Earlier this year, Plumbing & Mechanical attended Milwaukee Tool’s New Product Symposium in Milwaukee. PM Chief Editor Nicole Krawcke had the chance to sit down with Milwaukee Tool Group President Steve Richman to discuss the company’s successes, its connection to its contractor customers and its goals for the future.
PM: Why does Milwaukee Tool continue to succeed and thrive as a company?
SR: Let’s talk about the two areas that are of utmost importance to our foundation and those are culture and people. We believe that we have the best culture in the industry. We recruit, retain and invest in the best people. Without the right culture and people, there's no way we can sustain the kind of growth that we’ve had or succeed the way that we have. That’s the foundation.
Just as important is our focus on our users. We believe that if we can’t deliver productivity and safety solutions to our users, then they’re not going to want our brand. They’re not going to believe in our brand and they’re not going to understand why they should buy and purchase our product on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.
PM: What would you point to as the biggest change or shift in the company that has been made in the last year to further grow its business and best serve customers?
SR: Well, I’d have to say there hasn’t been a shift in the past year. Our shift really took place 13 years ago. At that time, we were a company that was not focused outside in. Today we are. Back then, we didn’t have a culture that really recruited and retained the best people, and we do today.
The biggest change that has occurred at the same time along this path, is the speed of change. The way technology has changed over time, specifically over the last five years, assists us in continuing to grow and flourish. Because we don’t have a lot of bureaucracy, we’re focused on the user and we use speed and technology as assets for our company.
PM: How has Milwaukee Tool best connected with its contractor customers?
SR: We believe that we have to connect with all of our users in multiple layers, and the multiple layers are not one size fits all. For example, if there are training facilities for a particular trade, then we need to be in those training facilities. If there’s a nationwide organization or a global organization, our executive team and our key leaders need to be tied to that top-level management.
Our field teams, our job site solution teams, our marketing teams and our concept development teams all have to be engaged on the ground floor with each of the trades to really understand what the needs and requirements are, what the pain points are, and how we can really deliver productivity and safety on the job.
PM: How are you connecting with distributor customers? How important are your distributor partners?
SR: Our distributors are extremely important. They are true partners and we work tirelessly to understand what their needs are, what their requirements are and what their objectives are — then we determine how we can deliver on all of that.
A key part of this is a thorough understanding of how we can help expand their business. If we can deliver disruptive innovation to the user, then that’s going to help them expand their business. Additionally, what are their other pain points on a daily and weekly basis that we can capitalize on? For instance, service. Product service on the tool category. The reason we created a hub-and-spoke model and have quick turnaround on those products is that we customize our service for our users and work with our distribution partners to be able to accomplish that objective.
PM: Are there any additional plans for expansion or acquisitions in the future?
SR: We are clearly a growth-oriented company. We have had double-digit growth for more than 10 years. We continue to invest in people. We’ve gone from 207 people to more than 1,500 people in Brookfield, Wisconsin. We are now finishing a building across the street from our main campus that, to be realistic, is already filled, and we must look at further expansion and more facilities to be able to house our growing team and resources.
In terms of our organic growth, we grow organically a couple of different ways. One, we look at how we can deliver more solutions to our current users and, two, how we expand into more user verticals. As we’ve grown we haven’t taken away current resources from the current verticals we’re in, either in our sales team, our job site solutions team or our development teams. What we have done is added additional resources and that’s one of the key reasons for our growth — our ability to drive that new business without losing focus on our current users, and we’ll continue down that path.
PM: What are you most proud of with the company over the last couple of years?
SR: Our people. The culture of our people and their passion to be able to drive the business with full focus on our users, and, delivering results by driving execution. That is something you don’t see in every company.
PM: Where do you see Milwaukee Tool’s biggest push forward over the next six months to a year, and what will your focus be on?
SR: Our focus continues to be on our users and we will continue to drive that in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and globally, no question about that. On top of that, we will be changing the game next year with some changes and technology that are significantly dramatic to the industry.