Customer-centric Service and Innovation
In a world where customer service is not always a top priority for some big companies, CribMaster remains committed to not only maintaining quality care for its clients, but also to forging real relationships that extend beyond the confines of the business. Coupled with its ongoing commitment to true innovation in delivering exemplary inventory and asset management solutions, CribMaster puts its customers first from beginning to end, as a full-service provider of inventory management solutions.
For almost 30 years, the company has worked to deliver solutions to improve manufacturing facility and job site performance around the world, developing innovative technologies for industrial managers and exceeding operational objectives. But while the company started as a software business focused solely on indirect material management and manufacturing facilities with the sole purpose of helping manage and direct materials, it has evolved from its early days of direct interaction with the end user.
“It’s really morphed into interaction with distribution as a leading player,” says co-founder Larry Harper. “We always worked with distribution, but in the last 10 years it’s really shifted to be a distribution-focused business, managing indirect material with software at our core. It’s one of the differentiators that we have, but the way that we go about managing indirect material is far and beyond what any of our competitors do in terms of features and functions of the actual software.”
In 1999, the company began taking inventory out of the tool crib and putting it into vending machines. Vending machines became lockers, which became scales and then accessible by RFID, says Harper. The myriad other products helped better manage indirect material, sometimes via the process, sometimes by getting it closer to its point of use, and sometimes by trying to keep inventory levels down.
“We’ve had two core tenets in the business from day one that we really continue to focus on,” he says. “We want to be thought of as the innovative company in this space, the real thought leaders developing new products and bringing them to market. Often we innovate, not only in terms of machines and hardware which is the visible aspect, but also in terms of how we handle the processes around inventory control, and how we manage inventory at aerospace facilities or how we better interact with our distribution partners.”
Innovation, he says, has been at the core from day one and remains at the core today. Along with that is the company’s high-intensity customer focus.
“We don’t sell products, we sell the business,” says Harper. “We sell solutions in every sense of the term. I don’t think we have a single customer that we haven’t formed a strong relationship with, a long-term ongoing relationship. We exchange Christmas cards and we know each other’s kids. It’s just a deep relationship, and that personal touch that we have with our customers really drives the overall culture of how the business operates.”
From a cultural perspective, there are also many parallels between CribMaster’s customers and its employees, according to President Kelly Musselwhite.
“Our employees have gotten a deep knowledge over the years of what’s going on in our customers’ facilities and their businesses and what’s needed to help them improve – whether that means having the right levels of inventory, or cost control, or being more efficient on their production line, our employees really understand that,” she says.
And what they find is that customers aren’t shy about asking for help when they have a new challenge they need help solving, says Musselwhite. CribMaster employees understand and take that challenge very personally.
“We know what’s going on with manufacturing, what’s going on with your business, and now it’s a question of, ‘how do we solve it?’ There’s a constant sense of urgency to help the customers and that comes through with two different characteristics,” says Musselwhite. “It’s fast-paced but also fun.”
To be sure, there is a lot of collaboration between the customer and employees, whether it’s in creating new products or building something as fast as possible because the customer needs it in order to get the production line back up, she says. That close relationship doesn’t just stop with the sales process — it extends to the life of the relationship, whether providing technical support or new product development.
This customer service and appreciation culminates at the company’s annual user conference, taking place this year May 12 to 15. This yearly event is touted as one of the most important things CribMaster does to encourage and maintain the culture both for employees and customers.
“The customers come for a few different reasons,” says Musselwhite. “They want to learn about those new products, but they also come to get deeper technology training from our experts. With that training and knowledge transfer comes collaboration and relationship building, so the event really helps nurture that and makes sure it stays intact and helps it grow.”
CribMaster’s ongoing success, Musselwhite and Harper both say, is attributed to two things: innovation and customer service, which the company takes great pride in upholding.
“It’s absolutely a strong desire for everybody in this business to solve the complex problems our customers have and to do it in a fun way,” says Harper. “You can be innovative, but if you can direct that innovation toward things that really bring solutions to complex problems, it’s a whole lot of fun. You spend half your life at work, so if you’re not having fun you’d better find something else to do. Life’s too short to not enjoy what you’re doing!”
