Forney nurtures heritage of quality

May 27, 2016

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FORT COLLINS — Steve Anderson has been busy “fixing a company that was broken” and putting it back on track toward success ever since he was named president and chief executive of Forney Industries in 2007.


If sales are any indication, he’s doing his job.


Sales in 2015 were $46 million, up from $30 million in 2000 — with $50 million projected for 2016. Anderson said he is confident that sales will be $150 million to $200 million in a few short years “without blinking an eye.”


Forney Industries, a Fort Collins-based business, sells more than 5,000 welding and metalworking products serving the automotive, hardware, farm and ranch and do-it-yourself markets in all 50 states. Last year the company introduced its green line of welders, bringing to 20 the number of models now available, ranging from starter welders priced at about $150 to multiprocessor units for more than $1,000. The latter allows welders to use TIG, MIG or Stick in their work, where before separate units were required for each style of welding.


Anderson’s grandfather, James Donovan Forney, founded the company in 1932 by selling the Forney Instant Heat Soldering Iron door to door. Anderson returned to the family-owned business in 1990 to work alongside his father, who was in poor health. Anderson worked his way up the ranks, mowing lawns and doing piecework, to eventually become vice president for sales and marketing before being named president and CEO. Prior to returning to Fort Collins, he was president of his own company, Anderson Design and Construction in San Diego.


Forney Industries’ original location and family home was on 60 acres off Laporte Avenue in north Fort Collins. It was there that Anderson spent much of his childhood, hunting and fishing and hanging out with his grandfather. The company introduced the Fornaire, a two-seater airplane, in 1950, and Anderson learned to fly when he was just 10. Other products once sold by Forney include auto generators, battery chargers, water skis, central residential vacuum system, and even hair clippers attached to a vacuum.


The property also was the original home of the Forney Transportation Museum, the nonprofit entity that houses J.D. Forney’s collection of more than 600 transportation-related artifacts. The museum now is located near the Denver Coliseum.


At one point, Forney Industries employed 1,000 people. Today it provides jobs to 200, with 45 employees housed at the company’s headquarters at 2057 Vermont Ave. in Fort Collins and another 60 at the Canal Street warehouse, also in Fort Collins. In addition, 25 people are located at the company’s Tipp City, Ohio, warehouse and 70 are “feet on the ground” sales consultants.


Anderson credited technology and a streamlined workforce for turning the company around in the last decade.


One of the first things he did as CEO was install computers on all desktops, and a couple years ago he implemented an enterprise resource planning solution that allows for integrated applications to manage the business and automate back-office functions related to technology, services and human resources.


With 20,000 customers in the United States, the automated system allows company officials to check sales — what sold, to whom, what time, etc. — at any given time. It’s a far cry, Anderson said, from when sales staff had to key in information via landline, a process that easily took four hours per day. Sales consultants now use iPads in all of their daily duties, which include working with retail outlets and maintaining store displays, going so far as using a feather duster to ensure the display or kiosk is Forney perfect.


“Working with Forney is good,” said Kyle Maulsby, a buyer for Jax Mercantile. “When we call in for customer service and talk about problems, it’s a conversation, not a competition to see who can yell louder.”


And yes, he added, they really do use feather dusters.


Included in the technology expenditure, which Anderson puts “in the millions,” is the company’s website, online store and social media efforts that include informative how-to YouTube videos, which have proved especially beneficial to the growing number of women and do-it-yourselfers taking up welding for art and home-improvement projects. In fact, the increase number of women taking up welding and plasma cutting has led Forney to introduce welding helmets and gear with feminine touches.


Want a bit of pink on your helmet? You’ve got it.


Another strategic change in the past 10 years has been attention to the workforce. Where before the company was happy to simply hire bodies to fill positions, it now seeks people with the right skill sets. Anderson also noted that although Forney is a family business, it was a mistake to hire family members without expertise in the industry. The only family member now employed is his brother-in-law, Bill Travnick, vice president for new products and business development and secretary of the board of directors. Revamping the employee base also has led to huge cost savings. Forney Industries works with about 80 suppliers worldwide and maintains offices in China, Europe, India and Italy.


“A big lesson for us was to trust, but verify,” Anderson said. “We hadn’t been doing that with suppliers.”


The downside to the company’s strategic hiring is that finding the right person to fill a key position can take up to a year, which was the case with the search for a welding engineer.


“It’s hard finding people with welding degrees and experience,” said Anderson, a member of the foundation board of directors at Front Range Community College.


Anderson is working to change that on the local level through a strategic partnership founded a decade ago with FRCC. The company has established a $100,000 scholarship endowment for the Welding Technology Program along with frequent donations of welding equipment, gloves, helmets, coats and other supplies.


“I can definitely say that the partnership with Forney Industries has helped us grow our program,” said Josh Heuerman, an FRCC welding instructor, noting that the head count is 300, up from 200 six years ago. In addition, 60 high school students are enrolled for high school or college credit.


“Whenever I talk to Steve (about program needs), he says, ‘You name it.’ ”


As for Forney’s future, the company established the Occupational Development Program for employees interested in leadership roles with the company. “This is the next generation that will be leading our company,” Anderson said.