In depth: 35 years in a competitive global market
The Waukesha, WI, manufacturer of standard and custom industrial steel work platforms, material lifts, and safety guarding products, Wildeck, has marked its 35th anniversary this year with a community open house and celebration. It is also a long-time member of the Material Handling Industry of America (MHIA). Keith Pignolet, president of Wildeck, talked about thriving for 35 years in a competitive global market.
PE: Congratulations on the 35th anniversary. What’s been the biggest change in your business over those 35 years?
Pignolet: Wildeck, today, is part of an ESOP, which is 100% employee-owned. It has raised awareness that everything each employee does every day contributes to the company’s overall success. Employee ownership promotes involvement, responsibility, and most importantly, pride. During good times and bad, everyone pitches in as a driven, winning team. It’s what we do. Our products are sold through a growing network of experienced dealers and systems integrators, and they have certainly evolved with us. Besides our new ESOP structure, our channel partners have certainly helped Wildeck grow.
PE: What are the keys to U.S.-based manufacturing? What continues to allow you to operate a profitable and growing business?
Pignolet: Quality and responsiveness to meet the customer’s needs. That’s what it’s all about. You have to provide quality products at a fair price and deliver them when the customer wants them. You simply cannot rely on the quality or availability of some parts and components that are manufactured overseas. We hear stories every day of work that is returning to the U.S. due to quality problems, high lead content in paint, etc. Making it here gives us more control over everything, and it creates more jobs in America.
PE: On the other hand, what are the manufacturing challenges you face today? What are the key areas for improvement?
Pignolet: Our focus is on “Lean” processes throughout the company; not just in the shop, but in the office, too. We’re reducing unnecessary handling of materials and reducing paperwork. We are process-mapping everything and eliminating waste. It improves quality, streamlines manufacturing, shortens our delivery time, and lowers costs. Customers will buy when you meet their needs, not your own. That’s where we’re headed and we’re not looking back.
PE: What are the advantages to MHIA membership? How has that trade organization retained its value and relevancy to its members?
Pignolet: We have been an MHIA member as long as I can remember, and that won’t change any time soon. The organization provides vital industry services, technical training, and both economic and market research that helps all members in planning and forecasting business and customer trends. Wildeck also participates on several MHIA subcommittees working to improve product safety industry-wide and establishing standards that will ensure that material handling products manufactured in America will continue to be the safest and best in the world.
PE: You obviously have a strong connection to Waukesha. How has that helped you from a business perspective?
Pignolet: We are celebrating our 35th anniversary as a manufacturer and employer here in Waukesha, and we are only looking to grow—both organically and through acquisitions that make sense for our high-quality metal fabricating business. The work ethic in Waukesha and the surrounding Milwaukee area is strong, and the community is well served by technical colleges, private schools, and the University of Wisconsin System, which has one of the best business schools in the country.
As I stated, people don’t just work here, they are employee-owners, and they make all the difference to our customers. I know the next 35 years will bring good things for Wildeck, and we will continue to contribute to the Waukesha community, making it a good place to live, work, and raise a family.
Return to 2011 Mid-Year Report: Grading on the curve.