Molding a Successful Business

Photo By
Hannah Ziegeler

Miniature Custom Manufacturing Recognized for Growth Trajectory.

Sparkling confetti rained down on Steve Shoemaker as he stood—attired in a black tux and bow tie—center stage at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. It was the evening of May 8, 2019, and his organization had just been named one of the 2019 “Michigan 50 Companies to Watch.”

This statewide award is presented by Michigan Celebrates Small Business, an organization that champions small business and fosters entrepreneurial spirit in Michigan. That Miniature Custom Manufacturing (MCM), the Vicksburg-based company of which Shoemaker is founder and co-owner, was honored is especially meaningful considering the company’s humble beginnings.

“In December of 2008, an opportunity came to me to mold a part,” Shoemaker explained. “My wife and I put a second mortgage on our house, bought one injection mold press, and started business in my brother’s pole barn. I spent a lot of time in that barn, but things have evolved considerably since then.”

From 2009 to 2012, MCM grew with the acquisition of six presses and operated from a Galesburg facility. Shoemaker was still the solo employee, making it work through long-run jobs and fewer change-ups and by leveraging automation. However, he knew he didn’t want to work alone forever.

Enter Kevin Murphy, who joined forces with Shoemaker in 2013.

“We were neighbors,” Murphy said. “The Galesburg facility was in my previous sales territory. I stopped in during lunch and fell in love with injection molding. I’ve always been fascinated with building things. Finally, while on a conference call one day, I decided I didn’t want to work for someone else anymore. I ended the call, drove to Galesburg, and told Steve I was ready to join the business.”

Murphy admits being a co-owner was harder than he’d imagined. “We had to roll up our sleeves and learn [on the fly] anything we needed to know in running the business,” he said. “Starting out, you have to wear a lot of hats.”

Murphy’s hats have included human resources, sales, and operations. Shoemaker’s revolve around machine controls and information technology. “Steve is a machine doctor,” Murphy said. “He can walk in, listen to a machine, and diagnose what’s wrong with it.”

It’s a good “marriage,” and they agree on how to run the company “98 percent of the time.”

MCM produces GNC protein powder scoops, automotive and medical components, food packaging, biodegradable plastic forks, and the Green Glove Dryer. Since 2012, operations have moved to Vicksburg. The company is now going through a third expansion there, adding 24,000 square feet to its existing 45,000-square-foot enterprise. Employment is at 70 team members and rising. The partners are now able to concentrate on hiring the right people rather than trying to do everything themselves.

“Our priorities are people, quality, and production, in that order,” Murphy said. “It’s getting fun now. We’re putting the right people in the right seat on the bus, like in the book “Good To Great.” It’s your people that separate you from your competition.”

MCM’s workforce is diverse. In fact, the plant manager is female. Shoemaker and Murphy agree that she brings a different perspective to the table—and that this is an asset.

“Connie is very personable,” Murphy said. “Along with the team, she organizes fulfilling activities like Biggest Loser competitions, picnics, quarterly gifts, and Adopt-A-Family and Generous Hands projects.”

The company created a digital employee information board to celebrate team birthdays and promotions, recognize achievements, share news and events, reveal the winners of friendly shift challenges, and applaud the multiple recipients of the annual award for perfect attendance with no tardiness.

MCM provides financial wellness coaching for employees by bringing in bankers who open employee savings accounts onsite and retirement plan advisors. It also encourages advancement through the reading of leadership books.

Shoemaker explained that MCM is differentiated not only by its prioritization of people but also by its approach to its other two priorities: quality and production. “Our product is still injection molding,” he said. “It’s just how we go about doing it. We’re meticulous about machine maintenance and training people. We also plan ahead for problems, which is why we have redundancy like multiple pieces of equipment [for when something breaks].”

The future glows rosy as the partners anticipate setting a pace for 25 to 30 percent growth this year.

A word of advice to other business owners? “If you don’t believe putting people first will make a difference, try it,” said Murphy. “Chase winning and money will chase you.”

Economic Development in Action: When the right kind of consulting pays off

Over the past four years, Miniature Custom Manufacturing (MCM) has engaged with regional economic development catalyst Southwest Michigan First for business consulting expertise. The agency has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the manufacturer through its acquisition of Michigan Business Development Program funding to assist with growth and local Industrial Facilities Tax abatements to reduce tax outlays on new investment. The agency has also helped MCM find talent to fill key leadership positions. Members of the MCM team have taken advantage of Southwest Michigan First leadership programming like Leadership Kalamazoo and Managing from the Middle. The result: MCM’s workforce has grown and will soon be working in a 69,000-square-foot facility.

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