Every year, the Powder Coating Institute (PCI)
hosts the Custom Coater Forum (CC Forum) —
a place for members of the association who run
custom powder coating companies to convene for some
valuable brainstorming. This year, attendees met in
Indianapolis—the Crossroads of America.
Just like Indiana is the hub for several major Interstate
highways to crisscross, so, too, was the CC Forum a place for
custom coaters to cross paths and learn from one another,
taking with them valuable knowledge on their own highways
to success. This year’s Custom Coater Forum was held March
30-31 in downtown Indianapolis. The opening evening began
with a dinner at a local famous family-style restaurant, where
PCI custom coater members enjoyed a great night of networking,
good food, and the keynote speaker for the event.
Roger Engelau, owner of Inspire Results, offered the keynote
address, which covered the importance of establishing
culture and creating core values in business. He explained
why understanding your organization’s core values will allow
you to dig deeper into the meaning and value of your “why,”
hire more committed and productive employees, increase
financial performance and establish a brighter vision for the
Engelau continued his presentation the next afternoon,
teaching the group how to implement those core values and
culture as well as how to embrace and adapt to change. But
first, the morning consisted of a variety of presentations by
several industry experts, including Tim Milner of JIT Powder
Coating, who talked about the importance of a detailed
understanding of the costs involved in powder coating a
job; Dave Severson of TCI Powder Coatings, who covered
the many ways there are to establish the best and highest
performing powder coating for any given part; Dr. Beth Ann
Pearson from the Sherwin-Williams Co., who talked about
the Department of Defense’s heavy emphasis on environmental
advancements for the coatings that are used on military
vehicles and components while continuing to require exceptional
performance and durability as well as drive corrosion
resistance; and Bill Stock from Microfinish, who talked about
how to prepare in advance and manage your business after a
During one of the breaks, attendee Jorge Martinez, vice
president of sales and marketing at JR Custom Metal Products
in Wichita, Kan., said, “About five years ago, we were looking
to expand our facility and add a new powder coating line so
we began attending events like the Powder Coating Technical
Conference and the Custom Coater Forum to learn as much as
we could.” (See the story about JRCMP’s expansion on page 33
in this edition of Powder Coated Tough—Ed.) “Here at the Custom
Coater Forum, we have met other business owners who
are willing to share information about what they did right, what
they did wrong, and what they would do differently. And since
we installed our new line, I am willing to share with others so
that they can do it right the first time, too,” he says.
Rounding Up Ideas
One of the most popular parts of the annual event is the
roundtable discussion session, where attendees break into
groups to discuss important problems and trends affecting the
powder coating business and then share the best ideas with
the entire group. The gist of this format is that one idea sparks
another idea and so there are several different perspectives on
any given topic. This year, participants discussed best practices
in housekeeping, safety, and managing customer relationships.
The room was divided in half, with Rick Gehman, president of
Keystone Koating, taking notes and presenting the findings for
one group; and Chris Merritt, general manager, NA, Gema USA
Inc., doing the same for the other.
Best Practices in Housekeeping
Gehman reports that members of his group did have several
best practices in place. “The big thing many of us implement is
to stay late every day after work for about 30 minutes and use a
daily cleanup list that each person in their work area follows,”
The idea of implementing a 5S plan (see sidebar) also was
discussed. The plan is to do one work cell at a time and then
audit it daily. “This would allow us to separate the best parts
of the process and keep what works for each individual
shop,” Gehman says.
Merritt’s group also suggested keeping a list, but took
a more preventive and immediate approach. “Firstly, don’t
build on grime. If something is clean to start, there is a better
chance to keeping it that way,” Merritt says. “Take the topdown,
bottom-up mentality. Make cleanliness a part of the
culture. Use lighting so that there is no place for the messes
and grime to hide.”
Merritt’s group also touted the importance of seeing management
holding a broom and taking out trash. “If they can
do that, surely, I can do that, too,” Merritt says is the message.
Both groups agree it is important to have practices in place
that the work stations should be clean at the start and the end
of a shift.
