Engman-Taylor Co. Inc.

As a key employer in Menomonee Falls, Wis., Engman-Taylor believes it has a civic duty to its community. “I really think we should give back a portion of what we make when we make it,” President Rick Star says.

The industrial distributor has found many conduits for its community service aspirations over the years. Star himself was motivated to advance the company’s charitable giving after his mother died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. “We decided at Engman-Taylor we’re going to do something positive to memorialize her,” he says. The company and its employees became involved in cancer organizations and events. Engman-Taylor supports the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and is the primary sponsor for the PurpleStride run/walk at Miller Park and Fight for Air Climb in Milwaukee.

Although Engman-Taylor is a regional, niche business, the company’s reputation and capabilities have made it competitive with large national and international industrial distributors. That has led to offers to buyout Engman-Taylor over the years. When Star was younger he used to dream of someday selling the family business and getting that big payday. But his father always cautioned him against such shortsighted decisions. “My dad would always tell me, ‘Rick, forget about it. Engman-Taylor is our family business and it’s going to be your engine to do other things.’”

Star never understood what his father was getting at until Engman-Taylor became involved in cancer organizations and community groups. Now the whole company is engaged. Employees regularly participate in the events and suggest other organizations Engman-Taylor should become involved in. “I don’t think that we’ve ever declined one of our team member’s request to support a cause,” Star says.

Its charitable spirit has since extended to other parts of the community. The types of organizations Engman-Taylor wants to support are focused on children, education and health, Star says. On the higher education level, Star’s father and the company provide scholarships to Marquette University and Beloit College. The company also provides funding to HOPE Christian Schools, a network of six college-preparatory schools serving underprivileged students in Milwaukee and Racine, Wis., and Brookfield Academy, a suburban college-preparatory school in Brookfield, Wis. Star points out, “Regardless of their backgrounds, we want to help develop tomorrow’s leaders today.”

 For the past six years, Engman-Taylor has sponsored a local youth baseball team that Star coaches, and even built a winter practice facility for the young athletes in Menomonee Falls. Star sees it as an outreach opportunity for himself and the company. “We’re trying to build character in these kids and show them their own personal limits are always higher than they think they are,” he says.

It’s a message that is woven into the fabric of Engman-Taylor’s own company culture because Engman-Taylor is constantly pushing for new ways to improve quality and customer service. Brothers Carl and Joe Engman founded the company in Milwaukee in 1945 and the business was formally incorporated in 1956 - the company is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. At the beginning, Engman-Taylor specialized in Abrasives for grinding and finishing within the industrial manufacturing marketplace. Additional air tool products were added later, and a focus on cutting tools was established when Dick Star joined the firm in 1971. The company today supplies a range of items such as abrasives, adhesives, finishing supplies, hand tools, electrical wire, lighting equipment, safety rail systems, emergency eyewash stations and grinding machines.

Instead of focusing narrowly on its own prices, Engman-Taylor wants to work with clients to reduce their overall expenses through better products and unmatched service. “The customers we go after are interested in reducing total cost,” Star says.

Branching Out

With a portfolio of those original industrial supplies and additional products such as janitorial, safety and, maintenance items, Engman-Taylor has successfully served the manufacturing sector for nearly 60 years. But the company recently began expanding its distribution services to other markets, such as schools, restaurants and institutional sectors that overlap with its catalog. A classroom might not need a saw blade, but its janitor uses the same chemical cleaners, sanitizers and trash compactors found on a factory floor. “We’re just looking for ways to diversify the business so we’re not just an industrial distributor,” Star says.

Engman-Taylor isn’t planning to radically expand its product lineup, but the company is looking at what it already offers in a new light and pitching those items to new kinds of customers through its salespeople, emails blasts, catalogs and fliers. “It’s gone well,” Star says. “Trying to change existing paradigms and is a little bit challenging at times, but we’ve brought additional people on board that have expertise in those areas.”

The company has grown to five locations – two in Wisconsin, two in Illinois and one in North Carolina – enabling Engman-Taylor to serve the midwestern and southeastern United States. Star says the company is looking to possibly add more facilities in either Kentucky or Tennessee to expand its customer base and connect its two geographic markets.

Each of those facilities can meet its customers’ regional needs, but many of Engman-Taylor’s service offerings still come out of its Menomonee Falls headquarters, such as on-demand product demonstrations. One of the newest services is 3-D printing. Although it is only offered out of Menomonee Falls, Star says customers in any of Engman-Taylor’s markets can utilize the equipment for prototyping or small lot size part orders. 

“Basically, we can make anything as long as it fits in a 12- by 12- by 12-inch cube and made out of a plastic-type material,” Star says. That capability is critical for Engman-Taylor’s customers, many of which are Rust Belt manufacturers still using equipment and machinery built 50 years ago that is no longer being supported. “If a machine part breaks, they may have no source to get a replacement,” Star says. “We can take that part, scan it, reverse engineer it and build a copy in a day.”

There’s been a lot of interest in Engman-Taylor’s 3-D printing capability in the year since it was introduced, Star adds. The customer base for 3-D printing is still in its infancy, but the company is already being careful not to duplicate the 3-D printing services offered by its clients. “We’ve got to make sure they know we’re not competing with them,” Star says of preserving those relationships.

Thriving Partnerships

Engman-Taylor’s mission is to help its customers produce the highest-quality components at the lowest-possible cost. To accomplish that, the company works closely with its clients to find efficiencies. Engman-Taylor has a customer cost-savings team comprised of product specialists who support the sales team. “We try to show our customers how to use the product in the most efficient way,” Star says.

 The customer cost-savings team also uses survey tools to help buyers dig into their operations and discover hidden ways to cut expenses. For the largest customers, Engman-Taylor even sends employees to work full-time alongside the client’s staff. Boat motor manufacturer Mercury Marine, for example, has eight Engman-Taylor employees who work with the company to engineer manufacturing improvements, handle transactions and provide vending equipment to create a smoother-running and less costly operation. 

That partnership continues to thrive as Mercury Marine has come to better understand the value of Engman-Taylor’s hands-on service. At one point, Mercury Marine dropped Engman-Taylor in favor of a competitor that offered lower prices. But the company soon saw its total cost rise and realized there was more to Engman-Taylor’s involvement than just a price chart. “Mercury discovered that they didn’t get the technical support so they brought us back,” Star says.

The ideal Engman-Taylor customer, Star says, is one that understands that value and puts a premium on reducing overall cost. “Everybody wants low price, and that’s what we try to give them,” Star adds. “But we really target those who want to use our services to also lower cost.”

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