In the quest to find out all about manufacturing in Medina County, Made in Medina County sat down with David Tenney, the founder and president of Firstar, to learn more about their precision CNC business.
Q. Thank you for taking the time to meet with us today, Dave. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of the company?
About 19 years ago now the company I was working for ran into financial trouble. After I left, my partner, Jack, and I started Firstar over in North Royalton. We wanted to focus on creating products for clients that were very precise/niche in nature. This is not only because there is less competition in this market, but because it allows us to treat each account individually and fully understand our customers’ needs.
We had to get all new customers because the business we had with the old firm was embittered. We were able to grow the business steadily through 2002 when we acquired a screw manufacturer. We quickly outgrew the space we had, and eventually sold off the screw portion of the business. Around a year ago we decided to move to Brunswick which solidified our next ten years for space. We now have the room we need in order to grow and a vibrant community where our employees can grow alongside us.
Q. That’s great to hear. Can you tell us a little bit more about your product and what sets Firstar apart from your competitors?
We specialize in complicated CNC jobs. We take the jobs other companies don’t want because they take too much time and expertise to accomplish. Our products generally require many different internal and external operations before they are complete so this has helped us develop a fantastic network with other companies and created many mutually beneficial relationships.
We survey our customers and the issue that always comes out on top is communication. It isn’t enough to take an order; it is vital to keep them up-to-date on what’s happening, where things are, where they are going, and help them manage their operation. I have one buyer I review open orders with myself once a week just so I can help her stay on top of her work.
We are so ingrained in our customer’s processes, they often bring us to the table in the design phase of a new product. Getting in that early really helps us meet their needs while it gives them the confidence that the new product can be made successfully.
Q: How has your offerings changed?
We have taken the initiative to not only CNC the parts that our customers require, but to also assist them with project management. The project management portion of the business includes everything from assisting with assembly of the products our customers are trying to produce to sending operations reports. These operations reports help the customer better understand what steps Firstar is taking to assist him/her and basic information such as how many units of their order are still available on our shelves.
Another thing that sets us apart from much of our competition is that we encourage customers to make “blanket orders.” We started this back in 2009 and it essentially means that instead of placing many, smaller orders, customers place one large order. The parts they need are all created at one time, which ends up saving us money, but the orders are sent in small shipments over time. We absorb the cost of the materials used for these products, and that money is made up when each shipment is sent to the customer. This is a win-win because it saves us money and we can pass these additional savings onto our customers.
I feel that our project management and blanket orders really help us better understand the needs of our clients and potential clients. This allows us to treat each account as an individual instead of a cookie-cutter client, which gives us an edge over our competition.
Q. How do you stay focused?
It is vital to get down to the fundamentals. Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. And that applies to everything – internal and external. This means that creating a culture of honesty and respect is of the upmost importance. We have been in business for 19 years now and our average employee tenure is around 14 years, so it seems to be working out rather well.
A true testament to the success of this environment I’ve tried to create is something that happened to me a little while back. Recently a former colleague came to me seeking a job and said that he came to Firstar because he knew me and understood that our culture would be based on no lying, cheating, or stealing. That’s what he wanted and was thrilled to find it. We try to keep a family atmosphere and to do the little things that make it a fun environment. By mid-July we should be up to 35 employees and we will do everything they can to ensure Firstar remains a fantastic place to work.
Q: How has Medina County supported your organization?
Moving to Brunswick was a major undertaking for us, but as residents, we knew the quality of the community. What we didn’t know was all of the support we would receive! We’ve now met city officials, county, state legislators, federal legislators, workforce people, and others. The support here has been amazing and we have really enjoyed the process.
Q. Where do you see Firstar moving in the future?
After our move to this new building in Brunswick we have all the space we need in order to grow the business and expand into possible new territory. I think that the first area of expansion is going to be developing a gear-cutting portion of the business. We currently use an outside company, but it would be great to be able to cut gears in house. However this is not as easy of a process as it sounds. Gear cutting requires large capital investment on new machines to help with the process. We need machines that are used to inspect the gears once we have made them in order to ensure that they are safe to use and will not fail when put to the test. In addition to those machines I also need people that know how to use them. This means I also need to invest in training for my current employees or access to outside help.
In addition to the new gear cutting portion of the business we are also looking to expand our work with within certain industries. The three main industries right now are producing parts for cars, white goods (includes fridges, freezers, etc.), and medical systems. Creating parts for medical devices has been a growing part of our business as the medical industry booms. We do not see that trend ending anytime soon.
Our customers have described us as “crack” because once you work with Firstar, you want to more and more. We want to do everything possible to keep it that way!
For more information about Firstar Precision Corporation, visit https://www.firstarcnc.com/