TS: Might be the most simple question I ask and a lot of other people might already know, but, what does SWD stand for?
Matt: This is one of the most frequent questions we get. SWD Inc. was founded in 1980 by the original partners Stefan, Williams and Delawder. (S.W.D.) A year later in 1981 one of the partners wanted out and my father decided to buy out both partners. At this point my father is still on the board, but it is myself and my two brothers that run SWD with the help of our entire staff.
TS: Tell me more about the company. I enjoy hearing about family run businesses.
Matt: My brother Rick has been the president of SWD for the past 16 years and my brother Tim is the VP of Operations. Each of us would work at SWD after school and during the summer. I think I started working there when I was about 12 or 13 by mowing the lawn or cleaning. During college it was nice to work during the holidays and summer to earn a little spending money for school. I don’t think any of us thought this would be our career, but after college each of us came into the family business. In 1998 our father asked us each to become business partners and we haven’t looked back. We now have my nephew working with us as the first 3rd generation member of the family and we hope other family members will join in the future if they are interested.
TS: Coatings are a heavy regulated business. What are the biggest challenges you face in trying meet regulatory requirements?
Matt: We are constantly doing everything we can to exceed the environmental regulations put on our industry. SWD was the first metal finisher in the country to be ISO 14001 certified back in 1998 and we are a founding member of the EPA Strategic Goals Program. We recognize the importance of sustainability and continually look at ways to reduce and reuse throughout our operation. Our biggest challenge is to stay on the forefront of the ever changing global and national requirements and finding the best technology to meet and exceed new and existing standards.
TS: As with fasteners or anything else, everyone likes bigger orders. But how do you balance the large runs and times when your good customers need smaller runs?
Matt: This year more than ever we have seen smaller production runs as lot sizes have been smaller due to supply constraints. We have had to change the way we process parts in order to better accommodate what our customers need and when they need it. Whether we are coating or sorting and packaging an order, we are the last operation that is required. Quite often any lead-time that was built into the schedule is gone. We understand the pressure that our customers are feeling and try to help rush parts through our system no matter the size of the order. This can cause other issues of pushing orders that had previously been scheduled. We continue to adjust our production schedules and remain flexible.
TS: Business is brisk in 2021 for a lot of fastener companies. Is it the same for platers and coaters?
Matt: 2021 has been our busiest year on record. Even though we process a large number of parts for the automotive sector, which has been down by more than 30%, other areas have seen significant growth leading SWD to process a record number of orders.
TS: How long do you see this uptick in business lasting?
Matt: We have been talking to our customers over the past couple of months trying to determine our budget for 2022 and nearly every sector we deal with is projecting growth into 2023. The housing market is projected to remain strong, which bodes well for the construction and appliance markets. With the new Infrastructure Bill being passed, the heavy equipment sector is on track to remain at record levels. Our automotive customers are starting to see an increase in business that started in the fourth quarter and due to strong demand many are optimistic that production levels will get back to what they had seen in 2019.
TS: Is your company facing challenges in getting raw materials to work with or is the physical process of doing the coating more of a challenge?
Matt: Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been closely monitoring our supply chain for any issues and worked closely with our suppliers for any potential disruptions. Thankfully we have not seen any major shortages, however we have seen significant price increases on nearly all of our key inputs from energy and chemicals to packaging supplies and wages.
TS: What differentiates SWD from other coaters?
Matt: We are a family owned business and our team truly cares about our customers. We do a customer satisfaction survey every two years and last year we had a couple of responses that stood out to me. When asked: In your own words what is it about working with SWD that you value most? One customer said,” Customer Service, a willingness to listen and solve and avoid problems.” Another said it more concisely,” Good people who care.” We are always trying to find ways to give our customers a competitive edge, but it really comes down to the fact that every customer and every part is important.
TS: You were the President of the MWFA for a number of years and you are still very active in the association activities. How has that been beneficial to yourself and to SWD?
Matt: One of the most important things that my father instilled in my brothers and myself is our duty to be involved in both our community and our industry. If you want to make a change for the good, it is your responsibility to do so. My brother Rick has been the president of the Chicago Metal Finishers Institute as well as the president of the National Association of Surface Finishers. My brother Tim is a past chairman of the Addison Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I am a past president and assistant governor of Rotary international, past chair of the IFI Associate Supplier Division and I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the MWFA. I would suggest that each organization I have been affiliated with has helped me better understand different nuances within this industry and business as a whole. I have the chance to network with leaders from multimillion dollar companies and in many cases have gained close friends because of each of these associations.
TS: As long as platings and coatings have been put on fasteners it is sometimes surprising how frequently we seem to see OEM’s requesting new coatings. Is that the nature of your business? Should we always expect to see new and improved products?
Matt: Many of the coatings used in the fastener industry have been around over a hundred years and are proven to be cost effective and efficient at combating corrosion. However new environmental regulations may cause a change like what occurred with zinc electroplating and hexavalent chrome about 20 years ago. I would suggest that the real driver of change is a more advanced coating material or application method has been developed. The new coating may be thinner, reduce the chance of hydrogen embrittlement, have better corrosion resistance or any number of properties that make it more desirable as a finish. We continually talk to our partners about new materials or technology that is being developed to better meet our customer’s and ultimately the end user’s needs.
Note from TS:
I have a regular column in Fastener Technology International (FTI) magazine, called 10 Minutes with the Traveling Salesman, which can be read online at www.fastenertech.com. Subscriptions to FTI, print and digital editions, are free-of-charge for fastener manufacturers, distributors and users as well as suppliers to the industry.”
Thank you TS for looking at such an importnat part of the fastener supply chain, that affects all in our industry. Matt and his family have always been so very supportive of all fastener distribution and our repective associations.
Best statement came from the father and that was be involved in your community and your industry. My father said the same thing to me decades ago and I have always believed in “paying it forward”