Being the best is about holding true to the values that have led The Huck Group to its current position as one of the 15 largest custom fixture manufacturers in North America, a company whose goal is to position itself so that everyone else in the industry desires to use The Huck Group as a template for their own companies. Janice Bashman reports.
Being the best means different things for different companies. For some it means having the most sales. For others it is standing out among the crowd of competitors. Or it could mean embracing change as a means to new innovation. For The Huck Group, being the best is all about recognizing customers’ needs and consistently meeting those needs in a cost-effective and timely manner. It is focusing on where the company stands today and where it needs to be tomorrow so that it may continue to service the customer.
In the world of fixture manufacturing, products and technologies are fairly similar throughout the industry. What separates the Huck Group from its competitors is its approach to business: it carefully listens to customers’ problems and develops feasible solutions. “Everything we do and every decision we make is toward that goal,” says Vice President of Sales & Marketing Sam Dressler. “We build solutions for our customers, one customer at a time.”
DISCOVERING NEW GROUND
The Huck Group achieved its current form in January 2008 when Huck Store Fixtures acquired the assets of the MII Fixture Group. Huck Store Fixtures was incorporated in 1856, and rumor has it that it is one of the oldest continuously operating store fixture manufacturing companies in North America. Today the Huck Group has fully integrated MII into its operations and corporate culture. It operates wood plants in Quincy, Ill., and Albemarle, N.C., and a metal facility, which it acquired as a result of the MII acquisition, in Harrison, Ohio. In the late 1990s, Source Interlink purchased Huck Store Fixtures. The Flegel family, which started Source Interlink in 1995 and built it into a $2 billion company, exited from that company in late 2006 and 2007. In May of 2007 they purchased the Huck Store Fixtures portion of the business from Source Interlink with the goal of building it into a stand-alone manufacturer of excellence. The first step in achieving this goal was the purchase of the MII Fixture Group. “What MII brought to the table that Huck did not have was a domestic metal manufacturing facility, design capabilities, and a national sales force,” Dressler says. “And although the Huck group was formed via acquisition, we don’t see ourselves as growing through acquisition for growth’s sake. We will only do so if and when it makes sense and when it makes us a better supplier to our customers. Our goal is to improve our company and to benefit our customers.”
WHERE RELATIONSHIPS ARE BUILT
The Huck Group’s main wood facility and operational headquarters are located in Quincy, Ill., where it has 160,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 100,000 square feet of warehousing for storage. A second wood facility is located in Albermarle, N.C., which has 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 20,000 square feet of warehouse space. Harrison, Ohio houses The Huck Group’s metal facility in 170,000 square feet of manufacturing space located within an industrial park. There, the company rents out flex warehousing on an as needed basis.
“Our product range is based on what our customers need,” Dressler says. “Our goal is to have our customers come in to us and start with a basic design or idea, and when we finish, the end product is sitting in their store with their merchandise on it. We handle all the processes from inception to completion, including design, estimating, engineering, prototyping, manufacturing, shipping, warehousing, consolidation, and installation.”
The Huck Group has two primary product lines – custom wood and metal store fixtures – and the metal facility has its own stock product lines such as the System One Gondola Line, and Pharmacy Gondola Line, each with many different components. The company also incorporates many other materials into its products, such as wire, acrylics, vinyls, and graphics. Customers can choose from stock products, semi-customized solutions, or custom products.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS DONE RIGHT
The Huck Group takes stock of its customers’ needs and often purchases new equipment and develops new technology to serve those customers and improve its efficiency and products.
An example of this type of symbiotic partnership enjoyed by the Huck Group is its relationship with Borders. “We’ve worked with Borders for 15 years,” Dressler says. “Traditionally, they used wood bookcases to show off their products. Recently, they wanted to revisit the process of how they displayed books, so we came up with a metal version bookcase with wood accents. Basically, we developed a completely customized metal shelving system that matched their needs and met their aesthetic criteria while cutting their costs.”
A UNIQUE COMPANY
There are many fixture manufacturers, but most only manufacture wood or metal. The Huck Group does both. This ability is important because today’s customers want to marry many types of materials together. What that means is that companies that only have metal or wood need to rely on other companies to supply them with the products they don’t have in-house. Ultimately, this increases cost and delivery time and has the potential to decrease quality. With both wood and metal in-house, the Huck Group has positioned itself to respond quickly to its customers’ needs while maintaining quality and controlling costs.
The increase in freight costs has made it more expensive to manufacture products and ship them outside of the region from which they were manufactured. The Huck Group addressed this issue and has reduced costs by manufacturing in facilities in different parts of the country. It is now able to ship regionally, which results in large savings for its customers.
Importing products is another area that the Huck Group has addressed. “We are developing our import programs, but not just a straight import program,” says Dressler. “We have a blended program that contains both domestic and import products. We try to identify items that make the most sense to produce domestically and which make the most sense to be manufactured overseas. The positive aspect of importing is the lower costs, but the negative is increased lead time, which is usually weeks. By blending the program to meet customers’ needs, we manufacture our products in a cost-effective manner with good lead times.”
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
The Huck Group recently developed a new logo and new Web site (www.huckgroupinc.com). It also consolidated the Huck Store Fixtures and MII Fixture Group’s accounting databases. These are one-time processes that needed to occur with the formation of this new yet highly experienced company. But the Huck Group’s eye is always on the future. “As we develop, we are always focusing on where we are with our customers and where we need to be tomorrow for them,” Dressler says. “There is never an end when you are trying to be the best because you are always striving to be better. If you stop, someone is always passing you.”