Several years ago, Spielman started a chess club for the neighborhood school and invited students to come after classes to the training center to learn and play with S&B employees.

“We’d grill them hot dogs and really try to entertain them,” he says. Behind S&B’s facility is an empty lot Spielman owns that he allows neighborhood residents to plant gardens to raise vegetables and other items. Their location is near Humbolt Park, Chicago’s second largest public park area, and Spielman says he tries to give back to the neighborhood whenever he can.

“We’ve been here 31 years, and it looked terrible when we moved in, and then it got better for a time, and then bad and good again,” he says. “I try to be a mindful business owner. My neighbors don’t like to smell paint or the hear the trucks at 5:30 in the morning. I’m one of the few manufacturers left in the area, and it’s hard to do business here sometimes, but we help when we can.”

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