Manufacturing was once America’s backbone. Rows of machines and workers – an American achievement that ruled the world. That was then. Now Talan Products is one of the rare manufacturing companies that still provides quality jobs to Americans, yet makes products at competitive prices.
Over time, rising costs and offshoring put pressure on companies to move production overseas to the new breed of manufacturing nations. Not so Talan Products. Talan refused to go away, surviving and thriving through the ups and downs, having grown into its third industrial space in the city of Cleveland.
Talan Products is a contract manufacturer specializing in high volume, progressive-die metal stampings up to 600 tons as well as aluminum extrusions supply and fabrication. Its 200,000 square foot facilities in Ohio net $50 million in annual sales and produce parts as quickly as 50,000 pieces per hour per press.
“We’ve never had a losing year in 33 years and we’ve been through three recessions,” says Steve Peplin, owner of Talan Products. “We’re a high growth company – our compound annual growth rate for 33 years is 18 percent per year.”
Talan sells products around the globe but with a focus on the continental United States. While it’s able to create nearly any form or shape of custom metal stamping, its main area of expertise lies in producing building products, solar panel structural and mounting components and LED lighting.
Its outstanding expertise in this manufacturing process has made the company a winner of the national Inc. 500 Award and ten-time winner of the Weatherhead 100 Award for northeast Ohio. Both awards recognize top companies based on revenue growth.
Talan was founded in 1986 by Peplin, his brother Rich, and John Talan. Each contributed $2,100 toward the cost of materials for building a single die. Prior to starting Talan Products, Peplin worked as a contractor for specialty building products. With a background in Architectural Engineering, sales just wasn’t speaking to his creative and practical nature. Being in sales, Peplin witnessed customers looking to cut out the middle man as much as possible, to go direct to the manufacturer for products. This formed in him the desire to be the manufacturer, the ultimate source for what he sold.
The draw of manufacturing
After being a manufacturer’s representative, a distributer, and a contractor, Peplin had his revelation. “I looked at manufacturing as the most noble way to do business,” he says.
In the beginning, growth came slowly. “We had one customer and one part in 1986,” recounts Peplin. “In the second year we had two customers and two parts. It started looking pretty lucrative and we unwound ourselves from our other businesses and threw in with Talan Products, and a third customer came in our third year.”
These early relationships formed the bedrock of Talan’s business – in terms of creating long-term partnerships as well contributing to its desire to work with clients who were working in disruptive industries. For example, the very first piece the team constructed was part of a mechanical attachment system for single-ply commercial roofing, something new to that market at that time.
The rewards of disruption
“We target disruptive industries,” says Peplin. “Thirty years ago, single-ply roofing was eight percent of a $16 billion market. Now it’s 80 percent of a $25 billion market. When your customers grow like that and you’re a good supplier and innovator, you grow with them. We are always looking for innovative new products to get involved with… with solar we got involved ten years ago, and now it’s growing like a weed.”
Along with LED lighting, these three disruptive industries are at the core of what Peplin’s team manufactures. To get in early to an industry means having the ability to pivot with the changes as well as design parts that have never existed before.
“There’s a lot more to our company than just manufacturing. We get involved with customers early on in product development and offer design for manufacturability assistance,” says Peplin. “Somebody might already have a part but we can work with them very closely on the development of it to try to take costs out without affecting their performance. We’re experts at metal forming – that’s where we bring value to them.”
Manufacturing made faster
“We try to convert a part from being a machined part, forging, or casting into a stamping or a welded assembly,” explains Peplin. “If we can turn a part into a stamping we can reduce costs and that’s the goal of our design for manufacturability assistance. We can make the parts more efficiently. That saves money for the customer.”
Talan saves money for its clients, while simultaneously providing high-paying, quality jobs for its 75-person staff in inner-city Cleveland.
“We’re in an area that is economically depressed,” Peplin says, “where many people have a hard time finding decent work.” Talan Products supports the community by offering valuable training and good paying jobs with benefits.
The spirit of giving back to the employee and to the community at large has been recognized as well. Winner of the Inner City 100 (ICIC), Talan is one of the 100 fastest-growing businesses located in America’s inner cities. The average rate of growth for winners between 2012 and 2017 was 320 percent. Talan has been on the list six times and is in the award’s hall of fame.
Of course, the company puts particular emphasis on training in general and safety in particular. “Safety not only helps us be a good corporate citizen, but it also makes people work harder because they’re not afraid that we’re going to put them in an unsafe situation,” Peplin says. “Employees want to work with a company like that and suppliers want to work with a company that shares those values as well.”
In fact, Talan invests more than three times the industry average in training in both hours and dollars. The training reinforces creative and cutting edge techniques as well as safety.
“We have worked one million manhours with only one lost-time injury and it was very minor; it was a bruise to a hand. We went seven years once without a lost-time injury,” says Peplin.
The importance of morale
“Part of the reason we attract good people is we’re a cool company to work for,” he laughs. “We want to be a supplier of choice to our customers and an employer of choice to our employees. We set the bar high, and we look for high performers.”
The stereotype of the industry is that the average employee is disposable and feels expendable – a cog in the wheel. But the employees at Talan Products are noticeably committed and confident. “We have a really engaging culture,” says Peplin. Recently the company brought consultants in to investigate and measure employee attitudes and “they told us we had the lowest alienation index they’d seen in 30 years of testing.”
Part of the high morale is due to the ability of staff to move up in the ranks. “My plant manager started 15 years ago as an entry-level laborer. There’s opportunity here.”
Many employees also appreciate being able to harness their creativity on the job – not only with design for manufacturability, but also in the company’s own in-house marketing and video team. Talan Products has produced many YouTube videos outlining its processes and philosophies, telling the company’s story.
Keeping jobs home
Crucially, Talan has been able to keep jobs in the country, instead of opening factories overseas. While many companies have moved production offshore, Talan Products uses the term on-shoring to describe its business. It prides itself on providing high-paid, quality jobs to American workers, all the while producing great products at competitive prices.
Not only are there potential labor and environmental issues to offshoring, but there are a lot of hidden costs as well – logistics, time, money, tariffs and taxes. “There are tariffs now on fabricated metal products, which is something that will probably end, but you never know, we could also be entering ten years of a trade war.”
Clients that go with Talan don’t have to suffer any of these headaches. Moreover, the proximity of parts means the entire process of making parts and getting them to the user is much faster. “We make building products that are for buildings in America, so having close proximity to our customers – and the distribution centers that serve our customers – is efficient. There’s also that concept of taking care of your own, buying in America if you can,” says Peplin.
Tenacity and trying harder
“When working with clients, our core values are safety, collaboration, respect and tenacity,” Peplin says. Safety, collaboration and respect have built the partnering relationship Talan Products has with its customers and staff. It is tenacity that has helped the company to inspire those inside and outside of its walls.
“We have determination and we get it done; we take on hard projects – harder than we thought sometimes – but we always get it done. We have our nose-to-the-grindstone type of attitude.”
Regardless of the difficulty of the project, Talan boasts incredible numbers in terms of delivery and quality. “We have 99.5 percent on time delivery right now and our quality is 15 parts-per-million defective; those are industry leading numbers,” says Peplin.
If your company is looking for a top-tier manufacturer that is innovative and that supports local communities and America’s workforce, Talan Products should be the first place you contact.