Five years ago, Jeffrey Bodeau dreamed of breaking out of the family business and owning his own moldmaking shop as he worked in his dad's molding shop. When the opportunity presented itself, he decided to make that dream a reality when he founded Signature Mold & Manufacturing Co., Inc. (Glastonbury, CT) specializing in injection, transfer, compression and die cast molds for the medical, cutlery and emergency lighting industries.
Despite uncertain economic times—especially in the moldmaking industry—this 12-man shop has thrived, boasting sales of $1.8 million and four- to seven-week leadtimes. Bodeau attributes this success to a combination of unattended machining at night and on weekends, automation, new technology and forward thinking—all carried out by a "young, energetic team." Recently the company moved into a new 12,000-square-foot facility in Hartford—further testament to the fact that it is on an upward path to success.
Laying the Foundation
Bodeau was only 27 years old when he made the decision to start his own business. "I have been in the mold business since I was a child," he says. "My father started a molding company right after I was born, so I have been raised and educated by one of the area's finest journeyman moldmakers. I was literally squaring up blocks at age 10. "I left my father's business because one of his first customers wanted us to build molds for them, since we also did some moldmaking," Bodeau continues. "They had ended up opening their own mold facility, but couldn't find anyone to build tools for them. It was then that I saw future potential to be solely a moldmaker without molding machines. So I leased some space in my father's facility and started doing it at night. One thing led to another and it really took off."
Within a year, Bodeau had enough business to officially strike out own his own and slowly started adding key personnel in key positions. After leasing more space in his father's facility, he considered going to the bank for a loan. "I wanted to get some new equipment," he recalls. "But instead of taking a loan, I decided to sell my house and rent—using the money from the sale to buy equipment."
Originally he called the company JAB Manufacturing, which stood for Bodeau's initials. However, that name didn't last for long. "During one of our management meetings, I was asked by some staff members why the company was called JAB Manufacturing," he recalls. "I explained that I wanted everything I shipped to be guaranteed with my signature and pride. I was then asked, 'What about us? How can we put our name on our products?' So, out of this came the combined decision to rename the company Signature Mold & Manufacturing Co., Inc."
Early on, Bodeau realized that he would need some assistance to take his company to the next level. "A lot has changed in the manufacturing sector over the past 10 years," he notes. "Global business and e-commerce has become a way of life and we are left with two choices; either we embrace the new revolution or we better step aside for those that are. As president, I have the mindset to keep the old school of business while embracing the new technologies around us—this is what separates us from our competition. We know that in order to succeed in this global economy we must offer our customers cheaper and better solutions to their manufacturing needs without sacrificing quality or delivery.
"With this in mind, we have established a team of young professionals who are dedicated to not only our customers' success, but their own," he continues. "We accomplish this through consistently training and retraining our employees—allowing them to take the initiative to do what needs to get done without micromanagement, and empowering them to take an ownership perspective through profit sharing and making key business decisions."
To help instill this confidence in his employees, Bodeau sought outside help in the form of a business consultant, who works at the shop three days a week. "When he first came in, he set up the accounting programs, developed incentive programs—everything from start to finish," Bodeau states. "He also helped ease my nervousness about growth. At one point, I was almost afraid to grow."
One of the successful incentive programs Bodeau implemented is a cash reward incentive program on every job that comes through the door. Once he looks at a job, breaks out the materials and allows for any subcontracting work, what remains are the hours needed to complete the job. "For example, if a job is 1,000 hours, the employees will get a percentage of the hours that they beat it by," he explains. "So if they beat it by one hundred hours, they get a percentage of that—which is usually a couple hundred dollars per person. It works out well because, obviously, we are delivering tools in record time and they are getting paid for it. They don't get rewards if there are any mistakes—it forces them to work harder and smarter. We went down from a 55-hour workweek to a 40- to 45-hour week max for an employee.
"We only offer limited overtime as we don't quote that on a job, and the overtime was killing us," Bodeau continues. "We have found that with this program our guys got more done in the fourth quarter than they did in the third quarter with less overtime. They feel like they have a stake in the company. I think our salaries were down 15,000 hours and our sales went up 20 percent in the last quarter."
Additionally, Bodeau brought in an outside team to introduce lean manufacturing, Kaizen (continuous improvement) and value stream mapping (visually mapping a product's production path—materials and information—from door to door) principles to the shop. "The study they did followed the entire chain of how a mold is built and sets up your processes, your departments, equipment, etc. It's like an assembly line." Bodeau is looking forward to seeing positive changes in the shop since they recently implemented these new philosophies.
One of Signature Mold's mantras is automate or die. "We automate constantly," Bodeau emphasizes, "in addition to training, retraining and cross-training our team. When we hire new people and they don't know a certain skill or software, we send them to school. We cross-train so that once someone is in here—and they may be running a machining center, but don't know how to run a CNC lathe-we'll have the operators switch up and train them. We like everyone to be familiar with what everyone's job is, so at least they are knowledgeable about it even if they don't run that specific machine."
This aggressive stance results in molds that are of superb quality, Bodeau asserts. "Our molds look like they should be in an art gallery—not a shop," he states. "There is a lot of attention to detail, the finish isn't scratched up and all of the sides are sanded nicely. On our brand new EDM we also have an option called HQSF (high quality surface finishing). It's a somewhat expensive option, but it allows us to give mirror finishes, which is especially helpful with the cutlery business as it eliminates a lot of the need for hand polishing. It just looks like a nice caliber tool going out the door. We even take pictures and display them on our walls. It's good for the employees to see and good for our customers to see."
That, combined with quick deliveries, separates the company from the competition. "Our customers brag about our customer service," Bodeau comments, "from initial design meetings to deliveries and weekly status reports—which every customer gets e-mailed to them so they know exactly where their jobs are at any given time. It's nice because then you don't get a lot of calls from customers asking where their tool is—which allows us to do our job and allows them to be filled in on a weekly basis. It's probably one of the best selling points I use when I go on sales calls."
According to Bodeau, every project is completely designed by its in-house design team in 2-D and 3-D solids—allowing the toolmakers to machine directly to each customer's file specifications. Bodeau makes it a point to attend all of the engineering meetings and deliver all finished tools. "The customer can see the tool immediately and I am right there in case there is an issue that needs to be addressed," he comments. "I also am there through the sampling process. It just looks good to have the owner there. That—in and of itself—is a great selling point because, surprisingly, when I am there I usually get another job. I am always stopping by customers' facilities. People just seem to like the way we make sales calls and the way we drop off molds."
Signature Mold has even been known to fly finished tools to its customers. "I am a private pilot and so is our business manager, and he owns a plane," Bodeau relates. "There have been times when our customers have needed their tools pronto and we finished them, drove them down to the airport and flown them to places like New Hampshire and New Jersey."
Over the next several years Signature Mold plans to focus on controlled and careful growth. "At this time we are not looking to do anything other than increase our sales," Bodeau affirms. "We are waiting for a very large cutlery project to break before we buy a rather large surface grinder and a new HMC with palletization, which will help our sales. We will grow—while keeping our same people—and continue to increase our sales through automation."