JIS, Division of Jergens Inc.
Customers turn to Jergens Industrial Supply because of the distributor’s personal touch and ability to provide complete solutions.
By Tim O’Connor
For one day every holiday season, the scene at Jergens Inc. looks less like a metalworking distributor or machine shop and more like a bakery. Every worker brings in a batch of cookies to share with their colleagues while comparing recipes and talking about their holiday plans. It’s a tradition that began with founder Jack Schron Sr. and continues today as a means of fostering a family atmosphere throughout the company.
Jergens Inc. started in 1942 as a job shop supporting the war effort. Over the decades, the company diversified into industrial distribution, manufacturing and assembly. Today, it has more than 400 employees across several subsidiaries, including Jergens Inc. the leading manufacturer of standard tooling components, fasteners, hoist rings, vises and other work holding equipment; ACME Industrial Co. an industry leading producer of keylocking threaded inserts and drill bushings; ASG offers solutions and products for customer assembly needs; and JIS is a industrial distributor offering a full line of cutting tools, carbide and other tool inserts, coolants, abrasives, drills, machine tool accessories, hand tools, MRO and other industrial supplies.
The latter subsidiary, JIS, supports all the others by putting Jergens’ products – and those of other suppliers – into the hands of end-users. The company offers items from about 300 suppliers, 30 of which it considers core brands that drive revenue.
The breadth of supplies is a reaction to how the wholesale and distribution market has changed in recent years. Previously, the company focused on its specialty cutting tools, but clients began consolidating their supply chains and wanted each provider to fill a larger role. “Today, customers are looking for a full-solution provider,” General Manager Matt Schron says.
The shift forced JIS to expand its services and product lineup. The company instituted multiple ways to provide better cost savings, such as installing vending machines at customer facilities and consolidating purchase orders to reduce shipping expenses. Further, its participation in Affiliated Distributors, a marketing and buying group for 550 independent distributors, opened JIS to higher rebates from manufacturers and networking opportunities within the industry so it can better compete with national companies.
Jergens Inc. is a company with 75 years of experience in the manufacturing industry and its heritage seeps into how JIS operates. The company shares a 120,000-square-foot facility in Cleveland between Jergens, JIS and ASG, allowing its salesforce to witness first hand how its workholding and tool and die products are used in the real world.
Having a working factory on the premise also allows JIS to take customers onto the shop floor and demonstrate how to apply a specific tool or solution. The company expanded on that idea in August when it launched the FastForward TM program, a dedicated technology and machining center aimed at expanding the knowledge base for vocational workers and those interested in manufacturing careers. The center is an opportunity for customers, suppliers and area students to learn about manufacturing through hands-on time with equipment such as HAAS Automation’s VF4 SS Vertical Machining Center and other cutting-edge machines.
Jergens has partnered with Fullerton Tool Co., ISCAR and other equipment makers to host training classes and seminars for more than 50 local companies. “JIS allows its vendors a chance to demonstrate their newest products on the FastForward equipment, because some of this is the latest and greatest [technology] that hasn’t hit the street yet,” Schron says.
When a company strives to become a resource for customers and vendors alike, its salespeople must also have extensive knowledge beyond the industry norm. JIS looks for salespeople who have a background in manufacturing and understand how tools are used and applied. The salesperson must be a true product specialist, able to tour a customer’s facility and identify the right type of cutting tools, carbide inserts, coolants, abrasives, drills, MRO solutions for their applications.
JIS’s sales team is designed to create lasting relationships built on offering value, not just transactions. As such, the company wants its salespeople to remain salespeople. In an effort to trim costs, some competing distributors have asked its salespeople to take on added roles, such as delivery. But JIS sees those extensions as a distraction. Instead, the company is committed to having dedicated consignment workers who are responsible for filling vending machines and monitoring inventory levels, leaving the sales team to focus on customers’ goals of cost reduction and productivity improvement.
The company further supports its salespeople by developing custom applications that can be accessed via a tablet computer to view tracking data and live information on sales transactions. “We’re continuing to find new tools we can customize for them,” Schron says.
The newest tool is a digital shop floor that gives salespeople and customers a virtual view of JIS’s product lineup. The app is designed to look like a manufacturing floor, divided into vertical machining, secondary operations, MRO and other areas. By clicking on a department the customers can see all the tools that might fit the related application, helping salespeople pitch complementary items or easily demonstrate the breadth of the products JIS can supply. “One of the things we’ve come to realize is that sometimes a customer will put you in a box and say, ‘You provide me your cutting tools or this item,’” Schron explains. “I think customers are looking for you to provide full solutions.”
The end-goal is to increase the number and variety of items each customer buys. The custom apps JIS develops support that effort, but they don’t do any good if the sales team doesn’t use them. To encourage adoption, JIS implemented a scorecard system about a year-and-a-half ago that rates each salesperson on six different criteria, including the number of suppliers sold to each client. Ratings are tracked monthly and can impact a salesperson’s compensation.
JIS’s distribution area covers all of Ohio and parts of Michigan and Pennsylvania. The challenge with distribution, Schron says, is that the overall market grows slowly. JIS has found that the most effective way to expand marketshare by acquiring smaller distributors, taking on those customers, then showing new clients that JIS can be their complete solutions provider so that they shift more of their spend to the company. The distributors JIS targets for acquisitions are typically family-owned businesses in the $3 million to $5 million range that are undergoing a transition and are not sure of the direction to take going forward.
The latest such acquisition came in May, when JIS purchased B&G Supply of Akron, Ohio, an industrial supplier that served northeast Ohio for more than 40 years. The move brings JIS closer to its Akron-area customers and positions the company to support businesses working on the Utica Shale natural gas deposits in the eastern part of the state.
Competitors have been willing to sell their business to JIS because of the company’s reputation as a family-oriented business. Many of JIS’s clients are family owned themselves, typically having fewer than 75 employees. Price is always important, but those customers also value the smaller ways JIS partners with their business, whether it’s by sending a Christmas card every holiday season or taking a customer out for a drink after work. “That size company truly appreciates and understands what that means,” Schron says.