Optimas Solutions recently announced a renewed strategy for its Americas market that is focused on delivering ‘manufacturing solutions’ to customers. Here we speak to Marc Strandquist, chief executive officer at Optimas, to find out more about the strategy and how it will benefit customers.
In September, Optimas announced it was introducing a renewed strategy for its Americas market. Tell us more about it.
“When I joined the company in January the first thing I noticed, which was a pleasant surprise, was the amount of resources at Optimas and I felt that these were under developed and not being focused on as much as they should be. With that in mind, we decided to renew the strategy and focus on delivering ‘manufacturing solutions’.
The term ‘manufacturing solutions’ has two meanings for us. Firstly, our customer base – the OEMs and tier suppliers – manufacture products and to do so they need our products to assemble them. So, for this definition it is how we ensure that we are providing the products our customers’ need. Secondly, as a business we also have our own in-house manufacturing capability in Chicago, which a lot of customers do not realise. The Chicago site includes some pretty amazing capabilities, so for this definition it is about how we can use this production to further enhance the products and services we are providing customers.
To enable us to deliver these ‘manufacturing solutions’ we have spent 2020 introducing a lot of new procedures and developing this aspect of the business, which was not made easy by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, we have been very focused on coming out of this pandemic with a better, stronger, more agile and more customer responsive company and we are now in a position to be able to introduce the strategy.”
What are the parts of the business that you have looked to develop and how will this help you support customers further?
“As a business, Optimas is an amalgamation of a variety of acquisitions, which means there have been a lot of capabilities added over the years. However, what the company has lacked is a clear value-added proposition to explain to customers exactly what we can do.
We have therefore been extremely active in optimising parts of the business to provide a complete overall service to customers. For instance, at our manufacturing plant in Chicago we have implemented new manufacturing software – which provides us with a modern ERP system. This has allowed us to take a gigantic leap forward in this regard. From a manufacturing process perspective, this is a state of the art system, including screens on the shop floor that show live information regarding each and every machine. This helps us to analyse processes and orders in significantly more detail.
We have also implemented ToolsGroup, a probabilistic forecasting, demand and supply planning solution that more accurately optimises inventory, better predicts supply chain behaviour, and helps us and the customer perform more efficiently. It identifies a range of outcomes and the probability of each of those outcomes occurring. Inventory optimisation (IO) systems can then use this information to better identify the optimal inventory targets.
We have also introduced a new Cloud-based CRM system, which will be implemented across the business and is a further example of us using state of the art technology to help us stand out as a tech-enabled supplier to our customers.
The market post Covid-19 is going to be very different and as a business it is going to be vital that you are able to utilise technology to provide products and services to the different markets and customers. You have to be innovative and look at how you are going to improve your supply chain and streamline costs.
Another example of us optimising technology is our new eCommerce website, which I believe rivals the leading companies in the sector. The platform was already developed, but we had the wrong strategy around it – we offered a variety of different products, but we didn’t stock anything. We have therefore converted it into an inventory-based, much more competitive platform.
We are also now offering it to our larger customers – so they can use it for their suppliers. With the customer’s approval we are going to be able to give access to all their suppliers and they are going to be able to order products straight off the website. It would be like buying from any other online source and they can then just go and checkout. This will make it a lot easier for our customers, and their suppliers, to find the products they need from us.
One final note on being a tech-enabled company, and underlining our capabilities, is on the JIT (Just In Time) front. As a business we are able to supply RFID bin systems, in addition to two bin systems, but it was a service that we were not promoting. Some companies can struggle with this type of service, but we are able to provide a good service and competitive price. We just need to do it and make sure our customers are aware of what we can provide.”
As mentioned, alongside its distribution capabilities, Optimas also has its own manufacturing capability. What does this add to the business and what are the benefits to customers?
“The manufacturing plant in Chicago is a 140,000 square foot (13,000m2) facility, so it isn’t a small place, and it has some amazing equipment – including a 3D printer for prototyping. However, it wasn’t being fully utilised and was just being used for blueprints from the distribution part of the business. This led to the manufacturing capabilities of the business not really being recognised by customers.
We have therefore introduced three salespeople focused on the manufacturing side and they are giving it a real big push. In many ways it is a separate company, on separate systems, and we are going to be developing our own customer base in order to bring some stability and sustainability to that plant.
By bringing the manufacturing side to the forefront, alongside the other aspects of the business, we can underline to customers that we are able to provide the full package and create some excitement within the market. Previously it was almost as if we were embarrassed to talk about what we could offer, but we need to focus on it if we are going to make ourselves stand out in the market.
If a customer just wants a box of bolts, then there are thousands of competitors. If the customer wants a JIT system, then the numbers go into the high hundreds, if they want RFID and scales programmes it goes down to the mid-hundreds. When the customer starts look at engineering support, you are going down to low hundreds. You then have those that need a true global presence, we have a large international division in Europe and in Asia – China and Taiwan, so now you are in the double-digits regarding competition. Finally, if you include in-house cold heading manufacturing capability, which a customer can lean on when there is a problem, then you are talking a handful of companies.
To have all of this capability puts us at the very forefront of the industry and we need to be shouting it from the rooftops and that is what we will be looking to do going forward – both within the Americas as well as internationally.”
How has the company had to adapt since the outbreak of the pandemic and what are your plans for the future?
“There is no management team in any industry around the world that has dealt with a situation such as the Covid-19 pandemic before. It is a once in a lifetime situation. I believe that we have managed the situation successfully. It has been a very difficult time, but we have taken all the necessary steps in terms of being successful. We have been able to adapt quickly by keeping the employees engaged, such as holding regular ‘town hall’ meetings (virtually) where we talked about what was going on.
Throughout my career of managing multiple locations and countries, there is nothing more difficult than trying to get a message out and making sure everybody understands it. So, the more you have meetings and the more you communicate, the more it helps get the message out to everybody within the company.
We want to be the company of choice for not only our customers, but also our employees. That is why it is key they feel part of the process, as well as part of the culture. I think Covid-19 is always going to exist, alongside other illnesses such as the flu, chicken pox, etc. I think this will lead to us adapting how we do business and how we live our lives.
Prior to Covid-19, I believed that everybody should work in the office, but then the pandemic hit and people worked from home and if anything were even more productive. This is just one example of how the pandemic will change how companies work in the future.
I also see Covid-19 as a big opportunity for us to develop our business – as we can utilise our in-house manufacturing. During the pandemic customers may have seen a log jam in their global supply chains. However, thanks to our manufacturing capabilities within Chicago, as well as Gloucester in the UK, we are able to offer the solution. We have the capabilities as a business and we can supply the products and services customers demand. Going forward as a business we are looking to grow and make an impact in the marketplace. We have the tools to do it, we just need to go out and do it.”
Will joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine in 2007 and over the last 12 years has experienced every facet of the fastener sector - interviewing key figures within the industry and visiting leading companies and exhibitions around the globe.
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