For Dale Dunlap, customer service and quality are at the forefront of everything he does. As the President and CEO of Fenix Flex, he is always aiming for more than just satisfaction. Hose + Coupling World recently had the opportunity to speak to Dale Dunlap about his experiences in the industrial industry and discuss his thoughts on the best approach to establishing a connection between himself, his suppliers and his clients.
By Brittani Schroeder and Angelica Pajkovic
With over 23 years of experience in engineering, Dale Dunlap has gained quality management expertise from his engagement in a variety of different industries. Beginning his career as a Quality Manager in the industrial sector, Dunlap established himself through a number of different roles which handled a wide verity of equipment. After working in the automotive, electrical, construction, textile, pharmaceutical, tire manufacturing, chemical, injection molding warehouse and distribution, and printing industries, Dunlap began his current dynamic role in the industrial hose industry.
Dunlap credits the Eagle Scouts for starting him on his professional journey. “When I was very young, the Eagle Scouts held a banquet, and they paired up the younger kids up with adults who could possibly help inspire us for our future careers. I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so they paired me with the owner of the local newspaper, and it was wonderful,” Dunlap said. It was interactions with other motivated individuals, such as those employed at the newspaper, which inspired Dunlap to own and operate many different businesses, ranging from a bicycle shop to a wine shop, before opening his industrial hose business.
While he is now the President and CEO of Fenix Flex (formerly Fenix Specialty Products), Dunlap describes himself simply as ‘The Chief of This and That’. Inspecting, sourcing, and supplying products for his clients are only a few of the responsibilities he holds within the company.
Dunlap’s entrepreneur role consists of five different elements. As ‘The Chief of This and That’, the first element of his role is decision making. This pertains to what the company will sell, and how they will sell it. Management control is the second element and focuses on the people that will work for or with the company. The third element is division of income, which includes tasks such as deciding where to use the company’s money; whether on advertising, trade shows, or investing. Dunlap also manages company risk assessment, which makes up the fourth element to his position. The fifth and final element that Dunlap devotes much of his time to is innovation.
“I have a quote posted in my office from Will Rogers that says, ‘Even if you’re on the right track, you will get run over if you just sit there’, and I tend to model the company after that belief, especially when it comes to innovation,” explained Dunlap. “Nobody likes change, but if we want to remain in business in five to ten years, there is no way we can remain the same. I think it is important to always be updating our practices to make sure that we are continually progressing and improving the technology we use.”
A Problem Solver
Dunlap considers himself a problem solver and enjoys working on new challenges every day. “I think collaborating and working with customers on their challenges and issues helps us both; it is a learning opportunity and it helps us develop preventative practices that can benefit both the hoses and the facilities that manufacture them.”
A common issue that Dunlap interacts with is hose compatibility. “A lot of projects are fitted with the wrong rubber compounds for the wrong media,” said Dunlap “I recently worked on a problem in a brewery where the personnel were clamping the hose directly to the tank and were allowing it to drop to the floor, which created a 90° bend in the hose. The hoses were all failing in the same spot because of the bend being created. A 45° fitting was added, and their problem was solved.”
Another common problem in rubber products is incompatibility. A customer may use the wrong tube compound for the media, or use a cleaning process that damages the rubber, Dunlap further emphasized.
Although solving problems is an excellent way to build a strong relationship with clients, Dunlap believes that all companies should go beyond simply satisfying the customer. Instead, he thinks that everyone should aim to delight their clients.
Dunlap knows that delighting the customer is not always easy. “The difficulty starts right when we are trying to establish a connection. It is a challenge to reach people in person now because of the digital age we live in. We are surrounded by phone calls and emails and social media, which is why I like to meet people face-to-face and begin that relationship with a handshake,” Dunlap explained. “Industrial hose companies are very reliant on recommendations. If a customer receives exceptional service, they will pass that information along. This ultimately ties back to suppliers and what they can provide to the clients. The goal should always be the best quality!”
The Supplier Selection Process
Dunlap believes that to ensure a sense of delight, a company must choose their suppliers carefully. Quality of service is key when sourcing parts for new projects. “If you do not manufacture, you are totally dependent on what your suppliers can provide. If they cannot come through for you, you cannot come through for your customers. Personally, I spend a lot of time sourcing suppliers and making sure they can meet any of the listed requirements,” explained Dunlap.
Before making a connection with a new supplier, Dunlap recommends researching everything you can about the company and their processes. Requesting samples of their products and visiting the factory in person are necessary steps. “I love visiting the factories because I am able to meet the people working there and I am able to observe the workforce. I believe it also shows my interest in purchasing from that company,” Dunlap said. “Visiting the factories establishes a better relationship between a company and their suppliers, which is quite important.”
Dunlap knows a lot can be deciphered about a company from one visit to their operating facility. “In the past, I have gone to look at a potential supplier’s factory and have compared it to what I had seen on their website. Sometimes, seeing it in real life is completely different from what is online. I even questioned if the factory could make hoses at all. If I had not shown up to look at the facility, I would not have known that,” said Dunlap.
Another thing Dunlap recommends looking for when sourcing new products is the supplier’s certifications. “I ask if the company is ISO certified for hoses; I ask what other certifications for hoses they have obtained thus far; I ask if they are FDA certified,” Dunlap explained. “Certifications are very important for industrial hoses. Sometimes the sanitary hoses can get away with having no certifications, but in general I still look for that ISO 9000 (FDA or 3A) certification.” An ISO 9000 and 3A certification is given by an independent body who will inspect a company’s factory and judge it on different criteria; it’s management system. A few main criteria points are controlling the quality of the output, effectively managing the manufacturing process, and whether or not the product is made with the exact same quality, every time.
Making a Connection
Focusing on great customer service and offering a product of great value and quality at a reasonable price is another way to delight the client. “One of the main challenges for suppliers in this industry is differentiating themselves from other suppliers. Why should a client choose one supplier over another? Early on I knew that I wanted to set myself apart from others that were offering the same services. That is why I suggest making a personal connection; it is much easier to work with someone you know than someone you connect with over an email,” said Dunlap.
Check out part 2 of this article in the December issue of Hose + Coupling World, where we continue our discussion with Dale Dunlap about his dynamic experience in the hose industry.