2017 marks fifty years of operations for Fralock, a growing family-owned and operated business located in the Valencia Commerce Center.
Fralock designs, engineers and manufactures specialty components and subassemblies for companies in industries that include aerospace, life science and medical, satellite, and semiconductor equipment.
It has not always been an easy ride, and Scott Tucker, CEO and son of founder Noel C. Tucker, recently shared the challenges and opportunities as he looked back, reflecting on the lessons learned over the last five decades.
In 1967, Permacel Tape decided to cancel a product line that Noel thought had a few more years left in the life cycle.
Partnering with Dick Frasier and Ken Lockwood (the source of the name Fralock), the company started in Van Nuys, providing custom tape products; some were manufactured and others were purchased and resold to other manufacturing companies.
Within a few years, Noel bought out his partners and in the early 1980s, relocated the company to Canoga Park. The 17,000-square-foot building was rapidly filled to capacity. Over the next few years, the company leased three additional buildings to handle the work required by the then booming disk drive industry.
Through the 1980s, the company continued to grow as a custom manufacturing firm. With over 200 employees, and little in the way of policies and procedures, inefficiencies were everywhere. Scott recalled that it took an employee 20 minutes to walk from the furthest building to the main office and could only guess how much time was lost each day as many employees made the journey.
By this time, Scott had earned a business degree from USC, in one of the first classes to major in entrepreneurialism. Out of college, he took a job with a Fortune 500 firm in Los Angeles. This time and experience proved to be important when he returned to Fralock in a temporary sales role.
Like many entrepreneurial companies, Fralock had grown too fast, wasn’t as well organized as it could be, lacked standard operating procedures, and had no vetting procedures about what type of work it would or would not do. Guidelines on the production lines were non-existent.
A considerable amount of business was actually lost at the front door. Major companies would send out people to visit to see where and how their components were going to be manufactured. A quick look around and the deal was lost; Fralock didn’t make the cut from an image perspective
Around this time Noel had some health issues, and a transition and new direction for the company was necessary.
In 2000, Scott, working with the now COO Marcelo Norona, crafted a plan to transform the company. The immediate goal was to achieve ISO9000 certification, a set of international standards designed to help companies manage and measure. There was initial internal resistance and the dot-com bubble bursting didn’t help. Revenue fell substantially and the company survived through layoffs, reorganizations and cost cutting measures.
No owner or leader likes to have to make these decisions, but Scott and Marcelo were in it for the long term, and with a management team focused on clear goals, strong strategies and action plans, the future would be better and different. Getting employee buy-in was key. Many employees from those turbulent years are still at the company.
Over the next ten years, the company went through trying times, dealing with the Asian financial crisis; the rapid off shoring of manufacturing to Asia and the Great Recession.
One major turning point for the company was when Scott, Marcelo and the rest of the management started to really dig into the company’s financials. In 2009, this was a function of business survival. To this point, the company had been chasing revenue and volume, not profit.
Another decision was to avoid chasing the business that was off-shored to Asia. While manufacturing in California would cost more, it was deemed necessary to preserve the company’s trade secrets and other intellectual property and to maintain the high quality standards required by clients.
A third decision was made to address the client list. In 2008 Fralock had 3,000 clients. That number is now 700. The company raised minimum production run quantities, eliminated product offerings and increased prices where needed.
Even now the client base is under review as the company continues to seek higher margin items and more specialized work that is a competitive advantage. As part of the transformation, Fralock sought out clients that had demanding engineering requirements and long tail production needs. Now, the majority of the client base has shifted to aerospace, FDA-approved medical products and the semiconductor industry.
A fourth decision was to engage the employees in the success of the company through a pay for performance program. The company has an open book management program and shares the financial results with every employee. Only once since 2008 has the company missed a quarterly bonus payment.
Finally, in 2006, the company moved into new quarters in the Valencia Commerce Center. For the first time since the early days in Canoga Park, the company now has all operations under one roof. The 60,000 square foot building is now home to a company that is growing double digits each year and now supports approximately 180 full time employees.
Scott Tucker’s lessons for business owners:
- Don’t just chase revenue and volume; pursue profit.
- Surround yourself with successful leaders who are focused on profitable revenue and know how to get it.
- Don’t be afraid to make personnel changes to get better people for a stronger future.
- When employees share in company success, they contribute in many ways that make a huge difference.
- Double-digit growth is possible if employees are aligned and engaged.
- Pay attention to third-party feedback on the company; Glassdoor, as an example, gives a window into how current and former employees feel about the company.
- Employees are the solution to most company problems but they need to be engaged to address the challenges the company faces.
- Root out inefficiencies that are often overlooked.
- Change is good, and necessary although not always welcomed; only the companies willing to constantly change will survive and thrive.
- A constant and sustained focus on improving Gross Profit Margin can yield huge financial dividends; over time Fralock has been able to increase GPM by over 50%.
- Sharing financial information with all employees will turn most employees into owners of their responsibilities and results.
- Give people the tools to do the job they have been hired to do and get out of their way so they can achieve their goals.