Chemical manufacturer Seacole uses ISO to help ramp up to $35 million in revenue
By Lynn Shelton
Enterprise Minnesota’s Director of Marketing and Communications
Seacole’s CEO and owner Gregg Elliott found that requests for ISO vendors kept coming from higher up the supply chain in industries ranging from medical device to automotive and aerospace. He knew that if he wanted to nurture continued growth for his Plymouth-based chemical manufacturer and distributor he needed to take the ISO plunge.
Elliott was one of three manufacturing executives who recapped his ISO journey for other manufacturers during a recent Enterprise Minnesota Business Event at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Vadnais Heights. His presentation came at a time when business interest has heightened around the long-awaited – and much improved – release of the 2015 ISO guidelines.
“As we grew 20 percent last year, we realized we needed some sort of management system in place to continue growing. We had a lot of best practices in-house but we hadn’t really documented a lot of them,” Elliott said. If a long-term employee retired, “we needed a way to document best practices so they could be passed on to other people.”
Seacole, which has nearly 50 employees, buys chemical components and blends them into new products. It manufactures 2,000 products in its 85,000-square-foot facility. Its capabilities include creating chemical products for surface finishing, printed circuit boards, industrial cleaning, railroad and other transportation, agriculture, and laboratories.
Because Seacole deals with significant quantities of chemicals, it is highly regulated by numerous agencies, from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the Department of Homeland Security. As the level of regulation continues to increase, many companies have started outsourcing their chemistry manufacturing to specialists like Seacole.
The manufacturer already has benefitted from this trend, and it will be compounded by Seacole’s ISO certification. Thanks to these factors and more, Seacole is on track to hit $35 million in revenue in three years, Elliott said.
Through the process, Seacole uncovered that it was making the same errors repeatedly. Obtaining ISO certification helped the manufacturer secure significant business from large customers like 3M and Dow, but it also prompted better workflow, reduced mistakes, and improved customer service, Elliott said.
“Incidents of both internal and customer complaints have gone way down since ISO was put in place,” he added. “And in this day of finding employees, I found this was a really good way to empower people. It gave them pride in the job they didn’t have before and it helps with retention of employees.”
Becoming ISO certified took about a year and cost roughly $30,000. During the most intense part of the process, it meant holding three-hour meetings every two weeks. One challenge involved getting all employees involved and invested in the ISO project.
To overcome that, Seacole conducted a series of tutorials for all employees that explained why the company was doing ISO, what would occur during the certification process, and how it would all work in action. This helped all staff support the process and follow the new policies and procedures – which is especially important because ISO really never ends, Elliott said. Companies are audited annually and recertified every three years.
Keys to making ISO successful are communicating regularly with all employees, investing the necessary time and energy in the process, and getting buy-in from all levels of a company. “If you don’t have commitment from the top management of the company, don’t bother going ISO,” Elliott advised. “It has to be driven from the top down.”
To learn more about Seacole visit www.Seacole.com. For more information on the new ISO 9001:2015 standard, see the upcoming issue of Enterprise Minnesota® magazine.
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