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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan of the Manufacturers' Network podcast, I'm excited to introduce you to today's guest Eric Schwarzenbach. Eric is President of Rollomatic, which is a manufacturer of CNC cutting tool grinding machines. He's been there for 24 years, Eric. Welcome to the show.
Eric Schwarzenbach: Thank you, Lisa. And thank you for giving me this opportunity. I'm excited to be on your show and talk about the time we've gone through now in covid.
Lisa Ryan: Share with us a little bit about your background. I know you've been with Rollomatic for 24 years now. But what got you to where you're at?
Eric Schwarzenbach: I was at that time I was living in Switzerland. I had the opportunity to move to the US and take over the subsidiary of Rollomatic here in Illinois in 1997. I was green in terms of what America was and then the culture here, but I was highly excited to come here. I'm originally born in Switzerland and moved to England when I was 19 years old.
My mother tongue is German, so I had to learn my English in England. And of course, coming to the US with English British was more difficult because I asked people, What their surname was. And they said, What are you talking about? But I was always in this industry of grinding tool machines since I left Switzerland. I worked in England for 14 years and then moved to Denmark to work there for five years. I traveled in Europe at the time, and then I worked in Switzerland for another company for 12 years until I was very fortunate to find Rollomatic and get the precision here in the US.
Lisa Ryan: That's great. That's so funny that you talk about American English versus British English, because, in this country, we think that we're speaking English, but I guess not so much.
This has been an interesting past year with covid and with the pandemic. Share with us some of the things that have come up working as a result of the changes you've had to make. How have you gotten through the last year?
Eric Schwarzenbach: The covid situation opened up several opportunities for us, which were beneficial for the company. We didn't see that initially; in the pandemic, we all got scared. Businesses around those collapsed, but it also opened up opportunities. The most significant one is that we had already made plans to install a COO - chief operating officer, who would work along with me. We installed him on April 6th, a week before the country was closed down. Travel came to a grinding halt, and I worked from home for two months. He was on his own here running the company, which was very good for him to learn.
We were able to implement certain measures in the company where we separated tasks and duties. We improved the working processes in place and put specific procedures in place that became very beneficial. I returned to work again in May back to the office. The fact that we didn't travel meant we couldn't travel with customers. We didn't have any trade shows going on, so we didn't have to prepare for them or execute them. This gave us so much time to focus on our teams and to educate and train our teams.
Lisa Ryan: What would be an example of one of the procedures you changed that resonated with your staff there?
Eric Schwarzenbach: The organizing of the applications and service team was before we had one person doing the entire two teams. We split that, and we went back to whiteboards - on the wall with magnets and dry erasers. We went back to basics to organize and to schedule and to be able to try to follow the process of doing tests grinding for our customers. It improves your speed and the quality of it. It also gives us the readiness to give feedback to our sales team.
Lisa Ryan: And how did your sales team deal with not being able to go to trade shows and see their customers. What did they do to keep those relationships going?
Eric Schwarzenbach: Of course. The salespeople were working from their home office. Because they didn't travel, they're able to make more phone calls than ever. They kept in touch with video conferencing and email. The phone calls made a big difference and the fact that we had our test grinding process ready for customers to either come in or send the material to me.
Lisa Ryan: And was there anything else that any other processes or procedures that also made a difference that maybe you weren't doing before coven and now will be an integral part of your business in the future.
Eric Schwarzenbach: I hold a weekly sales meeting on a Monday morning. And I have individual pipeline meetings on a Friday every week with each sales manager, which I never did before because I was traveling myself so much that there was just no time. We do keep in touch before, but now we have the structure in place very every Friday. They know they have to report their pipeline, and we discuss it, and we talked about it. Then we see what we can do to encourage that particular customer to come down the pipeline and eventually pulled the trigger on the purchase order. That was not the case before. So our communication improved so much to very beneficial.
Lisa Ryan: Well, it sounds like it gave you an excellent opportunity to get to know the people who work for you and share feedback. They feel that they're being heard. Having that connection with the company president was probably really big for them as far as their engagement levels, and it sounds like their productivity levels because of this.
Eric Schwarzenbach: We indeed had three times more new accounts last year, which is tremendous in a lousy year. I mean, sales were terrible. But just in terms of new account from it, it was an incredible year for us. Much is due to our to the changes we made in the company here, and a little bit is also because our customers to we're housebound or company bound and have more time on their hands. Maybe they had fewer business activities, but they had more time to think about what the future could bring and to engage with us and eventually place the purchase order.
Lisa Ryan: That's that. That sounds excellent news and in the future. I'm sure that those new customers you have are confident that their business will also increase. Once we're through all this craziness that we're going through right now.
Eric Schwarzenbach: Absolutely.
Lisa Ryan: So what are some of the things that are still keeping you up at night?
Eric Schwarzenbach: The order intake for machines is still because it's still up and down. It's still cyclical. And that's not been the case. Before you had ups and downs - maybe the spring was good and fall was not so good, or vice versa, or some month was slow. But now it's one month is high and the other month it's really low. So we don't see that fall into the future as we used to before. That's still a while for me.
And of course, the other worries political situation with the new government, hoping that they turn out to be at least somewhat business-friendly compared to the previous one and not so much because of how we operate our business how much taxes we pay. That's not really what I'm talking about. Our customers, the managers, and the business owners feel far more confident in the economy when they feel there is some support from the government there. And that is always translated into more orders for us. So whether we pay a few percent more in taxes, that's not a big deal for us, but it's more customers thinking and perceptive their perception of the economy.
Lisa Ryan: And when it comes to networking with other manufacturing leaders, what would be something that you may want to learn from your other colleagues and manufacturing, and what would be some of the areas of your expertise that you would be willing to share
Eric Schwarzenbach: Number one is benchmarking. The CNC machine tool industry is different for manufacturing. We pay salaries differently. We have different benefits to what the regular manufacturing company would have and being a foreign company. We often compare with Europe, which is not very good because of the two different economies to different countries. So if I could benchmark with another machine to compare salaries and compare working conditions, that will be wonderful. And in return, I would show our system: what we pay, what we give to our employees for benchmarking. That is the biggest thing that I would love to share.
Otherwise, what I, what I would share is our good experience with changing our payroll provider a few years ago, for example. We've switched to ADP. I would love to talk about that and tell them how it helped us tremendously.
Lisa Ryan: Wonderful. So if there was one tip you could give the people listening to this podcast, what would that be?
Eric Schwarzenbach: Never lose hope. And dig deep for the opportunities presented to us. And I think one of the most significant opportunities was trying. It's given enough time to sort things out and figure things out in time to look into the future, and as a machine to build, time to find new technologies and improve the machine processes and the way the machines are assembled. Just utilize all the time that is at hand for these opportunities. Number two is to train your people. Businesses slow don't lay them off. Don't furlough them. Don't cut their salary but train them and pay the money to do that. Then pay them for the time being trained.
Lisa Ryan: Well, that is a great way to end our session together, Eric. I appreciate you being on with me and sharing your insight and what is going on at Rollomatic Thanks for being here. I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers' network podcast. See you next time.