CC Forum Roundtable: A Hub for Custom Coaters

Posted on Friday, July 21, 2017

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 future.

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 natural disaster.

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,” he says.

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 and organization.”

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 the area.

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.

Safety Management

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, right?”

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 for information.

Sharon Spielman is editor of Powder Coated Tough magazine. She can be reached via email at sspielman@powdercoating.org