Q&A with Zen Cichon

President, Innovative Rack & Gear Co.

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How long has your company been in business, and how did you get started?

My brother, Jerry, is the vice president, and the two of us started the business in 1995. We’d worked together at another aerospace gear company, and we eventually had the opportunity to create something of our own. So we started off with a 40 year-old Naval surplus Fellows rack shaper, thinking we wouldn’t have much to lose if it didn’t work out, but things have just taken off from there. We employ 12 people now, and our customers are based all across the United States, from coast to coast.

How big is your manufacturing facility?

First we rented 1,500 square feet, then 3,000 and then 4,500, so then we bought our building, which has 6,500 square feet. And we could already use twice that amount of space.

Sounds like you’re seeing proof that the economy’s improving.

Work has definitely increased lately. We’ve worked on everything from very fine-pitch racks for medical equipment in the past, and now we’re moving up to very large, course-pitch gear racks, which is something we’d definitely like to get more involved in. We’d like to produce the whole gamut of gear racks eventually.

Apart from tackling larger jobs and acquiring new equipment, what else do you have in the works?

We’ve been working on getting ISO approved, for one thing, but since we’re still a pretty small company we sometimes have to direct our resources and time into other things. But we did contact a consultant, and I’d say we’re about 80 percent of the way through the process of applying for ISO 9000 certification.

What are your reasons for doing this?

Some companies require their suppliers to be ISO certified, but we haven’t really run across that, and we haven’t lost any business because of it. But it’s just one of those things that a growing company needs to pay attention to at some point. Plus I can see how it would really help to streamline operations in a number of ways.

How so?

We started this company from scratch, and we had to learn how to do everything ourselves. Whenever we bought a piece of equipment, we had to learn how to run it, and that’s everything from the CNC machines to the lathes, rack milling machines, and vertical machining centers. And one thing that working toward ISO certification does is that it forces you to put everything down on paper. Ever since Jerry and I started this company, we’ve had a lot of things that were in our heads, but we hadn’t written them down. So now we’ve come up with something that’s basically a manual of what we do, and how we do it, and so we can just hand that over to a new employee without having to train them on every single thing ourselves. We’ll just step in and help them with the specifics, which will save a lot of time.

Based on your own experience, do you think it was necessary to call a consultant, or do you see any way that someone in your position could do it themselves?

I would think that somebody could do it themselves, it just depends on how much time they’re willing to devote to it. I saw the consultant as somebody who already knew what they were doing and could keep me from wasting my time stumbling around in the dark. You’d have to do a lot of reading and research to do it yourself, and most business owners are probably a lot like me–they’ve got better things they could be doing with their time, like actually running the business.

MORE INFORMATION  For more information on Innovative Rack & Gear Co., call (630) 766-2652, or send e-mail to info@gearacks.com. Visit them online at www.gearacks.com.