A Can-Do Focus and Family Values Keep Master Tool and Mold On its Game

This Wisconsin moldmaker shows how a small operation can work “big” by having a team that’s multi-skilled and equipped with the right equipment and a can-do attitude.


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How do you manage workflow 24/7 with 10 employees working one shift?

Jim Sperber, president: At Master Tool and Mold Inc. (MTM), we do not run automation, but all of our machines can run multiple tools and multiple programs unattended through the nights and weekends. Our ability to react quickly and efficiently to our customers’ needs is key. I tell customers that if they call me at 5 a.m. on any day (except Sunday, when I am at church until 9 a.m.), I will be there within the hour to pick up a job, and we will be ready with any parts needed to dive into the job and get it done. 

Also, MTM is fortunate to have a great team of dedicated employees who have a wide array of skills. Cross-training is essential. Our moldmakers are highly skilled CAD operators, designers and programmers. They know how to run the EDM and CNC machines, grinders and other equipment, they can polish tooling, and they are always willing to extend their skill sets to include new advances in the field. We call it great teamwork because our employees train each other without a formal training program in place. The team is routinely updated on the latest Solidworks and PowerMill software through training, and we regularly send them to American Mold Builders Association (AMBA) conferences, webinars and vendor classes and demonstrations to learn the latest technologies. At an AMBA conference in 1994 and 1995, for example, one of the keynote speakers said, “High-speed machinery, controls, programs and software will change. Iron won’t change, so buy a good chunk of iron.” This was a pivotal moment. From then on, we were committed to quality iron and machinery, particularly OKK machining centers.

Additionally, we expanded our building by adding 4,000 square feet in the third quarter of 2015. This made it possible to add several new machines, including an OKK VR76 vertical machining center equipped with a Mitsubishi M830 control (the first control like it in the United States at the time). We purchased cranes that can lift heavier molds and workpieces than what we previously used. With our new capabilities, we can build a 32-cavity unscrewing mold, a 20,000-lb. stack mold, and a single-cavity prototype mud insert, all while keeping up with our daily, and sometimes hourly, repair work (which we pick up and deliver) to keep our customers up and running.

Does MTM have a special, niche market? 

Sperber: Our niche is that we do not have a niche. We focus on whatever our customer is focusing on, and that provides for a diverse customer base. If we can lift it, we will do it. No is not an option. Most shops target a specific type of work, but we target a specific type of customer—a customer who does a great variety of work. That’s where the variety comes into play. Our ability to run constant repairs fills in all the other gaps. My father Lyle’s shop was small, but he knew that with hard work, dedication and sights set on the future, the shop would grow and become an integral part of manufacturing. That is still our way. 

What systems or tools does MTM use to manage customer relationships and grow? 

Sperber: MTM has taken big steps over the last few years to grow in its approach to business and to adapt to a new era of technology and information. For example, we launched a new, cloud-based sales program, Salesforce CRM, to help build and manage our customer base. Salesforce is a data management software. If we hear that Molder X is expanding and could be a good fit for us, we will put that company’s information into Salesforce and customize when and how we want to interact (via email, sending a brochure, calling them and so on). Once this information is entered, the program will track how often we contact Molder X, our quote-to-job ratio with this customer and if we should stop quoting and move on to other opportunities based upon our quoting history. Additionally, Salesforce reminds us who we are due to contact in a particular week or month (including both potential and current customers). It’s easy for small business owners to be sidetracked by the technical end of our work and forget about the importance of sales.

By the same token, customers who work with us get a personalized experience. Although plenty of work and sales take place online, we have found that strengthening our relationships with our customers strengthens our employees and our business. MTM’s first “big” project was a 32-cavity mold that produced the top of the Kraft Parmesan cheese shaker container that is still in use today. Much has changed in the 46 years since we built that first mold. The world is changing and many of the smaller shops and industries have moved forward with a greater emphasis on production and profits. We believe that the best possible business encompasses a mixture of old family values like honesty, integrity, quality work at a good pace and the best price for the best work, integrated with modern technology and advancements.

What is MTM’s next-generation workforce strategy? 

Sperber: MTM is moving into the future with the best team possible for progress and innovative ideas. My daughter Kathryn (Kat), who has a Master of Science degree in Compliance and Business Ethics, keeps the business running. She upholds OSHA standards along with its consistent and cumulative regulations and passes along the training programs that are OSHA-proof to any other business that needs help with OSHA compliance. She maintains the front office and is an integral part of the daily management of MTM. 

Workforce development is a passion of ours. Young adults have come to believe that the only option for financial, social and personal success is through a university degree. In addition, many schools have phased out the important classes that focus on skilled trades. At MTM, we have addressed these issues by working with local high schools and bringing students into our shop to show them the process behind their studies. For example, an engineering class at a local high school created a key ring tag with the school’s logo. The students designed the mold and then MTM built it while they witnessed the process. The students were able to visualize the idea and bring it to a real event. 

We also have our shop dog, Donuts, who is so-named because our people have to bring in donuts on their birthdays or when they are late to work!