Kaci King was West Ohio Tool’s first delivery driver in the early days of what began as a regional business that sharpened and retipped saw blades for woodworking and home use. She watched as her father built a business on one simple premise: Understand customers’ problems and find ways to solve them, especially the tough challenges that other tooling suppliers can’t address. Today, as CFO and co-owner, King will tell you that despite the many changes in West Ohio Tool’s products – and the sharp growth in its capabilities over the last three decades – that dedication to solving problems remains the starting point and the motivation for every customer relationship.
Satisfied customers talk. When West Ohio Tool first approaches prospects who’ve heard about the company through word of mouth, those prospects often announce that they’re happy with their current suppliers, but “If you could just solve this one problem, that would be a big help to us.” Inevitably, this turns out to be the toughest challenges these customers face, ones that have stumped their current suppliers. Whether this is a deliberate test of West Ohio Tool’s capabilities or an opportunity disguised as a test, the outcome’s typically the same: West Ohio Tool digs in to a problem, traces it back to its source and finds a solution, often not one that the customer is expecting.
That problem-solving mindset isn’t just strong at the top. King’s entire team shares her devotion not only to finding the right answers but to asking the right questions. When a new customer approached West Ohio Tool with an application in which so much heat built up in the tool that aluminum from the workpieces essentially welded onto them “like gray chewing gum,” West Ohio Tool created a new PCD drill and took it to the customer. “Just to see all those chips flow,” as West Ohio Tool’s product succeeded where an enormous pile of expensive tools had failed, showed how a smart, innovative company could succeed where its big competitors couldn’t deliver. King’s next question to the customer – “What else can we solve for you?” – typifies her company’s ability to thrive on tough challenges rather than give up on them.
In a competitive industry that often seeks to corner every bit of business from each customer, King steps back from that philosophy. “That’s never really been our approach,” she said. “We’d rather solve the first problem, support the customer through it, earn their trust and gain additional business based on that relationship.”
Perhaps the customer’s current supplier takes too long to regrind or retip batches of tools. In the face of 16-20-week delivery times, some customers must build up overly large, expensive tool inventories simply to avoid downtime. West Ohio Tool typically cuts that wait down, often to four to eight weeks, less in some cases, enabling customers to avoid amassing huge stocks of tools.
When tool life isn’t as long as the customer wishes it were, West Ohio Tool develops innovative solutions. For a customer whose solid carbide drills produced around 250,000 holes through 10 regrinds – with tool change-outs and scrapped production pulling down productivity – West Ohio Tool created an outboard-tipped PCD drill that added another 100,000 holes to production with no regrinds or retipping. The customer’s next challenge? “They told us, ‘That’s really fantastic, but we were hoping for more,'” King explained with a chuckle. The PCD cross-center tipped drill that her team developed in response became the company’s signature EdgeX4. “The customer’s never really seen tool-life statistics on this drill,” King said, “because it yields 800,000 to 1,000,000 holes in aluminum with no downtime or scrap before it outlasts their tooling cycle.” That longevity essentially offsets tool cost.
West Ohio Tool’s focus on solutions includes other aspects of customer satisfaction besides tool performance. One customer’s reliance on expedited regrinds was adding five figures to its annual costs. The customer thought its production was too unpredictable to stock up on tools and avoid the need for quick service. West Ohio Tool’s data showed that the situation was all too predictable. If the customer increased its tooling inventory, it could avoid expediting fees – and West Ohio Tool could serve its needs on a regular two-week rotation, without constantly putting out the fires of a problem that didn’t actually exist.
Some companies advertise values that don’t reflect their real culture. For West Ohio Tool, it’s more important to build relationships on trust and profit from problem solving than to put the profits ahead of the customer. In combination with its team approach to solving otherwise intractable problems, that makes West Ohio Tool an innovator in mindset as well as results. For customers who need the products it creates, West Ohio Tool becomes an ideal partner.