CribMaster prides itself on fostering an industry culture that instills this sense of enjoyment amongst its employees as well, hosting events such as regular luncheons, a variety of family-oriented parties throughout the year, and activities like Bring Your Kids to Work Day.
CribMaster’s focus recently — and what the company expects to continue in heavily over the next few years — is on RFID advancements and technology, making corporate venture investments in companies in this area, and tapping into the start-up community and other tech companies to leverage their technology in order to bring better and more innovative full solutions to the customer.
“The number one way that we think about innovation is definitely customer-driven, but if you’re really going to set out to change the marketplace or change what the customers are thinking or doing, you have to try to come up with solutions that break the mold,” says Harper.
Reacting to customers’ needs and innovating from there, while changing the industry and determining the next great thing, is part of what fuels CribMaster’s success. “On the technical support side of the business, we’ve added a lot of digitization, even this year, and across the board we’ve looked at how we can add more technology to our process in order for the customer’s experience with our business to be better and be more seamless and faster,” explains Harper.
CribMaster’s technical support is also innovative in terms of streamlining as the company has eliminated a call center coordinator function: calls are now routed directly to the experts who can best help the customers, knowing which customer is calling, what type of equipment they have and how to serve them best. Added enhancements mean customers get help without having to explain their issue multiple times.
CribMaster also offers strong hosting services, with world-class capabilities for hosting data and full-time monitoring from one of the best data centers in the world, giving customers more flexibility in how quickly they can solve problems, with appropriate levels of security. “We’re not just selling hardware and putting it in a facility and leaving,” says Musselwhite. “We’re really supporting the customer wherever and however they need.”
Almost every single customer that buys CribMaster’s products needs some level of customization, she says, whether it’s an integration into another system, a warehouse management system, or customer porting. The service side of the business is definitely growing, an important part of getting the customer the complete solution.
“I think that we’ve really made strides in the last year in the way we’re doing things; we’ve gotten a lot better and we have a lot more plans to continue to grow,” says Harper. “It’s one of those areas where you can be good today and if you keep doing the same thing you won’t be good tomorrow; you have to continually work to reinvent yourself and use new tools and processes to better impact your customers.”
CribMaster’s teams not only earn respect and trust from their customers; customers believe the company has their best interests at heart, and in turn invite them to the table to participate in every aspect of planning, problem-solving and growth. “I think every company out there feels the pressure to get more cost-effective year after year,” says Musselwhite. “The question is how are we going to accomplish that? These customers aren’t interested to partner with us just one time; they need improvements every year so they keep coming back wanting to get better.”
Getting better also applies to CribMaster itself, a company that strives to create a workplace that is innovative, inclusive, and inviting.
“We want to be a company where people love to come to work every day, and when I think about what we’ve been able to accomplish as a business, I not only think that people feel like that, but our customers feel similarly because they work so closely with us,” says Musselwhite. “For me that’s a proud thing for the business and for us.”
With growth comes the opportunity to help more customers and create more jobs for people who like coming to work, she says. But managing through that growth comes with its own trials. “We’ve grown fast over the years and want to keep growing fast in the coming years,” says Musselwhite. “Maintaining the culture as the company moves from a small company to a larger one and keeping that family environment is definitely a challenge, and one we’re still very conscious and intentional about.”
When asked what the best thing is about running a company, Harper is quick to answer. “Impacting 150 lives,” he says. “The fact that we get to build a company that people love coming to work with and where they’re challenged both professionally and personally. It’s a fun place to be where people are smiling and enjoying helping their customers and accomplishing goals with customers. It’s a really cool place.”
For CribMaster, the biggest challenge going forward remains finding the right opportunities to apply all of the technology out there in a way that will work for customers’ unique environments and requirements. The team has its finger on the pulse of new technology and is continuously finding ways to apply it.
“I used to say the pace of innovation is faster than it’s ever been, but I now say the pace of innovation will never be slower than it is today,” he says. “The world is evolving so quickly and the new technologies that are in the market and are coming out can have an impact on how we do what we do. There’s so much opportunity out there with the new products and new approaches we’re taking. 2020 will be crazy year and we’re going to make it fun for a whole lot of people.”