Q&A with Zen Cichon

President, Innovative Rack and Gear


Innovative Rack and Gear services the oil, aerospace, steel, marine, automation, machine tool, computer, medical, and precision instrument industries and supplies gear racks to many well-known catalog companies. President Zen Cichon gives Gear Solutions the inside track on how the word “expansion” can mean many things.

I understand you’ve grown and acquired some new, rather unique machines in the last few years.

In 2009 we purchased a hard-rack mill that allows us to cut up to 60 Rc hardness using special cutters. The other machines we possess are for soft-rack cutting of about 30 Rc with 40 Rc max using high speed cutters. The HR2000 from Saikuni gave us the capability to cut hard-racks as opposed to grinding, which is a unique feature. Normally hardened racks require grinding the teeth to take out the distortion after hardening. We purchased this machine because it’s a more flexible machine. It can be used for either purpose, hard or soft. It helps us get into the higher-precision hardened rack market because it is very comparable to ground rack in tolerances and finish. We also acquired in previous years another soft-rack mill to increase our capacity and a larger machining center to allow us to do secondary operations on larger racks. 

You’ve got the new machines. What about new employees, sales, capabilities?

Since 2004, we’ve grown to about 20 employees. We’ve doubled our sales. We’re more diverse in terms of the parts that we do: precision parts, larger racks, etc. When we acquired new machines in 2009, we had to rent out additional space that was about 3,300 square feet. Then, in the winter of 2011, we moved into our current location of 20,000 square feet. This allows for future expansion. Having two locations made it difficult to run a lean operation.

You’re expanding in more ways than one, though. Not just outwardly…

Right. At this point, rather than focusing on expansion, we’re focusing on efficiency in what we do, squeezing as much as we can out of what we have. Right now we’re installing a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, allowing us to control many aspects of manufacturing. This will keep track of job performance, efficiency, and scheduling. It will give us a better picture of how each part is going through our shop.

We’re also working on getting our website updated to appear more professional, with applications such as PayPal for customers to pay online, request for quotes, and being able to attach prints that customers have, along with employment inquiries.

It sounds like you’re poised to do some serious growth in the next few years.

Right now, we have the tools to do that. We just have to act on it and bring it to completion. We’re not the small company that we were before. We have a much larger presence out there, dealing with larger companies and promoting a more professional image. In the smaller building, for example, we didn’t have a conference room — everybody was packed into two rooms. Now we’ve got individual offices and a conference room. We’ve had customers see the change in us, and they like it. We’ve risen to a different level. We’ve got serious tools to produce our gear racks, and we want people to know that. Now that we’re more diverse, we can help people with large racks, small racks, precision racks, or commercial racks in many shapes and materials. We can produce racks for the oil industry, naval systems, medical companies, OEMs, and the machine tool and automation industries just to name a few. We’re constantly working on improvements in all areas of manufacturing. 

What kind of marketing strategies does a company like Innovative Rack and Gear employ to self-promote?

We’ve been fortunate to have a great reputation as our driving sales force in the gear rack industry. Word of mouth has helped us grow tremendously in the past eight years. The Thomas Register was our primary sales tool in the beginning, but networking with other companies and getting our name out at the Gear Expo really helped, as well as advertising in Gear Solutions. We are also always open to having outside sales people work with us.

MORE INFORMATION: Call (630) 766-2652 or visit www.gearacks.com.