Q&A with Rodney Soenen

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What’s a typical week like for you at Involute?

Generally, I travel every other week for a few days and one week in the office. In the mornings, I take about two or three hours to review emails and answer them. The balance of the day is used for sales discussions with our sales reps and answering technical questions from customers or trying to solve some of their concerns over the phone with machine-related problems.

What makes Involute stand out among the competition within the gear industry?

I think it’s the manufacturers we represent. Kashifuji’s been in business for over a hundred years and OSK, Osaka Seimitsu Kikai, has been in business for over 65. Both of those companies are the leaders in their particular areas of business in Japan, so we have a very good product to sell.

As the gear industry has evolved, how has Involute evolved with it?

We rely more on our digital advertising now to get initial inquiries rather than knocks on the door.

We’re all getting older now. I’m 68, but a lot of our customers aren’t. Some engineers might be in their mid-20s or early 30s, and they grew up in the digital age. That’s what they’re used to looking for — going online, typing in some search, and getting information right away. It’s important for us to appear on those product searches based on what they want to know — whether it’s a hobbing machine or gear-inspection machine — so they can get instant feedback.

Involute Gear & Machine’s President Rodney Soenen shows off an OSK gear inspection machine. (Courtesy: Involute Gear & Machine)

How do you approach a customer when they come to you with a challenge?

The customers we get are the ones that have been bypassed by our large competitors who are looking to sell multiple machines to U.S. automotive guys. They might be a job shop or somebody that doesn’t have many hobbing machines, or maybe they’re just getting into the hobbing business. Those are the typical customers that we tend to do better with. Because we’re not such a big company, every inquiry is important to us. We realize small customers have to have their hands held a lot stronger, if you will, than the large guys who know exactly what they want.

We have to teach the customers what we can do for them. For example, the hobbing machine can do a lot more than you think. You want to put a spline on a shaft; you may need to remove a tooth, or put a key way on that splines shaft? Previously, they were probably putting it on a milling machine and machining it, but we can do that on a hobbing machine. We can hob the teeth or the spline teeth, and then we can mill a tooth away, all in one operation. Our best customers are the ones that are inexperienced or not so familiar with hobbing because we take the time to educate them.

And the big guys often bypass them. We get the ones that fall through the cracks.

Where do you see the industry in the next 10 years and Involute’s place in that future?

We’ve got a succession plan lined up here to replace me who are about 10 years younger than me. I would expect that we would continue to sell our machines and hone tools. Our goal is to increase our domestic sales to the non-Japanese transplants, although, we still have to compete with our other Japanese competitors for sales to the transplants. Selling to the transplants is much simpler as the customers already know or are familiar with Kashifuji and OSK. So, 10 years from now, I’d like to be able to increase our market presence to USA customers — that would be our goal. And that’s where I see us moving toward: to try and nibble away a bit more of that USA market share. 

MORE INFO  www.involutegearmachine.com