Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:32 pm
Unlike many struggling American manufacturers, InPro Corp. isn’t outsourcing jobs to cheaper foreign labor markets.
In fact, InPro is planning a $3.5 million, 89,000-square-foot addition to its plant on Apollo Drive in Muskeo.
Since 2000, the company has leased 48,000 square feet in New Berlin for its distribution functions. Those operations, and the 40 employees working there, will be moved into the planned addition of the Muskego headquarters.
"Two reasons (for the addition) – we need more space and to get us all back working in one facility," said Stephen J. Ziegler, president and chief executive officer of InPro Corp. The company makes door and wall protection systems, including handrails and door stops, architectural joint systems, tracks and privacy curtains for hospital and nursing home rooms and way-finding signs for hotels, hospitals and other commercial clients.
The Muskego building addition will have 65,000 square feet of warehouse space and 24,000 square feet of office space on three levels. A 60-foot long and 30-foot wide hallway will connect the company’s current building to the addition, and a new employee lunchroom will be built off of the hallway.
The building expansion demonstrates the tremendous growth of InPro Corp. since Ziegler bought the company in 1993.
At that time, the company had 117 employees. Today, InPro employs 282. The company has added 18 jobs in the last 10 months. The building expansion is not being done to accommodate more employees, but Ziegler said the company plans to add more workers as the firm’s growth continues.
InPro’s revenue is up 16 percent so far this year, Ziegler said. Last year, InPro had about $36.5 million in revenues, compared with $10.2 million in 1993.
"We’re looking for at least $44.3 million. That’s our target for this year. We’ve been in an expansion mode for quite awhile," Ziegler said.
"We work quick. It’s a fast-paced company. We don’t just sit around. That’s why we grow so fast, because we are fast. We don’t wait around and agonize over decisions. We do things quickly," Ziegler said. "We make very good and informed decisions. If we make a wrong decision, we learn from it, and we won’t do it again. The global economy is very dynamic. And companies that procrastinate and wait around, study and look for examples of success before they do anything, they get left behind."
InPro has remained successful, added jobs in Muskego and has not outsourced any of its production work. All of the company’s products are made at the Muskego plant.
"We thought about (outsourcing), but we’ve always dismissed it," Ziegler said. "We like to control our operation to the greatest extent possible. We continuously strive for efficiency. We really take all of the waste out, which allows us to compete on a worldwide basis."
About 13 percent of the company’s sales are to overseas customers. The company will cap the amount of foreign business to 15 percent to focus its resources on growing its U.S. business, Ziegler said. As recently as 1995, the company had no customers overseas.
InPro purchased three lots, totaling about six acres, just west of its facility, to provide space for the expansion. The project should be completed by November of 2005, Ziegler said.
Luterbach Construction Co., Inc. of New Berlin will be the general contractor for the project. Computerized Structural Design S.C. of Milwaukee is the architect.
The expansion of the Muskego plant is the latest in a series of moves that have generated growth for InPro.
In 2000, Ziegler purchased the Los Angeles-based Jointmaster Architectural Joint Systems, to form a new division for InPro. Those products are used to allow a building to shift slightly, such as in an earthquake or when a building expands and contracts due to temperature change, without cracking.
In the same year, the company also bought Pennsylvania-based Clickeze Privacy Systems, to form a third division. The privacy systems are tracks and privacy curtains used in hospital and nursing home rooms.
In 2003, the company developed, internally, the Signscape Signage and Wayfinding division, which makes indoor way-finding signs commonly used in hospitals, nursing homes and hotels.
The product lines of the new divisions were targeted because they serve many of the customers InPro already had, particularly health care providers, Ziegler said. The company also has accounts with national retail and hotel chains, including Best Buy, Kohl’s, Baymont Inn, Hilton Hotels, Marriott and Red Roof Inns.
InPro’s products come in a wide array of colors, so they will fit in with the appearance of the building.
"One of the things InPro really prides itself on is quality of color," said Evan Bane, public relations manager for the company. "That really sounds minor, but when you’re dealing with interior structure and interior design you want to have color that is consistent across the board. So, when they open the door, look in, cut the ribbon and they go, ‘Wow, that all lays out nicely, the colors all match.’"
InPro works to maximize efficiency to eliminate waste, reduce costs and make sure customers get the products they have ordered as quickly as possible, Ziegler said.
"Our employees are really tuned into quality, they are really tuned into customer service," he said. "Those may be buzzwords, and overused phrases, but it is really lived here. Everybody here from the beginning of the process to the end of the process is tuned in to customer service."
Employee empowerment fuels corporate culture
Stephen Ziegler says the employees at InPro Corp. are obsessed with customer service.
That obsession is no accident. To help foster that culture, the employees at the Muskego manufacturing company are empowered to come up with their own ideas for improving the company’s operations, Ziegler said.
"We have a lot of new ideas coming up from the employees," he said. "We have everybody here working to do better, because they know that if they have an idea it will be listened to, it will be accepted."
Each month, the company gives an outstanding leader award to the employee, or team of employees, who came up with the best idea to improve the company’s operations. The winner gets to drive the company’s 2004 H2 Hummer for one month.
"What we’re trying to do is elevate leadership," Ziegler said. "We’re trying to get people to act like entrepreneurs, act like leaders, take risks and get rewarded for those risks. The employees have a lot of fun doing it. If they or a team of theirs has a good idea and wants to bring that forward, take some risks. Don’t wait for management to tell you if it’s right or wrong, just go ahead and do it. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, we learn something. We have people at all levels of the company acting like entrepreneurs, acting like leaders."
As a benefit to its employees, InPro provides a fitness center and a fitness instructor for its employees, who can use the facility when they find time and are caught up on their work. The fitness center was built in 1995 and the instructor was added in 2000 when Ziegler wanted help preparing himself for the softball season.
"I liked it so much that we kept him on as a company benefit," Ziegler said.
Three years ago, InPro’s employee health insurance costs increased by about 26 percent. Ziegler explained the problem to his employees to educate them about how they could help lower health care costs by avoiding unnecessary trips to the doctor or emergency room.
The employees have tried to be wiser consumers, Ziegler said, and the company’s health care costs only increased by three percent last year and did not rise this year.
Now, the fitness center serves as a tool for improving employee wellness to battle high health care costs.
"Our HR department has done a wonderful job educating the people, and the employees have really understood it and have really gone to bat not wasting medical care," Ziegler said.
September 3, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI