Since 1967, JB Industries has been a market leader in producing HVACR tools and accessories — from fittings to vacuum pumps — at their Aurora, IL, factory. But it wasn't until 2005 that JB was relaunched as a 40-year-old start-up.
For their first 38 years in business, JB Industries had developed a solid reputation among HVACR distributors and contractors. They were the company that was known for producing high-quality products that were made in the U.S.A. Just putting out a solid product, however, was no longer enough. In order to grow, JB had to start branding the company through marketing campaigns, packaging and logos that had become just as important as the products that the company produced. In addition, JB's team rebuilt customer relationships around the country.
Enter two men who understood the HVACR and marketing sides of the business. In 2005, Ron Hill Jr. and Jeff Cherif purchased JB. College roommates, Hill had extensive experience with the HVACR industry as a longtime employee and son of one of the owners, while Cherif was a Motorola executive who had recently run one of its business units overseas and brought marketing and sales expertise to the equation. Both men understood JB's reputation and one-dimensional brand within the industry, and they set out to reinvigorate the image, telling and selling the company's story to distributors and contractors. Today, JB has re-established itself as a market leader in all facets — from product to customer service — and their brand has once again become a well-known entity within the industry.
One of the first moves was to build on the motto to allow customers and employees to better identify with the company. While the “JB” in JB Industries was a merger of the initials of the company's founders — a partnership between Jarrow Industries and Greg Brinda — Cherif and Hill saw the initials as symbolic of something else: Just Better.
“We wanted something that identified our confidence in the company,” Cherif says. “Not just in products, but in everything that we do: manufacturing, customer service, sales and distribution. The goal was to reinvent the company and establish a mindset where all employees would strive on a day-to-day basis to be ‘Just Better.’”
It was a stake in the ground that said to those in the HVACR industry that this was a new era for JB. “We came in with that in-your-face branding and said this is how we're going to behave as a company,” Cherif says. “We had a great manufacturing base that has existed for many, many years. Our people make our company Just Better.”
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Cherif and Hill retained many of the key employees who had the history and the experience with the company and industry expertise. They also brought in a mix of new executives, from engineering to CFO to sales and marketing, who could help carry out the vision to remake JB. The average tenure among their workers in the factory is about 17 years, Cherif says. As the company moved forward with their new JB logo, they repackaged the entire marketing campaign to reflect a more innovative company clearly proud to be Made in the USA. From website to packaging, the American flag is prominent. ¡°Our marketing is centered around our pride and history. Contractors get a kick out of our MADE in Chi-NOT tee shirts.¡±
The reaction to the new JB was immediately positive, Cherif says. Contractors and wholesalers were happy to see that JB was back in the game and making investments in their marketing to move the business ahead. ¡°People were looking for more out of us,¡± Cherif says.
Vacuum pumps and access valves have always been one of JB's core products. In recent years, JB has become a leader in manifolds, charging hoses, digital gauges and scales. As JB increased their marketing budget, they also invested in research and development and made capital improvements. Today, JB has branding under Kobra hoses, Supernova vacuum gauges, Atlas Refrigerant Charging Scale and Zeppelin Manifold Series in addition to their Eliminator and Platinum series of vacuum pumps. JB doesn't want to be a ¡°me too¡± partner, but the leader in the markets they serve. ¡°We want to give our partners something superior so that they can go out and sell to the contractors with confidence.¡±
This year, JB added the Prowler, a new refrigerant leak detector, which has been well received in the marketplace. ¡°It's important for JB to continue to push the envelope in new technology and innovative products,¡± Cherif says. ¡°We're a market leader because the industry looks to us to deliver the most reliable, highest-quality products backed by best-in-class service and support. Our formula has been that we're never satisfied with where we are. We're always continuing to try to do better.¡±
Even as JB looks for new opportunities to expand and meet the needs of HVACR contractors with new and better products, they continue to focus on some of their core products as well. Access fittings have always been a JB strength and one of the roots that helped to establish and grow the business. ¡°We still have a huge machine shop here,¡± Cherif says. ¡°We do a lot of OEM work and sell packaged access fittings through the wholesaler, and that's a huge feature.¡± He notes that other machine shops may offer access fittings, but very few full-line suppliers do this. ¡°We not only can do precise machining to any specification but supply most of the machining for JB end products, ensuring quality and availability for our factory,¡± Cherif adds.
The fact that JB products are manufactured in the United States is a point of particular pride for the company. ¡°We are proud to be not only competitive, but experiencing tremendous growth while manufacturing here in the U.S.A. I am so proud of what this team has accomplished and the volumes and efficiencies that have come with this growth,¡± Cherif says. ¡°Most of our competition has moved overseas, but we value our history and our people and the belief that ¡®Made in the U.S.¡¯ quality products can still be successful.¡±
Cherif says he and Hill faced the decision about moving production outside of the United States when they first took over the company. Because they were not big enough to go overseas and establish their own manufacturing operations, they realized that they would have to outsource their production without having much control over the final product. ¡°What they built for us they could sell to anybody, and lack of consistent quality and delivery was not in line with the new JB strategy,¡± he says of offshore manufacturers. They decided to ¡°double down¡± and make more investments in their Illinois manufacturing operations. ¡°We brought more in-house than we ever had before,¡± Cherif says, updating their machining and bringing in new tooling for production.
But the partners didn't realize how unique they were until a customer visited their factory. ¡°He came through for a tour and said to us, ¡®Wow, you guys make all this here? I did not think this existed anywhere in the U.S. anymore.¡¯¡± Cherif and Hill recognized that their factory was a true differentiator, and they began to market its products as made here in the United States. Cherif says this has resonated strongly with customers because they've come to expect that their tools will come from China, they won't have a long life and customer service is almost nonexistent. With a JB product, there's a long-term commitment.
Cherif likes to say that a customer can call JB and talk to the guy who made his tools. This is no exaggeration. The JB factory tour is becoming more popular as customers come to Aurora for product training. ¡°Our factory is always open to our customers and contractors,¡± he says. ¡°In the last few years, we've had a tremendous amount of traffic.¡± For a contractor to see how the tools that they depend upon for their livelihood are made ¡ª and the pride that JB employees take in making them ¡ª is powerful. ¡°It's probably one of our single greatest sales strategies,¡± Cherif says of the factory tours and the people who customers meet on these tours.
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Manufacturing their products in the United States may cost more, but Cherif says JB does not position itself as the lowest-price alternative. ¡°We are not the cheap guy on the block; we will not compete on price alone. It is not who we are as a company,¡± he says. Buy a Platinum series vacuum pump from JB for a little more money and you won't have to throw it away in a year or two. JB products rarely have defects, and if there's an issue, its service is unparalleled. ¡°Our customers know that we stand behind what we do, so warranties are virtually hassle-free, product is delivered on time and wholesalers can make margin with our line,¡± Cherif adds.
HARDI recently awarded JB with its Market Center Distribution Award, an honor that Cherif says was a culmination of the continuous improvement efforts that his team has undertaken in recent years. Cherif says it was humbling to be included among some of the prestigious companies that had previously received this award. ¡°We want to make sure that we exceed those expectations going forward,¡± he says. ¡°We continue to find ways to get better, to listen to our customers, work with our contractors and be involved in the industry as much as possible to be proactive.¡±
Service is another strength cited by Cherif in JB's efforts to be proactive in meeting their customers' needs. Their network of dedicated sales agents provides training, product demonstrations and vacuum pump clinics at distributor branches. Because they are U.S. manufacturers, 98 percent of orders are shipped within 24 hours. ¡°The wholesaler can turn our products much faster and manage their inventory because they can order our product when they need it, which nets greater profitability.¡±
Cherif says he regards wholesaler distributors of JB as partners. ¡°When we're looking for distributors, we're looking for partners with similar mind-sets and values ¡ª selling themselves as a service-oriented organization, selling quality and what they do, not just price. If you have to ask about price, then we're probably not the right partner for you,¡± Cherif says.
With their focus on marketing, JB has emerged as a market leader when it comes to product promotion and wholesaler support. JB offers a full line of merchandise display materials, customized flyers and packaging. Cherif says the company has redoubled its efforts to appeal to the end user so that their appearance in a wholesaler showroom reflects the innovation and quality of the products.
Of course, giving away a Camaro also helps. JB recently launched their ¡°Pump Your Ride¡± campaign to promote their Platinum pump and reinforce its reputation as the best pump in the industry. The end user purchases a specially marked pump and must identify on the registration form the person who sold them the pump. The salesperson who sold the pump to the Camaro winner will receive a $1,500 gas card. They will announce the winning entry in January, 2012, at the AHR Show in Chicago. In addition to the grand prize, JB is offering monthly prizes to keep counter people focused on the promotion. ¡°We wanted to inject some excitement and do something different to promote our premier product,¡± he says. ¡°At JB, the last 44 years have been exciting, but we will continue to strive to be Just Better and our customers deserve nothing less,¡± Cherif adds.
Tom Peri¨@ is the editor of HVACR Distribution Business magazine. Contact him at [email protected] or 856/874-0049.
Fully Integrated ERP System
Importance: Fully integrated system allows JB to manage every facet of the business and provide data for each organization to properly plan, forecast and execute in the most efficient manner possible.
Significance: With more than 2,000 finished goods SKU's, 10,000 sub-assemblies, in-house manufacturing and packaging, thousands of suppliers and several hundred customers all looking for quick delivery, JB has invested in a system that allows all the JB organizations to coordinate processes, from new product rollout to order to cash to sales and financial reporting management. We believe coordination of all these processes in our U.S. manufacturing facility brings efficiencies that give JB a competitive advantage.
Benefits: Provides tools to all levels of the organization to be successful in their position. JB prides itself on on-time delivery (we ship 98 percent of orders within 24 hours), and our ERP system allows JB to manage inventory for its four integrated factories and shipping locations as well as provide vital information to customer service, purchasing, quality, finance and customers. Also provides a one-page dashboard of metrics that provides continuously updated business measurements. System also allows JB to extract data at customer level. JB sales team not only uses this for reporting but aids them in identifying customers' product gaps and coordinating with wholesalers' building of sales strategies.
People Involved: Customers, engineering, customer service, production, purchasing, shipping, accounting, sales, marketing, quality and management.