Weighing In

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Published: March 11,2002

PEARL — While it would be an overstatement perhaps to say life couldn’t go on without scales, conducting business without them would be nearly impossible. Much like computers, scales have become as essential to commerce as the copiers, computers and coffee.

“Think about it,” said Steve Charlton, sales engineer at System Scale Corporation in Pearl, “practically every manufacturer has to have scales not only to determine what they have produced, but also to get raw materials in to make the products. Just about everything you can buy, a scale is involved somewhere. Therefore, the quality of scales is of utmost importance. And that’s what we concentrate on the most here — quality.”

System Scale was founded in 1978 when two former Toledo Scale sales engineers, Larry Polster and Ron Smith, bought the company. The company added an office in Memphis in 1979, and Jackson and Mobile operations were opened in 1983. (The Memphis office serves extreme North Mississippi, while the Mobile operation serves South Mississippi.)

Today, System Scale has seven offices scattered across the U.S., and is an authorized dealer for Mettler Toledo, the world’s largest manufacturer of scales, balances and weighing systems for industry, retail and laboratory applications.

“This is a great company to work for,” said Ralph Bradshaw, service manager at System Scale-Pearl, who has been with the company since the first day it opened its doors in Mississippi. “They give us autonomy to make decisions. In fact, they encourage it.”

The Pearl office offers sales and service utilizing seven scale technicians in-house and resident technicians in various locations throughout Mississippi for better response time.

“Response time is critical to our customers,” Charlton said. “We’re on call 24 hours a day because our customers can’t afford for their scales to be down. In fact, I believe we have one customer whose production line automatically shuts down if the scales are off.

“It’s vital that these scales function properly. If they’re off just 1%, it can mean thousands of dollars a day lost.”

System Scale’s customers represent some of the heavyweights in the state, including Georgia-Pacific, Kerr-McGee, Tyson and Weyerhaeuser, companies that can’t afford nor readily accept downtime. Thus, System Scale’s technicians are a vital cog in the company’s strategy for success.

“We look at attitude first,” Bradshaw said of the company’s hiring philosophy. “Obviously, they have to be trainable. But you can’t teach attitude.”

Charlton said, “I’m in sales, so there’s a different kind of relationship I have with our customers as opposed to the technicians. They’re in the plant, shaking hands with them, building more personal relationships. Many of our customers view our technicians more as advisors. If they need some advice or help, they call our guys because they’ve built a level of trust with them.”

Fortunately for System Scale, employee retention is a non-issue. He said the company has stayed well below the industry average for turnover. Charlton and Bradshaw pointed to several factors. Because the technicians are in the field, they often serve the role of salesperson. And just like most salespersons, they get a commission if a deal is struck.

Another reason cited was training. System Scale invests heavily in employee development, including monthly training sessions.

Why is training so important to the company? Charlton said it goes back to quality.

“We have earned our ISO 9001 certification and are ISO 17025 accredited, which requires extensive training,” he said. “Many companies that have multiple offices say they are ISO certified when, in fact, only the corporate office has been certified. Not at System Scale. Every office is individually certified. We are the only scale and service company in the Jackson area to achieve this. And we are very active members of the American Society for Quality.”

If System Scale’s work is not up to standard, it won’t go unnoticed. Every scale has a serial number that is registered with the state and traceable.

“The Average Joe has no idea how much scientific support is needed to maintain accurate scales,” Bradshaw said.

Accuracy is made that much more difficult when considering the different scales that exist. Up until the 1970s, scales were all mechanical, but now they have gone electronic and are generally much smaller than old models. These scales include ones that can weigh trucks going down the road at highway speed to pharmaceutical models that can give weights in fractions of grams.

Tucked away on a small road off U.S. 80, System Scale has made a concerted effort to be part of the community. It is a member of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce and the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association, just to name a couple. As part of that community outreach effort, the company recently entertained a group of Russians, who visited to learn about American scale businesses. Charlton said he learned something, too.

“They were amazed by our focus on quality,” he said. “Over there, there is no incentive to be better than the competition, because they are predominately state-run — there is no competition. We’re not the only scale company going. So, we have to live up to our slogan — ‘Quality You Can Measure.’”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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