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Vickie Wyatt, owner of JIT Manufacturing in Cowpens, was named this year’s Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration.
And though she is thankful for the recognition, she is quick to credit the metal fabricating company’s success and award to the employees and the family-like culture of the business, which started 25 years ago.
“It’s the employee that signs mine and Reggie’s check. They’re the reason we got the award. They deserve it just as much if not more than I,” she said.
Reggie is Vickie’s husband and co-founder of the business.
“My husband said a long time ago he wanted to empower the employee and that means a lot of things. It means better benefits and game-changing ideas. It’s having business meetings and letting everyone know what sales are and what new customers are coming on board,” she said. “We make everyone feel a part of the company.”
Taking care of the employees makes for a better customer experience as well, Vickie said, adding that “whoever walks through that door, we treat them how we want to be treated.”
JIT Manufacturing specializes in metal fabrication. Wyatt said with so many other similar companies, they try to set themselves apart by taking ownership in the products they produce and how they treat customers, suppliers and employees.
“When you just try to do the best that you can do, and put one foot forward every day, and you encourage that throughout the whole shop, from the front door to the back door – everyone realizes we are all part of the team,” she said.
Dan Hunter, vice president of manufacturing for the company, was quick to agree, adding that “everybody has to contribute to be successful.”
Over the years JIT Manufacturing has grown from having one salesperson to 40 employees. Hunter said they typically work with 20 to 25 customers at any given time and produce an average of just over 10,000 pieces per week, generating between $5 million and $6 million in annual sales.
While the company has grown, it has weathered ups and downs, like the economic recession.
“When we slowed in 2009 because of the economy, instead of doing what a lot of other companies did with layoffs, JIT offered cross training, which really allowed us to move people around to get more experience and more skills and it really paid off in the long run,” Hunter said. “When things started picking up and getting busier, those employees had a lot more value add back to the company on meeting those schedules.”
The cross-training wasn’t just to add value to JIT Manufacturing though. Wyatt said that even though such a practice can cost a company money it can, in the long run, make an employee more valuable in the job market, should things come to that.
“Not only is it going to make that employee more valuable to us, if something were to happen to JIT, those cross-trained skills will make our employees more valuable to someone else. And that’s really how we think about things here. It’s not always about us. It’s about the community, the world we live in and how we serve God, really. Each one of us has to answer for that.”
To help with filling a skills gap, Hunter said JIT Manufacturing is working with Spartanburg Community College in Cherokee County to develop a curriculum designed to offer skills companies need. The company also is in the beginning stages of developing an apprenticeship program with SC Works.
“I’m optimistic about our future in manufacturing going forward,” Wyatt said. “I love it and I think that manufacturing is going to come back to the United States. I think some of the things that President Trump has going on will help. He supports small businesses.”
Hunter said the company lost about $30,000 a month in sales with a customer because the work went to China. He said another customer, in Alpharetta, Ga., sent work to Mexico, costing JIT Manufacturing close to $40,000 a month.
“That really hurts a company our size,” he said. “We’re really hoping this 30 to 35% excise tax that Trump and his team are planning on putting on our competition overseas allows that work to come back to the states. We’re looking forward to continuing to add jobs to our community and working with the apprenticeship programs. We’re forward thinking in making sure we’re being aggressive and not left behind.
Hunter said the plan moving forward includes the goal to grow 30% or more each year for the next three to five years, adding a more diversified customer base in military, commercial, aerospace and medical supply companies.