Progress Through Communication

PM presents highlights of an interview with Darlene Miller, president and CEO of Permac Industries. Ms. Miller sees communication as the key, not only to her company’s continued growth, but to strengthening the economic position of the U.S.

Darlene Miller is president and CEO of Permac Industries. Founded in 1966 as a small, single-spindle Brown & Sharpe shop, the company has since moved into custom precision parts manufacturing on CNC machining centers, Swiss and six-spindle screw machines for a variety of industries. Ms. Miller sees communication as the key, not only to her company’s continued growth, but to strengthening the economic position of the U.S.

Production Machining: What do you feel most sets you apart from your competition?
Darlene Miller: The part of our business that makes us stand out is our customer service and our program to manage customer inventory. Every customer we deal with is different, but our special niche is how we communicate with them. Many times we know what they need before they do. We can take away the labor (and the stress) on their end and absorb it on ours so hopefully they feel they can’t live without us. Anyone can make high quality parts on time, but we add a higher level of customer service.

To figure out what a customer needs, we ask a lot of questions and then watch their shipment and scheduling trends. We quickly realize if they missed something or if it doesn’t look “normal.” We assign inside sales people to manage accounts from cradle to grave, monitoring the customers’ systems and becoming intimate with their part numbers.

These relationships have absolutely been keys to our continued success. We strongly believe in no surprises. We’re all going to have hiccups, but as long as we communicate and keep the customer abreast of what’s going on, the response is typically good.

PM: What are your thoughts on the short-term outlook of the U.S. economy?
DM: I believe we’re currently on an inverted V status, and we’re beginning to reach the upward point. Then I think we’ll start to come back down near the end of summer, but not as far as what we experienced in 2009. Rather, I think we’ll level off about halfway down and see a very gradual rise after that, not seeing 2008 levels again for at least 2 or 3 years.

Right now, people are replenishing inventories, and that has perked up business. A number of large OEMs have added people, but still not really close to the number of jobs that were eliminated. Short lead-time requests have made things exiciting and challenging.

I also believe many businesses are in a “wait and see” mode for capital investing to see how all the government programs shake out. Also, financing is still difficult to obtain. Until we know what the changes are going to be with taxes and healthcare, I don’t see a lot of people investing large amounts of money. Many companies aren’t even running their existing machines near 100-percent capacity at this point.

PM: What can be done to bolster the process of economic improvement?
DM: I believe the government, at this time, is not being particularly business friendly. They have their own agenda, forgetting that it’s the business owners who create the jobs. But now we will be paying for the programs that are being created, instead of creating new jobs. We all need to be speaking to our elected officials. We need to make sure our voices are heard. I’m active in our local and U.S. Chamber of Commerce political affairs committees. We need to be the ones who educate those on the hill—not just leaving this to the lobbyists.

PM: What other business strategies has Permac implemented to stay ahead in tough times?
DM: We hired a new outside sales person who has really helped Permac enter new markets. We do a ton of networking through various organizations, serve on a number of different boards and participate in trade missions. It’s all about getting to know people and getting our message out there. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Also to manage our way through this, we have made a lot of smart choices, along with some very difficult decisions. We’ve learned a lot, discovering ways to be more effective with less. Once again, it comes back to communication—with employees, customers and vendors. We’ve continued to stay positive while telling it like it is. And we don’t hesitate to ask everyone to help. It’s amazing to me what people will do and share to make it happen if you just communicate.

Is the road ahead going to be easy? Absolutely not, but we’re here to stay. We’re long past survival mode, but we still need to be smart. Using all of our resources is the best way to find solutions.