Q&A with Erik Spurling

Director of sales with Forest City Gear

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What do you do with FCG?

I am director of sales for Forest City Gear. My primary responsibility is to add structure and greater efficiency to the Forest City Gear sales organization and help develop strategies to reach new customers. I learned early on the company relies on its reputation, brand recognition and long history of success to generate much of its sales, whether “Cut Teeth Only” or “Make Complete.” Our sales objective going forward will be more proactive: leveraging our capabilities to take existing customer relationships to an even higher level and seeking out new opportunities.

What are the core principles/philosophies that influence FCG’s relationships with its customers?

I did a lot of investigating in why Forest City Gear is such a valued supplier that customers are literally seeking us out. What I found out is there’s truly an uncompromising commitment to quality, innovation, and service at FCG. We do the work no one else can do, will do, or wants to do. And we take on all comers. We love to take on difficult challenges.

What are your most significant capabilities that give an advantage in meeting customer needs?

Quality isn’t an option here. It’s kind of a blasé statement, but we have full visibility throughout the supply chain. We have eyes and hands using technology to touch the product from “cradle to grave”. From start to finish, quality is such a differentiator, anything that leaves this building is uncompromised when it comes to the highest quality. If you think about just our quality lab; it’s absolutely state of the art. There’s likely not a higher quality lab anywhere on par with what we have here in Roscoe, IL specific to the range of work we undertake. We have always put the responsibility for quality on our operators, by the time the product arrives at our inspection lab it has gone through multiple quality checks, it’s pretty much a flawless system. Everybody has ownership in our products and especially the quality of the finished products that leave our facilities.

While Forest City Gear is known for its high quality, custom gears in relatively low volumes, it also has a high-volume capability. Tell us about that.

We’ve always been the organization who would take on all comers. So, what that did was create a reputation for doing the prototype work — helping large organizations that maybe even have their own gear-cutting capabilities work out all the bugs. We are the ones who can figure out all the problems before they become production scale problems. We’ve historically been the organization which does the fives, the 10s, the onesies, twosies. We’ve always missed that first production run even as a secondary backup supplier.

So, our ownership made a conscious business decision to say, “Look, we’ve done all that upfront work, who’s in a better position to do production runs than we are”? We’ve literally engineered the entire system, already.

So, another building was constructed, and it was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery that does nothing but high volume. In that building is a Reischauer RZ160 and a Felsomat FRC 600 robot. Literally, the Reischauer operates faster than the robot can load it. We’ve are now perfectly positioned to do these high-volume operations over there. We just completed a job which would have taken our normal production facility 13,000 hours. Moving it over to the high volume, high production facility, we were able to produce that same exact product in 2,400 hours. What that allows us to do is pass on all that savings to the customers.

While the perception is that we’re specialists in solving the extraordinarily difficult, high-quality work that others might pass on, the reality is that we also have exceptionally strong resources for both initial, and continuous, higher volume production runs.

What are some of the forces at work in the industry that pose challenges and opportunities?

It’s the customer requirements, customer expectations and the compliance issues. It’s all the certifications which are now required. Everything from risk mitigations, the procedural documentations, the quality assessment and on-site audits. There’s just this myriad of paperwork and accountability that’s been blended into the normal course of business activity. In the old days, you just made the product. Now, you have to have verification in every step of the process, not only from what happens in our building, but we’re fully accountable for our suppliers and outside services as well.

And obviously, the cost of maintaining and updating equipment. The entry fee into this industry is very high, and equipment wears out like anything else. Updating the equipment and keeping things running at an optimal level is a significant challenge. But it’s one challenge we’re very committed to. We spend a significant portion of our annual revenue making sure we have current machinery running at optimum levels and acquiring brand new equipment.

How are the people and resources of FCG rising to the occasion?

We’re driven by technology here. We require our employees to be more tech savvy, more knowledgeable. So, we have a knowledge transfer amongst employees through training. We engage in numerous cross-training activities. Then of course you can never overlook the continuing education and the new equipment training which is always rolling through here. We’re constantly evolving. And our workforce has to evolve at the same rate as the technology. We have a huge commitment to education, and I think, foundationally, we know we have to stay not on the leading edge of technology but ahead of the technology curve or else you fall behind. 

MORE INFO  www.forestcitygear.com