Kimball Midwest

Kimball MidwestKimball Midwest’s ownership is concerned about serving customers and cultivating employees over short-term profits.

By Tim O’Connor

Customer demands are always evolving, and suppliers must constantly work to keep up. That’s especially true for businesses that provide the everyday tools and equipment companies need to keep their business running. “[Customers are] pressured to do more and it’s imperative we partner with them to help them be more efficient in what they do,” says Chas McCurdy, vice president of Kimball Midwest, a supplier of maintenance, repair and operations products.

The trend in distribution today is toward just in time delivery. Kimball Midwest prides itself on having a large inventory with an emphasis on, “if you want it, we have it.” “We definitely are setting the pace and leading the industry in service rate and fulfillment rate,” McCurdy says.

He credits Kimball Midwest‘s ability to hold more than 45,000 items in stock – and its access to another 400,000 SKUs through vendor relationships – to the company’s status as a family-owned business. Unlike some competitors, there are no stockholders or corporate corporate leadership to pressure Kimball Midwest into maintaining a low inventory to help the quarterly financial statements. The company understands the value to customers of having an ample stock of products in reserve. “It is more important to us to be able to deliver the product than it is to tell the shareholders we’re making more money,” McCurdy says.

“We’ve driven our business for 40 years without having [a focus on] short-term results,” he adds.

Improving Efficiency

Kimball Midwest serves the industrial maintenance aftermarket, providing customers from road construction contractors to manufacturers with anything they need to maintain capital equipment. The company was founded in 1923 and its core values derive from its ownership. “Being family owned and operated gives us a lot of advantages over publicly traded and stockholder held organizations,” McCurdy says. “Our decisions and our ideas are based on the long-term and not just meeting quarterly expectations.” Kimball Midwest box

The company’s lineup of products includes abrasives, cutting tools, lighting, lubricants, material handling components, solvents and safety gear. More than 80 percent of its inventory dollars are spent on products made in the U.S., an important part of how Kimball Midwest supports American workers and ensures consistency and quality. Although the products are manufactured through private label agreements, Kimball Midwest is directly involved with production and sets its own specifications that make items unique to the marketplace.

Four distribution centers located in Columbus, Ohio, Savannah, Ga., Dallas and Reno, Nev., enable Kimball Midwest to serve customers across the country with timely delivery.

Technology has played a critical role in improving Kimball Midwest’s efficiency. For the past four years, the company has used RF equipment to provide tracking, accuracy and efficiency in distribution. It started with scanning items and putting them in an order, but the uses for RF technology continue to evolve. The company can now use RF to print orders remotely and provide better coordination between its Columbus headquarters and the other distribution facilities.

Kimball Midwest is also improving its ordering system. A salesperson in the field can now take a client’s order and electronically send updates to the distribution centers. Because of the speed of the new ordering system, the company can place the orders on a truck by 5 p.m. the same day and complete delivery within 24 hours.

“We used to touch 100 percent of our orders,” McCurdy says. “Today, we can electronically deal with a great percentage of our orders.”

Supporting Employees

As a family operated company, Kimball Midwest values its relationships with its employees. Even during the Great Recession when businesses were slashing staff left and right, Kimball Midwest never laid off any of its workers. “Our employees are our most valued asset and I don’t think other publicly traded companies can say that,” McCurdy says.

Helping employees further their careers is a key part of maintaining that owner-worker relationship. McCurdy says Kimball Midwest has a systematic approach toward the training and development of its team. Every distribution facility has its own hands-on training facility and programs are in place to ensure new employees are successfully integrated into the company. “Basically, we’ve developed what we call on-boarding processes that we’ve refined over the years and it seems to serve us very well,” McCurdy explains.

Employee input is valued at Kimball Midwest. “Every employee is empowered to bring a new idea to the table and help us with the continuous improvement process,” McCurdy says. Using that feedback, Kimball Midwest has implemented a number of efficiencies, such as electronically propelled carts that allow workers to process dozens of orders at a time.

McCurdy says the collaboration between leadership and employees works because everyone at Kimball Midwest shares common goals. “There’s no substitute for that kind of union, understanding and belief in each other that we can get things done,” he says.

“We value our employees and we want to continue to build our team,” he adds. “If we build our team we’ll see positive results and meet our goal for doubling sales every five years.”

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