Gehman’s group says if there is a job that requires special
tools or a cleanup that requires a professional, don’t be afraid
to hire the right crew to professionally clean what is needed.
Additionally, you can partner with a sheltered workshop to
help provide labor for cleaning parts and for help with the
basic cleanliness and organization of the workplace.
“And build time into the process,” Merritt says. “Have the
daily checklist, but be sure to build in the time to achieve it.
Do the housekeeping between color changes or in between
other steps in the process. Allow some time for that cleanup
What Is 5S?
While some Lean Six Sigma (LSS) practitioners consider 5S a tool, it is more
than that. 5S, abbreviated from the Japanese words seiri, seito, seiso, seiketsu,
shitsuke, is not just a methodology, it is a culture that can be built in to any
organization which aims for spontaneous and continuous improvement of
working environment and working conditions. It involves everyone in the
organization from the top level to bottom. The Japanese developed these simple
and easily understandable words, and religiously practiced the philosophy of 5S
at every aspect of their lives and have made 5S a worldwide recognizable system.
A proper and step-by-step process has to be followed to make 5S a practice
and a success.
Plan-Do-Check-Act Approach to 5S.
Step 1: Seiri, or Sort. Sort out & separate that which is needed & not needed in
Step 2: Seiton, or Systematize. Arrange items that are needed so that they are
ready & easy to use. Clearly identify locations for all items so that anyone can find
them & return them once the task is completed.
Step 3: Seiso, or Sweep. Clean the workplace & equipment on a regular basis in
order to maintain standards & identify defects.
Step 4: Seiketsu, or Standardize. Revisit the first three of the 5S on a frequent
basis and confirm the condition of the Gemba (location where value is created)
using standard procedures.
Step 5: Shitsuke, or Self-Discipline. Keep to the rules to maintain the standard &
continue to improve every day.
During the CC Forum Roundtable, the book, “2 Second Lean,” which offers a
quick summary of 5S, was recommended.
Gehman shared that several of the job shops in his group
have a safety committee that does a plant and safety audit and
reports back to the employees. Safety training also happens
on a routine basis. “One unique change that we did hear was
regarding the safety incentive programs that would deal with
lost-time accidents,” Gehman says. “It used to be if you went
so many months without having a lost-work incident due to
injury, there would be a reward or an incentive for that.”
“This type of incentive can be construed as an incentive to
not report,” Merritt explains. Rather, one of the job shops at
the meeting had changed its policy to incentivize the auditing
process. “So, if the safety committee did not find any incidents
or issues during the auditing process, then there is a reward
for the plant and for the employees,” Gehman explains.
“Another way to provide incentives is with a monthly test
or quiz that offers a $25 gift card as a prize,” Merritt says. “Say
you have provided training on personal protective equipment
(PPE). If the employees were paying attention, they should
be able to answer questions about PPE. Then let’s say that
worker No. 1 gets the answer wrong, and so does worker No.
2. Worker No. 3 gets the answer correct, and he just managed
to collect $75 in gift certificates because in addition to his $25
card, he also got to collect the first two who had the wrong
answers. It’s like a game of ‘Knockout’ and you are incentivizing
them to pay attention. That is probably a good thing,
Gehman expands on that. “At one of the shops there is a
monitor that plays slides about safety and plant information in general. Randomly in between informational slides, there is a
puzzle. If workers pay attention to the monitor, they can solve
the puzzle and submit their answers. Correct answers are
selected from a drawing, and the winner gets a $25 gift card.”
Another safety issue that Merritt’s group talked about was
personal health and safety, including workplace violence. It
turns out that most local municipalities want to come out and
educate your workers about this and other topics. The better
they know your operation, the better they will be able to
respond in the event that they have to.
And speaking of responders, Merritt’s group also touched
on the importance of having first responders throughout the
plant so that if there is an occasion to need one, there are
people who know what to do and how to do it.
