Insights: Akron-Canton | Business Spotlight | Spring 2018

Supporting OhioTool Systems’ mission to supply rental tools & equipment

How Ohio Tool Systems equips customers with the right tools to perform more efficiently

By Brooke Bilyj

From power tools to precision assembly systems, from cranes to conveyors, lifts and other material handling solutions, Ohio Tool Systems Inc. supplies customers with the tools they need to do their jobs. By providing equipment and offering additional service and support, Ohio Tool has become far more than just a distributor as it innovates to keep pace with its customers’ growth.

Jack Grace founded the company in 1974, leveraging his experience as a regional manager for an industrial manufacturing company to offer tooling solutions for customers. Partnering with industrial manufacturers including his former employer to sell and service products and parts, Grace began expanding to help customers solve more complex tooling problems.

The company not only distributes tools but also helps customers analyze and optimize their systems by providing complete turnkey solutions. Sales staff starts by evaluating customers’ operations to recommend the most efficient solutions that meet specifications for product assembly and material handling.

Sales and service staff receive training from the product vendors they represent, resulting in deep product knowledge that benefits customers from the initial sale through repairs. It also offers consulting and customized solutions, such as specialty 3D-printed tools, to help customers design systems that boost productivity, improve efficiency and reduce costs.

“The products we’ve taken on, and the ability of our salesforce and inside people to take care of our customers, have been a big part of our growth.” – Jack Grace, founder, Ohio Tool Systems

Tools for growth

From a single facility and a five-person staff in 1974, Grace has grown Ohio Tool to fill four factory-authorized repair and warranty service centers with nearly 50 employees. Headquartered in Richfield, Ohio, it also has locations in Toledo, Columbus, and Poca, West Virginia.

The company serves a diverse industrial market. With a strong presence in the automotive industry, its customers include major automakers, as well as the tier one manufacturers that supply them. Ohio Tool also supplies steel mills, power plants and chemical refineries, and in 2013, it entered the oil field segment, serving the Marcellus and Utica Shale areas. Aiming to minimize customer downtime, Ohio Tool offers pickup and delivery of tools for repair or rental, and often ships tools the same day.

Although some tools are commodities, Ohio Tool differentiates itself with high-tech products and custom solutions that meet customers’ evolving specifications. For example, instead of just offering tools that tighten lug nuts, it sells equipment that tightens lug nuts and provides tracking information to verify that wheels were tightened to specs. When dealing with steering components, brake systems, airbags, seatbelt brackets and other critical safety items, those value-added tools give customers extra peace of mind.

“By diversifying into high-tech products, we can sell products that aren’t ‘me too’ items, where lots of other people sell the same type of equipment,” Grace says. “Our business has really blossomed since we’ve taken on high-tech products in the mid-’90s.”

L to R: Greg Grace, president; Jack Grace, co-founder; Eric Grace, vice president, Ohio Tool Systems
L to R: Jack Grace, co-founder; Greg Grace, president; Eric Grace, vice president, Ohio Tool Systems
(Photography by David Richard)

The next generation

The economy is recovering and manufacturers are rebuilding in the U.S. – creating a positive outlook for Ohio Tool.

“We’re seeing lots of growth opportunities,” Grace says. “From the recession in 2008-2009, our revenue has doubled. Businesses are moving back and investing in the U.S., so we expect growth.” Grace credits Ohio Tool’s growth to its products and the people behind them.

“We have people who have been here a long time; they understand the product inside and out,” he says. “The products we’ve taken on, and the ability of our salesforce and inside people to take care of our customers, have been a big part of our growth.”

But with that growth come challenges.

“We have a very low turnover rate, less than 1 percent, and we have some employees that have been with us since 1974 that are going to be retiring,” Grace says. “One of our biggest challenges is hiring to replace them and add more people as the business expands.”

Grace will continue his company’s service legacy by passing down leadership to the next generation – his sons, Greg, president, and Eric, vice president.

“They both started from the ground up when they got here out of college (in the mid-1980s),” Grace says. “The employees like to see that the boys weren’t handed a managerial job. And employees like the fact that even though I’m at retirement age, the business is going to continue because the boys are here."

Like-minded service

Customer service is a top priority for Ohio Tool Systems Inc., and it expects stellar service from its vendors, too. That’s why it started working with Huntington in 2010.

“From day one, they’ve been great,” says Ohio Tool CFO Brian Cummins. “Their customer service has been really good. They understand our business, and they’re in tune with our product lines, as well as our customer base.”

Huntington provides a full set of tools to help the company run at peak financial efficiency. “They have all the products we need to operate the business successfully – from the line of credit that’s necessary to our working capital, to our bank cards and real estate loans,” Cummins says. “Their online reporting is excellent, so our accounting staff works with that on a daily basis to manage their jobs and report our financials.”

And each day, Huntington continues to give Ohio Tool the financial tools it needs to grow.

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