Global Fastener News

2007 FIN – Zehnder: Keep Customers Happy

October 30
00:00 2012

November 1, 2007 FIN –  “If you don’t keep customers happy, there is no reason to be in business,” John Zehnder recalls his father’s advice.

That advice became John Zehnder’s goal during the son’s 39-year career with Earnest Machine Products Co.
Though he retains the chairman title and an ownership interest, and still stops by the Cleveland headquarters, Zehnder “mostly retired” during 2007. He traveled to Germany to staff the Earnest booth at Fastener Fair Stuttgart in September. But Zehnder’s son, Kirk Zehnder, now holds the CEO title.
During his fastener career, John Zehnder expanded on the innovative marketing for which Earnest Machine developed a reputation. When his dad started Earnest Machine in 1948, a successful technique was accepting collect phone calls.
It was a time when you thought three times before dialing long distance,” Zehnder observed. “You know you really ‘hook ’em’ when you pay for the call.”
History has continued to play a part in Earnest marketing. Zehnder proudly displays trucks from the era when the company started as a machine shop. By 1950 Earnest took an opportunity to expand into fasteners.
Earnest’s 1948 Chevy panel truck has been featured on the cover of Distributor’s Link. “It was a lookalike to when Dad started,” Zehnder explained. Since then Earnest has brought old cars and trucks “with a flair.”
By 1977, after growing into three warehouses, moved to one Cleveland headquarters. Today Earnest has U.S. branches in Davenport, Atlanta and Fresno, and a European facility in Birmingham, UK.
Zehnder “stuck my neck out” by opening the branch in England in 1999. “The branch was almost dead four years ago,” Zehnder confessed. But not only have UK sales increased, but Earnest added major customers in Spain, Norway, Ireland, Germany, France and Italy.
Though he worked part-time at Earnest during his school days, John Zehnder and his brother Jim Zehnder each started in other careers before rejoining the family firm. John Zehnder was band director and taught high school in Chicago for six years. Jim Zehnder was a Lutheran minister.
When he started fulltime at Earnest in 1967, Zehnder became a $3 an hour clerk. He advanced through purchasing, reworking orders, sales and at age 32 became vice president. By 36 he was president.
For many years the brothers Zehnder annually alternated as CEO. “While it worked, some parts were probably ineffective,” Zehnder analyzed. “But the family stayed together.”
In 2003, Jim Zehnder and his son, Dan Zehnder, started Trinity Logistics primarily supplying OEMs. John Zehnder and his son, Kirk Zehnder, retained Earnest with 85% of their business supplying distributors.
Earnest Machine will mark its 60th anniversary next year. When Zehnder started Earnest sales totaled $3 million and there were 40 employees. Today sales have multiplied by 10 times and there are 120 employees.
Another change Zehnder has observed is the movement of country of origin fastener sourcing … from American made to Japan, to Taiwan, to Korea and China. “Next to India?” Zehnder asks.
Earnest once used at least 30 suppliers and now only about a dozen.
Part of the fewer suppliers is for another development in the industry a new emphasis on quality assurance, Zehnder explained. Earnest has a certified testing lab in Cleveland with $2 million in equipment. “Thirty years ago it was pioneering for a master distributor to have a spectrograph. Today we have a myriad of optical and other testing equipment.”
Instead of going to the office, Zehnder keeps busy with a wind ensemble and community band. “I miss my Saturdays,” Zehnder said of having nearly every day off during retirement.  ©2007/2012 Fastener Industry News
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