Gehman’s group talked about various dust mask and
respirator programs as well as hazardous material (hazmat)
gear and programs. Is there a plan in place if there is a spill
or an incident? “And that points back to the 5S plan we
talked about in the first segment,” Gehman says. One of the
shops wear shirts with the company logo on the front and the
slogan “Safety is Everyone’s Job” on the back. This serves as a
little reminder every day for everyone.
Managing Customer Relationships
This was a touchy subject for both groups, who interpreted
the topic somewhat differently. Gehman’s group mostly
touched on the customers who had unique requirements or
those who wanted a quick turnaround as well as customers
that were sometimes difficult. All shops in this group agreed
that there should be a premium charged for those shorter
turnaround times. “Communication up front has its benefits
in the long run, so if someone is dropping something off and
they want the turnaround really quick, do we have the right
communication as far as what’s required on this job?”
Gehman asks. Sometimes the customer and the coater miss
some of the details. “We also talked about what to do when you get a job and the job requires extra work that you didn’t
factor into the quote. Quite a few of us agreed that you call
the customer and start discussing it right away to see if you
can reach some sort of agreement. Some customers may
appreciate that and others may never be back. Both groups
agree that is really depends on the relationship you have
with that customer. If it is a first-time job, you may even
want to take a loss and then consider those unique requirements
the next time you give them a quote. “That way they
can at least have a good experience and likely return for
their next project,” Gehman says.
Merrit’s group took this topic as more of how to deal
with customer complaints. “Having somebody who is a good
listener with thick skin is an advantage,” Merritt begins.
This group also resurrected a quote from Steve Houston,
who was unable to attend the event: “The only bad customer
is the one who is not willing to pay for the attention that
they require.” In other words, if you have someone who
needs more attention, it’s OK to bill them for it or step it up
a little bit. Gehman’s group agrees in that they feel it is also
along the same lines as sometimes refusing a job because
you know that the requirement will not be able to be met at
a price the customer is willing to pay.
Merritt’s group says that this is when you ask, “What are
the alternatives? You can say, ‘I know you want it this afternoon,
and here is what that will take to do it. Or, are you
OK with getting that part tomorrow morning?’”
It comes down to managing expectations. If you are going
through an opportunity funnel, then you can understand
from your own viewpoint if they are a good customer, if they
pay well, if they are more difficult to work with, if you have
a good relationship with them. Does it make sense to deal
with this person on this type of project? “Defining what their
expectations are is probably half the battle,” Merritt says.
“What does that customer expect and how are you going to
resolve it as opposed to pointing at each other that there is a
problem. Do your best to work together toward a common
solution to get it resolved.”
Both groups agree that because we live in a very
quick-response society, it is important to understand how your customer wants to communicate, too. Do they want to
be on the phone? Do they want to text or email? If you have
customers that want to deal with electronic communication,
Merritt’s group came up with a couple rules of thumb. “Don’t
put emotion into email, don’t use sarcasm or be smart alecks
in electronic communication, and when you feel like things
are deteriorating, don’t try to solve it with an email. PUTP—
pick up the phone.”
Other rules to follow when dealing with an unhappy
or angry customer: Don’t interrupt them; listen to them
and make sure that you allow them the time to vent or get
through the whole process. Be grateful to customers who
give you feedback because for everyone who does, there are
several more who don’t. It is human nature to avoid conflict
and then they just will not return with their business. Finally,
don’t deflect. Be genuinely interested in their complaint and
take ownership of whatever it is that has happened—whether
it is your fault or not. And don’t provide any false commitments.
“The example we were saying is you may not have or
know the answer—and it’s OK to tell them you don’t know
the answer—but assure them you are going to find out what
the next step is going to be.
A lot was accomplished at the 2017 Custom Coater Forum.
Several industry experts and rookies alike crossed paths
and were able to put their heads together to share ideas and
come up with solutions for how to tackle some serious issues
that all job shops face. Don’t miss next year’s event. Be sure to
check out the PCI website at www.powdercoating.org/events
Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated
Tough magazine. She can be reached via
email at firstname.lastname@example.org