Stockwell Elastomerics – Voice of Customer

As the president of a company that has survived and thrived through more than a century of change, Bill Stockwell knows the importance of understanding customer needs. In recent years, the company had been changing its business model in response to the trend towards off-shoring and foreign competition for large-volume commodity products. Stockwell focused instead on growth opportunities with customers who required lower production volume specialty products, rapid prototyping and high-end engineering support. While business was good through 2008, by 2009 the company was feeling the impact of the recession. “It was a good time to see where we stand with our customers,” says Stockwell. “We wanted to collect their feedback, better understand their needs, and gauge their perception of the value we deliver to them.”

Stockwell took advantage of DVIRC’s capabilities in developing a Voice of Customer (VOC) research engagement. The VOC is designed to help companies understand their market positioning, assess customer satisfaction and determine where additional value and business opportunities can be created. Stockwell began by providing DVIRC with a list of customers and specific customer contacts designated as having a growing, level or declining relationship with the company. Working together with Stockwell management and sales staff, DVIRC developed a questionnaire designed to solicit feedback on factors relating to quality of goods ordered, accessibility, courtesy, helpfulness, knowledge, responsiveness and speed of service. DVIRC collected data via telephone surveys, and presented Stockwell with a full written report of survey findings. The process was completed over a period of three months.

The results of the survey confirmed the company’s strengths, and highlighted issues where improvements could be made. “We gained solid ideas for ways we could enhance our customer service and revenue stream,” notes Stockwell. “We also realized that during an economic downturn, it’s less expensive and more beneficial to retain customers than it is to invest in the sales effort required to find new customers.” As a result of the survey, Stockwell is now focusing on improvements that will solidify and re-strengthen its existing customer relationships. Following are highlights of survey findings and resulting business improvements. Technology investments can enhance revenue. Stockwell customers placed a high value on the company’s engineering support and capabilities in sampling and prototyping components. In response, Stockwell made the decision to invest in an additional waterjet cutting unit to strengthen fast-turn fabrication capabilities. Already the company has seen an increase in fabrication business of 20% -25% compared to 2009. Internal engineering support is a key asset. Customers value in-house design and application engineering support. This response prompted Stockwell to hire an additional internal application engineer, in lieu of bringing on an additional outside sales person. Pricing and quality are on target. The survey confirmed that Stockwell’s pricing structure and quality levels met customer needs, and were in line with the market. On-time delivery improvements identified. Customers commented that on-time delivery and quicker lead times were areas where improvement would build more value-added partnerships. This is a continuing challenge as the company grows – internal Lean Kaizen events and Continual Improvement projects focus on ways to deliver products faster. Issues addressed, business reclaimed. For customers designated as declining, the survey highlighted reasons for the reduced sales to those customers. In some cases, the change was related to market conditions. In others, issues related to service and sales follow-up were discovered and addressed enabling Stockwell to regain some lost business – and pull some other customers closer. Communication of capabilities can be enhanced. It was revealed that there is a general misunderstanding or lack of knowledge of Stockwell’s full capabilities. In response, Stockwell has initiated several new marketing communication efforts such as additional product selection guides and a full capabilities brochure.

Established in 1919, Stockwell Elastomerics, Inc., is a custom manufacturer of silicone rubber and elastomeric components for demanding requirements in the technology equipment sector. The company’s core business is providing die-cut, fabricated and custom-molded rubber components for air and fluid sealing, enclosure gasketing, cushioning, thermal management, electrostatic discharge and electromagnetic interference applications. Stockwell serves customers in the analytic instrumentation, medical diagnostic equipment, industrial controls, information technology, portable data acquisition, telecommunications equipment, aerospace and alternative energy industries.

Lessons Learned

Comments from Bill Stockwell on the DVIRC partnership.

“We’ve been involved with DVIRC for more than 20 years, and have developed a great level of trust with them. Over that time, we’ve built a strong relationship around strategic business improvement initiatives.” “DVIRC is willing to get involved in both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing aspects of your business. They take a holistic approach to the health of the enterprise.”