This company’s name crystallizes its unique manufacturing capabilities, revered by OEMs throughout the world and throughout numerous industries. “We are a customer-driven, high-tech manufacturing organization whose mission is a willingness to provide specialized engineering, design and manufacturing services to our customers,” says Dave Furth, national sales and marketing manager for the St. Paul-based firm.
SMC is known throughout the industries it serves as a quality-driven and responsive company that promotes both its own standardized valve product line as well as the customized and specialized valves it helps customers develop for specific applications. SMC’s Valve Products Division is the largest of the company’s seven divisions. “Our valves are used in very specific applications such as water purification, chemical dispensing, photographic processing, medical, dental, automotive, and beverage dispensing.”
The Specialty: Customers’ Specialized Needs
“Our customers tell us every day how much they appreciate our willing and helpful cooperation,” Furth says. “They rely on our quick response to their inquiries and our fast shipment of samples for them to evaluate in their specialized applications. We are ready and able to help them engineer any valve for any application; we place a very high priority on customer service and assisting customers throughout the design and engineering process in the products they require for their own original equipment.”
SMC manufactures valves in a variety of materials, including brass, stainless steel and a wide range of plastics to enhance any application’s requirements. SMC is one of the larger brass buyers in the Midwest, and last year it purchased one million pounds of brass. The company’s capabilities are diverse and accommodating. “Our capabilities give us and our customers a distinct advantage because we are vertically integrated and don’t depend on anyone else to get the job done for our customers in a timely manner,” says Furth. Some of SMC’s capabilities include metal stamping, machining, assembly, plastic injection molding, and the in-house manufacture of tooling. “We are not selling a commodity, we are selling a service and this means that we custom-design and manufacture products for our clients,” says Daniel McKeown, president.
“We shine when our customers need a specified part such as a valve that must fit in a certain place, or has to have a unique configuration, or a particular chemical compatibility, or must contain that certain something that sets it apart from standard off-the-shelf valves,” says Furth.
It is not uncommon for SMC to come to the rescue of an OEM. “Sometimes we receive calls from companies who tell us they’ve tried to make a valve themselves for their original equipment – only to discover the valve they’ve made does not work in the application,” says Furth. “So they ask us to help them out of a tough situation.” Sometimes it could be as exasperating a situation as an OEM being hampered from selling a $5,000 piece of equipment – because of a $3 valve. “So we get involved in a lot of these kinds of situations where we provide a swift solution to companies so they can meet their own customers’ expectations of on-time deliveries,” Furth says.
New product development is another ingredient to the company’s recipe for success. “While remaining loyal to our customers’ proprietary design we have often times used specialized applications as the stepping stone to new product line development,” Furth says.
Companies often discover the need for new product lines. “For example, the water purification industry is growing very fast and one of the things we developed for a customer was a right-angle valve that can be used in residential water-purification systems,” he continues. “We discovered a way to design the valve to take up less room and to be more convenient to work with under the sink and we were one of the first companies to bring this product to market.” Today, SMC sells this innovative valve design to many worldwide companies.
Recipe for Success
SMC discovered, early on in its century-old life, the sweet recipe of true success. “The focus of our company has always been to provide our customers with diversified product lines and a full complement of manufacturing and engineering capabilities,” Furth says. “This recipe is even more important in today’s tough market where there is a lot of offshore competition. But our business model works. We are continually focusing on the cutting edge of the industries we serve to make sure our customers’ needs are met.”
SMC recognizes time-to-market frameworks are constantly shrinking in today’s new economy, and it is poised to help OEMs meet these stringent requirements. “We like to be in on the front level along with our OEMs as they develop, design, and engineer the valves they need to manufacture their own equipment,” Furth says. And SMC is fully capable of running anywhere from 50 units to 500,000 units for its customers, who know that if they need the same unit in the future, SMC will have all the specs and prototypes right there in its facility – ready to go for the next run.
One of SMC’s assets is its willingness to develop long-lasting partnerships with each of its customers to better understand their unique needs. “The more stipulations they require for a particular valve, and the more specialized it is, the better it is for us because this is really what we are all about,” Furth says. “It’s a lot more difficult for OEMs to get from offshore companies the kind of service, quality, and cost-effectiveness we offer right here in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Commitment to customer service is high on the priority list and does not get any better than SMC’s traditional homegrown brand of customer service. “A few years ago, we received a call from an internationally recognized watercraft manufacturer,” Furth explains. “They were having trouble with a competing check valve and were shut down. In one day we created a new product and solved their problem. We immediately received their initial order and within hours manufactured the parts they needed. We even drove their first shipment to the airport for same day delivery. They have been buying this high volume part from us ever since.”
One reason for the company’s nimbleness and commitment to customer service could be that it is still a family-run organization, even after 103 years of operating and despite the sometimes unfriendly waters of the new economy. “Being family-run is very important because we operate in an informal way, with open communications and on a first-name basis with all of our 170 employees,” Furth says. “We don’t have layers of bureaucracy and this is unique. Although we operate as a small and nimble company, we have grown to a medium- to large-sized organization – but will always operate as we have since the beginning.”
In its constant undertaking to deliver quality service and products to each of its customers, SMC understands its role to be diversified and flexible. With seven distinct divisions operating under the corporate SMC umbrella, the company sometimes finds itself quoting on potential job orders along with one or two other divisions within the corporation. “For example, three of our facilities have machining capabilities and each facility has different types of machines,” explains Furth. “So this framework gives our customers the opportunity to receive our best possible quote for the work they require.”
Constantly surveying the landscape for companies to complement its organization, SMC is “very much in an acquisition mode,” said Daniel McKeown, president. “We look for companies that operate under the same premise as we do and that means customizing, specializing, and providing the very best in products and services for our customers. This is the model that fits well into our corporate philosophy and we look for companies who are attuned to this customer-oriented focus.”
As for the future, McKeown says SMC “will continue to strive toward cutting-edge technology and will continue to promote our customization model as we partner with our customers – this will always be our formula for success.”