A First Choice

Secondary Solutions
Written by Jen Hocken

What started out as a machine shop in 1997 now has a reputation as the “go-to problem solver” for a variety of manufacturers in upstate South Carolina. Whether it is a production glitch, a packaging problem, a machining issue or if there is a need for staffing, inspections or delivery, Secondary Solutions is often the first call they make.

Secondary Solutions pride themselves on the ability to react quickly when a customer has a crisis. Unplanned downtime can be disastrous for a manufacturer and minutes equal money. The company’s emergency response team can react within hours to get a production line up and running as quickly as possible.

The company also created a Bridge Labor Program, providing skilled employees to fill gaps between high and low seasons, eliminating the need for excessive overtime or temporary employees that may not have the required experience.

Owner and CEO, Tina Stevens, is grateful to her loyal customer base and appreciates where the company is today compared to 22 years ago. The company has experienced growth and continues to expand, but it didn’t happen overnight. “We had to recreate ourselves and diversify, especially during economic downturns,” Stevens explained.

The 2008 economic crisis is a perfect example. The bulk of work for Secondary Solutions at that time was with BMW and one of their suppliers. The automotive industry took a hit and Secondary Solutions needed to pivot and find other areas of business to survive.

“One of our customers was forced to cut back on the amount of business they were giving us, but at the same time they were bidding out their inspection work to find more competitive pricing. We proposed and got the work which then led to ISO certification and the opening of a lot more doors,” Stevens shared.

Early on in the company’s history, Stevens also faced the challenges of being a women-owned business and she went so far as to hire a man to be her salesperson. “Even though he wasn’t familiar with our industry, he knew how to get in the door and start a conversation,” said Stevens. “Once we were at the table, I had my audience poised for my pitch and in most cases, I was able to close the deal.”

But times have changed and smart companies actually seek out minority-owned and women-owned businesses these days as they realize the benefits of supplier diversity. “Establishing relationships and face-to-face networking is the key to business growth and sustainability. Today I am comfortable in knocking on those doors myself and telling the story of what Secondary Solutions has to offer,” shared Stevens.

Stevens devotes a good bit of time connecting with other women-owned businesses as she believes in the power of a collective voice. She is active in the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and serves on the Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC).

“This is an important mission for me, giving back and helping other businesswomen overcome the same obstacles I faced,” said Stevens. These organizations provide information and resources on topics that are critical to both start-ups and mature businesses including financing, insurance, and staffing.

Stevens also volunteers her time and resources within the community where her employees live and work. She serves on the board of trustees of the Chapman Cultural Center which recently opened a satellite location offering a fantastic children’s art program. The proximity will mean her employees and their children will enjoy accessibility to this program.

Under the helm of a female CEO, Secondary Solutions is highly sensitive to the needs of employees, especially with working mothers making up a large percentage of the staff. Employees are given the opportunity to adjust their working schedule to accommodate family needs and responsibilities. Stevens is a big proponent of work/life balance and this has resulted in low turnover and loyal employees who see Secondary Solutions as a long-term career.

“I never want an employee to miss their child’s school program or taking an aging parent to a doctor’s appointment because they are worried about losing work hours,” says Stevens. Amid a labor shortage in the manufacturing industry, showing appreciation to employees is paramount. “Employees need to know we value them.”

The company offers a full benefits package including paid vacations, holidays, healthcare, disability, and a 401(k) matching program. This is a hefty expense for a small business to incur, but Secondary Solutions believes employee satisfaction is vital to their success.

The company is obviously doing things right because success continues to come their way. They were recently recognized as one of the fastest growing small businesses in South Carolina by ranking 12th in the SC Biz News annual Roaring Twenties Awards. CEO Stevens was also personally recognized with a community impact award given by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s Minority Business Accelerator program. The award recognized her personal actions in the support of other women-owned businesses.

A growth trajectory has been the result of the hard work and dedication of the team at Secondary Solutions. The relationship between the company and their customers is viewed as a partnership which has led to plenty of references and repeat business.

“We don’t have to look for our customers; our customers find us. A good reputation coupled with quality work has resulted in strong relationships,” said Stevens. One repeat customer describes the partnership as a “solution in my pocket wherever I go.”

But while the company will continue to grow in capacity, they prefer to keep their work within a fifty-mile radius of the headquarters. Their employees live in the local area and keeping them close to home and near their families is important. Their current location in an SBA-identified HUBZone will be an opportunity to diversify and bid on government contracts. Lockheed Martin’s production of F-16 fighter jets in Greenville is on their radar for potential new business. And they will continue to work with international companies who depend on their solutions when errors occur during shipment to the South Carolina ports.

Tina Stevens is steadfast in her mission for equality in the manufacturing industry. She quoted Melinda Gates in her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, saying it was “going to take two hundred years for equality and diversity.”

For Stevens, that’s unacceptable. “So, what can I do in my world to change that?” she asks herself. “I’d like to challenge everybody to find other ways. That’s a big concept, but I feel very passionate about it. Maybe I can’t change it everywhere, but I certainly can look in my backyard and see what I can do to help.”

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