- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

FIFE LAKE, Mich. (AP) - Mechanical couplings made at Hayes Manufacturing Inc. in Fife Lake are spinning across the globe inside off-road machinery with nameplates including John Deere, Husqvarna, Toro, Manitou, Case and New Holland.

The family-owned company makes power transmission products - stub shafts, flywheel couplings and drive couplings.

“We’re a small business doing things like a big business,” company President Holly Miller said.

She and family members Marie McDougall, vice president of operations, and Penny Challender, vice president and treasurer, own the company along with Sam Runkel, vice president of manufacturing and Mike Lawson, vice president of engineering and sales.

Miller, McDougall and Challender’s grandparents started the company in 1966 as Rayclay Engineering in a garage in Rochester, Michigan. The company changed its name and moved to Manton in 1973, then to Fife Lake in 1990. Growth has been rapid despite the fact that Hayes competes against three much larger manufacturers of similar products.

The Record-Eagle (https://bit.ly/2kjanhd ) reports that the company capitalizes on its relatively small size by making the most of its ability to handle both small and large jobs, from one-off parts to quantities of 10,000. The management crew strives to offer a solid product and flexible customer service at a reasonable price. They constantly look for ways to make the business better.

“Going out of our way to improve,” Challender said, is a basic rule at Hayes.

Potential customers who visit the 33,000-square-foot company facility in Fife Lake are greeted by an elegant lobby, an immaculate front office and a back shop that is massive, precisely organized and exceptionally neat.

“They see how we’re a small-town operation, and that appeals to them,” Challender said. “We’re a niche business, a small business.”

Hayes power couplers have been used in all kinds of devices. They’re in Zamboni ice groomers, ship bow thrusters, Smuckers factories and Legoland. They help or have helped drive the mechanisms inside the Jungle Book ride at Disneyland, the Tower of Terror and the Jaws ride. Another was used to move the train in the 2013 movie The Lone Ranger.

But most of their products serve inside mobile off-road machinery.

The company has wrestled business away from competitors through careful study, planning and sales work. Some potential customers aren’t shy about laying out their needs for the Fife Lake company. One current customer took pains to explain what services and pricing Hayes would need to offer to get their business.

“They told us what we had to do,” Lawson said.

Hayes did those things - and grabbed the customer away from a large competitor.

The technique of visual management plays a key role throughout the Hayes operation. Lawson said the concept involves keeping everything organized and visible. The front office features a trio of huge whiteboards covered with color-coded markers constantly updated to display orders, production status and shipping tasks that need to be completed. The boards allow everyone to see at a glance what needs to be done when. Visual management ideas also motivated management to eliminate tool drawers on the manufacturing floor. Every tool now is kept on an organized surface, instantly visible and accessible.

Lawson said visual management allows workers to spend more time doing their jobs and less time hunting for information or hardware.

Northwestern Michigan College instructors use Hayes as an example of how to efficiently operate a business, Miller said.

The company employs 38 people including the five owners. It just added a second shift on a trial basis.

Hayes weathers economic bumps by maintaining a diversified client base that includes makers of machinery for a wide variety of industries including oil and gas, agriculture and construction.

“If we have one industry go down, we might see a little dip,” Lawson said.

But not too large a dip, because Hayes’ other clients in other industries take up the slack.

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Information from: Traverse City Record-Eagle, https://www.record-eagle.com


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