A Long-standing Business with a New-School Approach
American industrial equipment manufacturer, Feedall Automation of Willoughby, Ohio, focuses specifically on automated part feeding and loading systems, i.e. conveyors, feeders, and other types of robotics. The company’s solutions aim to simplify part handling in facilities by mechanically sorting, orientating, and loading parts into secondary operations.
Feedall was founded in 1946 and, for over seventy years, was run by the Winslow family. In 2017, current chief executive officer (CEO) Jon Cocco acquired the company from the founder’s grandson, Roger Winslow Jr. Before the purchase, Cocco had run several businesses through private equity, most notably rubber manufacturer Veyance Technologies (now Continental Tire), serving as vice president and general manager for a variety of its business units.
After these endeavors, Cocco wanted to focus on small-to-middle-sized American manufacturers such as Feedall and spent a year acquiring the company. Now in his fourth year of serving as its head, Cocco knows what the company brings to the automation sector and what it can provide that others cannot.
Before Cocco acquired the company, he had three criteria for any prospective purchase based on his experiences as an engineer for the likes of GM and Goodyear. These criteria were that the company had to be an engineered product company with complex designs to solve customer problems; it had to have a good reputation and brand recognition in its market and that its market segment had to be inherently under-served and in need of investment.
Feedall, a niche business in its field, checked these three boxes while having much to offer its customers. “What we do nicely is to work with plant managers, maintenance managers, and plant engineers at facilities to help them solve their parts and automation issues,” Cocco says. With seven engineers on staff, the company is known as a design house which resolves feeding and automation issues of every kind, whether an issue is related to labor shortages or increasing efficiency and safety of a factory’s dirty, repetitive, or unsafe processes.
As an automation company with several decades of experience and reputation, Feedall is constantly improving its internal procedures and approaches. Cocco outlines three major areas of focus for the company that have undergone remarkable leaps forward recently.
The first is improvement in its digital marketing and lead generation, as many businesses of its size often fall short in this area because of a lack of digital footprint. These processes have been improved by better understanding a typical customer’s journey through Feedall, which, in turn, allows the company to put necessary information where customers can see it, whether through search engine optimization or increasing its social media presence. Cocco notes that YouTube videos have been a unique and popular way to communicate the brand’s value.
The second focus concerns improving the company’s sales structure and practices, which began in 2020 with the implementation of a data-driven sales method. To this end, Feedall began using a new customer relationship management system through the platform Salesforce.com, giving even greater data management. Cocco also cites a sales methodology called “Baseline Selling”, which means that Feedall now prioritizes customer inquiries based on the highest probability of their success. Cocco believes that having sales resources interact directly with customers at their facilities helps with understanding and addressing their problems immediately, which these days seems like a lost art of selling.
The final focus point is to implement modernization in company operations. The goal is to build the businesses’ front end before investing in capacity. Feedall can manufacture ninety percent of its equipment with very little outsourcing, so it can control its own quality, cost, and lead times, which are often at the forefront of what a customer wants. “A lot of value is created within our walls,” Cocco describes. “We try not to depend on other suppliers when we can do it just as efficiently or even better.”
Cocco defines the internal structure of Feedall as being as disciplined as a Fortune 500 company but as flexible as a startup. He brought a philosophy of discipline without bureaucracy, the latter of which he believes to be a big downfall for larger companies. The internal workings are much more entrepreneurial, as workers are encouraged to embrace failure and the lessons that come with it on the way to finding new ways to please the customer. This permits fast decision-making and flexibility, which is key in the daily addressing and solving of challenges across the company.
“In a manufacturing environment,” Cocco says there need to be, “people in authority that are comfortable with the decisions they make,” thus great care is taken to empower employees to make these decisions.
The company touches upon many different industries at once because of the nature of the services it offers. This diversity has resulted in its focus on general manufacturing as opposed to catering to an individual market segment. As establishments deal with issues like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and various supply chain issues, Feedall’s business fluctuates depending on how money is being spent in different sectors and how effectively labor is being managed.
Cocco feels there is pressure for companies to be even more productive than ever before, noting the challenge in this but asserting that Feedall possesses compelling solutions that provide customers a good return on investment.
As 2022 begins, Feedall continues to make internal improvements, including a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that will aim to support internal productivity goals. New product launches are also on the horizon, especially in the realm of robotic bin-picking, a more complex area of robotics and machine vision. Thanks to forming a new partnership, the company will be introducing a new turnkey solution that will be compelling for several sectors.
As Cocco explains, the engineering team will be developing new products to meet newer marketplace needs. This year will also see the introduction of products centered on automated devices to load and unload machines, i.e. CNC machine tending. Beyond these modernization endeavors, the company’s focus will be on improving engineering breadth.
Feedall Automation has over seventy-five years of history to draw upon for its continued success. Cocco feels that quality is the reason. “It takes years to develop a great reputation in the marketplace, but it takes just one time to ruin it with unacceptable quality.” Cocco and the company’s workforce are very aware of its legacy of high-quality automation and feeding equipment, thus the goal will be to continue to improve on that further. With a solid mixture of knowledgeable veterans and fresh faces with new ideas among its staff, Feedall intends to retain its reputation.