State Line is poised for growth in 2021
Look for a choppy 2020 to turn into a slow rebound during the first quarter of 2021, followed by accelerating growth throughout the rest of the year. Watch for State Line Foundries’ long-term approach to pay dividends, predicts the company’s president, Jesse Milks.
“We’re well-positioned to take on additional business – quickly – when things turn around. We feel confident about where we are operationally. We’re especially confident in the people we have on our team. We’re ready for growth,” he explains.
Preparing for the rebound
State Line has been aligning itself for a rally for several years, including its 2018 acquisition of Winnebago Foundry, just five miles from the company’s foundry in Roscoe, Illinois.
“Having the two foundries provides us with more capacity, additional capabilities and greater flexibility,” Milks explains. “Each foundry has strengths that are slightly different. That enables us to take on a bigger range of customer needs, as well as service their current needs even better than before.”
The versatility offered by the two foundries means that State Line can help its customers find the perfect fit for their needs from the very start of the relationship.
“We usually direct a new customer to the appropriate foundry and their business stays there,” Milks explains. “Communication between the foundry and the customer is critical. We’ve found that it works better for a customer to have a direct line of communication to one team when questions and needs arise.”
The acquisition has brought additional benefits. Each foundry has proven processes that the other has adopted. It has also improved supply efficiencies. “We’re buying almost twice as much material now, so we’re able to leverage more options in the marketplace,” Milks asserts.
State Line also provides lab work, which Winnebago previously had to send to an outside supplier. Winnebago provides in-house heat-treatment capabilities, whereas State Line does not. “Sharing resources has improved our turnaround times and quality with the ability to control more processes internally,” Milks stresses.
Additional internal improvements
Optimizing both facilities has been a key step in Milks’ growth strategy. State Line also took steps in 2020 to add talent to an already experienced team, including the addition of staff to facilitate prototype development.
“Prototyping is something we excel at,” Milks emphasizes. “Our customers appreciate that because many foundries avoid prototype castings. We say, ‘bring it on!’”
The foundries are more capable than ever of building pattern tools and completing the front-end engineering for sample and production castings. During 2020, State Line did a record volume of front-end engineering work for its customers.
In early 2020, State Line also completed the installation of a new sand reclamation system that increases the percentage of recycled sand that can be used in the mold-making process. It ultimately reduces the amount of spent sand that was previously sent to a landfill.
“We have a good blend of young talent with new-to-us capabilities plus experienced foundrymen that work well together to solve complex problems every day.” Milks shares.
Retaining staff – and shifts
State Line’s leadership team has prioritized retaining workers, even during slower times. “We’re proud that we’ve been able to keep all of our employees working 40 hours per week throughout the pandemic,” Milks affirms.
It wasn’t always easy. “We’ve moved people to different positions. In the process, they’ve learned new skills, which will serve us well as business picks up.”
Maintaining the second shift through these rocky times was a major priority for the State Line leadership team. “Adding a shift takes a lot of time and effort and ramp-up,” Milks clarifies. “Now, when markets improve, we can add capacity very quickly.”
He is glad to keep everyone gainfully employed for the good of the staff, the foundries and ultimately State Line’s customers. “They are the most valuable part of our business.” As new orders come in, those experienced employees will be ready to produce immediately.
In contrast, foundries that try to add a shift during the coming months will face significant logistical and personnel hurdles, causing them to react slowly to increases in demand.
Milks promises that won’t be the case with State Line: “We’re ready now with the capacity, processes and experienced staff.”
The industry outlook
2020 was a softer year in general for the foundry industry but activity started to pick up late in the year, Milks summarizes. “We are excited to see what 2021 brings. Some markets are strong. Municipal markets are strong, defense too, and automotive is coming back. Oil and gas are struggling and agricultural equipment is hurting a bit.”
He believes that the momentum he saw in late 2020 will continue into early 2021 and that it will gain steam as the year progresses, followed by a strong 2022.
As Milks looks forward to 2021, customer service will be a major priority:
“We’re going to continue to grow by spoiling our customers with the best customer service, including quick deliveries and the best communication in the industry,” he says. “Doing that very efficiently will help them gain confidence in our capabilities and the results we can produce for them.”
The State Line business strategy, proven time and again, is “that a customer comes in with a first casting, which turns into two, which turns into three and then four. And five years later, they have hundreds of part numbers with us.”
In the future, look for State Line – which did not lose a customer in 2020 – to do more of what got them here:
“We’ll continue to exceed our customer’s expectations and gain new business along the way,” Milks emphasizes. “We’ll stick to the tried-and-true: Gaining our customers’ trust and respect, day after day.”
That will position the company perfectly for a booming foundry market. “We’re excited for a rebound to happen,” he states. “When it does, we’re ready to go.”
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