Q&A with Michelle Maddox

Sales and Business Development at B&R Machine and Gear Corporation

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Please tell me a little about your background.

B&R Machine and Gear Corporation is a small, family-owned manufacturing facility with a focus in replacement gearing. We are approaching our 50th year in business, and I am very fortunate to be a third-generation member. In my current role, I primarily manage the sales and business development for the company. I initially joined B&R as an administrative assistant while pursuing a degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Over the course of the last 20 years, I have held roles within all the units of our organization, including accounting, human resources, purchasing, sales, and production planning. Having a background in multiple segments has given me the opportunity to wholly understand our process and ultimately better serve our customers.

What is a typical week like at B&R Machine and Gear?

Because we are a custom gear-manufacturing facility, our typical week truly varies. We are primarily providing replacement gearing for rebuilds and repair projects. B&R is one of very few companies to still provide one-off components —high-mix, low volume. It has been part of our business model since inception. Most often, we are manufacturing per customer drawings or their sample parts for a multitude of industries. This week, we are cutting fairly basic spiral bevel gear sets for an OEM gearbox. Last week, we were collaborating with a world-renowned university for an upcoming Baja competition. Every day brings a new challenge or opportunity, and the variations keep it intriguing.

With the many challenges this industry is currently facing, how is B&R managing?

The challenges in today’s economy are certainly not exclusive to the gear industry. We have all experienced the same hardships, especially in the past two years. Whether it be supply chain problems or labor shortages, we have all had to adjust to attempt to overcome the current climate. To touch on a minor example, the ability to source raw materials has consistently been a part of the conversation.

Steel prices, freight increases, and transit times have widely affected our industry. With bar stock being our largest raw material purchased, B&R has been fortunate in countering these struggles. We keep a wide variety of grades and sizes of materials on hand at all times. Stockpiling inventory may not be the most feasible solution for everyone, but it has helped us tremendously.

Conversations that include labor shortages are not new to us. I may overstep, but I don’t believe it is a new conversation to many small business manufacturers. Constantly trying to find unique ways to attract people to this industry is a struggle in itself, and the pandemic certainly added another layer of difficulty to overcome. If anyone has a definitive answer to solving the labor shortage, I am available anytime day or night. (I say that jokingly to ease the stress.) To supplement all the standard ways of recruiting, like many others, we have increased starting pay, added sign-on bonuses, and offered referral bonuses to current employees. Speaking of current employees, retention gained a more intense focus during the past couple of years. A more aggressive pay scale along with performance bonuses have both contributed to the retention. We take a lot of pride in being family owned and truly try to embody that by cultivating a family-like culture. I like to think that has been the primary contributing factor to the above-90-percent retention rates.

You’ve been around since 1974. As the industry has evolved, how do you feel B&R has evolved with it?

Our business model over the past 48 years has largely remained the same: Something quite basic, but engrained in our philosophy — provide a quality product at a fair price and do so quickly. In our beginnings, the idea was to add capabilities one-by-one until we could successfully say we manufacture completely in-house. While that is still largely true and a very important part of our business, we also recognize we can’t physically do it all.

With that said, B&R is privileged to have some of the best suppliers this industry offers. Having the ability to collaborate (even with competitors) and still provide a solid solution to our customers is the best thing we could ask for at the end of any day. As part of the evolution, in recent years we have seen an increase in demand. To keep up with that demand, we have been fortunate to acquire equipment that doubled our capacities in straight-bevel and spiral-bevel gear cutting. While we are able to manufacture most types of gearing, we have a strong emphasis on the bevel side. Being one of few companies in this country with the ability to cut bevel gears up to 80 inches in diameter has certainly contributed to our relevancy. Speaking of, B&R has recently been honored by being elected to serve on the Board of Directors for AGMA, an association that guides the future of our industry. With this experience and our longstanding history, we hope to continue to serve our customers for another 48 years.