Co-Operative Industries has a sharp focus on customer service and a willingness to set itself apart from the competition in the eyes of their clients, President and CEO Sam Symonds says. “We have a willingness to respond quickly, and we generally don’t turn down an opportunity because of size,” he says. “Sometimes, our competitors [will not fill an order] because it is only one or two items. Having worked with customers that have specific requirements, we have enjoyed the benefit of their follow-on business. In addition, these same customers have shared their positive opinions of us with their with industry peers, resulting in new business relationships for Co-Operative Industries.”
The firm, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is a small business specializing in the design, fabrication and repair of electrical wiring harnesses, ignition leads, flexible metal conduit and conduit assemblies. Its primary customers are in the commercial and military aerospace markets, but they also supply conduit products to those in the industrial arena. The electrical wiring harnesses manufactured and repaired at Co-Operative Industries are found on many military aircraft and commercial airliners.
The harnesses are used to carry signals between discreet engine components and the main communication bus of the aircraft so the cockpit can monitor the function of the engine. “There isn’t much variation in the function of our product lines, being interconnect products,” Symonds says. “What changes are the features. Our ability to work with newly developed components and incorporate them into interconnect solutions provides a tremendous benefit to our customers. In one case, the company has solved field repairability issues while simultaneously reducing the weight of the harness. Another example is our ability to respond with peripheral products such as automatic test equipment for testing harnesses while still mounted on the fan case or other locations on the engine.”
Although the company’s manufacturing processes are similar to its competitors, “the combination of laser wire stripping, laser wire marking and in-house braiding capability is somewhat unique,” he says. “Because the company is ISO 9001 and AS9100 registered, we are continuously looking at our quality systems and finding ways to improve our manufacturing processes to excel in this competitive industry.
“We also have remarkable relationships with many of our suppliers allowing us to enter into long term contracts with scheduled deliveries, which helps the ‘just in time’ effort with inventory,” he says. “We seem to always carry more inventory than we’d like, but we try to balance that with the desire to respond quickly to our customer’s needs.”
Diversifying its customer base is also an important part of the company strategy. “We have a large percentage that is military, and we’ll continue to grow in that area, but we’re also working more with commercial aerospace customers and building our repair station capability,” Symonds says.
It also strives to take advantage of market conditions. “Pre-9/11, a majority of airlines could basically disassemble their own airplane and put it back together,” he recalls. “There were back shops for a lot of components. But that was the first thing they cut out of their business models when they started to downsize, and they distributed that work among small businesses. They were outsourcing more, and that was an opportunity for a company like ours, and we seized that opportunity.”
This focus has paid off. Even during bad economic conditions, Co-Operative posted 23.5 percent growth in 2008, 25.5 percent growth in 2009 and is projecting 25 percent growth this year. “We’ve just been continuing our philosophy of total customer service,” he states. “We satisfy their needs in everything we do and improve our systems to that end.”
Meeting clients’ needs is Co-Operative’s No. 1 priority. “It’s not unusual for an airline customer to come in with a competitor’s harness,” Symonds says. “They may not be happy, so they’ll ask us for a better solution. We design the harness to meet [Federal Aviation Administration] Parts Manufacturer’s Approval.”
Recently, it added CFM56-5 engine harness repair services. “The implementation of the CFM56-5 engine wiring harnesses further augments our CFM56-7 repair options to a worldwide customer base,” he explains. “We are one of the premier repair stations for the CFM56-7 engine harnesses. Following market analysis, we decided to add the CFM56-5 to our repair station capabilities.”
“As a result of that we are now receiving airline inquiries,” Marketing Communications Manager Jim Fairchild adds.
Co-Operative Industries also is looking to grow via acquisitions and investments, Symonds adds. “There are other aerospace-related products and companies that are in our area of expertise which we are looking into purchasing or teaming with to grow our product offering,” he says.
“We are not counting on significant growth through acquisition, but it is a consideration as part of our overall business plan.
“The company is in the process of purchasing a new 122,000-square-foot facility in White Settlement, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth,” he says. “The new facility will be three times the size of the existing facility. The new facility will afford the added manufacturing space needed to accommodate the growth that the company is experiencing, as well as provide additional benefits to employees. For example, the manufacturing floor will be set-up incorporating an indoor track that employees may use for exercise during their free time.
“We have a nice work environment now, but it was getting overcrowded,” he explains. “The additional space will give employees an improved work environment and a chance for us to expand other amenities.”
The new move is only cross-town from its current location. “Aside from obvious and necessary business considerations, Fort Worth is our home,” Symonds explains. “We choose to live and work in this area and therefore are very community minded. We have employees that are involved in many community groups and we support local food pantries as well as sponsoring local sports teams. The company also belongs to the Better Business Bureau.”
A Core Group
Co-Operative Industries has 128 employees. Many of its recent hires have come from larger firms such as Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, and Boeing to name a few. “If we find someone that has experience, and recognizes the opportunity or advantage of working for a small business, we’d love to have them join our team,” Symonds says. “When it is a fit, we do also hire employees from totally different industries. We incorporate ongoing training programs to bring these new employees up to speed. The continual training programs also reinforce the skills and processes of our seasoned employees.
“As we continue to grow, we can rely on a core group of employees that have worked together for many years and at other companies,” he adds. That’s a group of about 10 people that average between 20 and 30 years of experience in the industry.
The company’s work force is a point of pride for Symonds. “I’m actually the most proud of our employees and the way they work together and handle change,” he says. “Our industry and manufacturing has experienced major changes over the last several years. Most of the new business we are receiving is now ‘build-to-print’ type work vs. our company designing to specification. This brings a new set of challenges as we all focus on satisfying the various customer requirements.”
Quality is first and foremost on employees’ minds, Symonds adds. “We have monthly meetings where I used to choose someone to recite our quality policy – people now volunteer to do it,” he says.
The company doesn’t implement strict lean policies, but it does follow some lean principles. “We’re a small business, we’ve not stepped up to put expenses into the full lean initiative,” he says. “The company has brought many employees in from other large companies that have implemented programs such as lean, Six Sigma, kaizan and TQM. With this kind of experience base, we brainstorm ways to cost effectively implement the main concepts of these beneficial programs.”