Mike Betts is president of Betts Company, headquartered in Fresno, Calif. As president, he oversees the daily activities of the business, as well as setting the vision for the company’s strategy. He continues a longstanding tradition as the sixth generation leader of one of the oldest family owned businesses in California, and has been employed with the company for more than 35 years.
As vice president, Bill Betts is charged with leading the overall strategic direction for the company’s senior management team. He grew up in the family business as well, and has been employed full time with the company since 2007. In today’s interview, Mike and Bill talk about the company’s impressive history, as well as what’s in store for the future, with the launch of the BettsHD division this past January. They also share with us a few of the secrets to maintaining success after nearly 150 years in business.
As vice president, Bill Betts is charged with leading the overall strategic direction for the company’s senior management team. He grew up in the family business as well, and has been employed full time with the company since 2007.
In today’s interview, Mike and Bill talk about the company’s impressive history, as well as what’s in store for the future, with the launch of the BettsHD division this past January. They also share with us a few of the secrets to maintaining success after nearly 150 years in business.
The Betts family of companies has an extraordinary history, with “family” being the operative word here. Please tell us a bit about this sixth-generation, family run business.
Mike: We are, of course, proud of our heritage. Our family has sustained ownership through hard work, perseverance and commitment to the customer. We’ve never lost sight of who pays our bills and how we earn their trust – relentless pursuit of customer loyalty through innovation, quality products and superior service. Betts Company has survived World Wars, economic depression and recessions, natural disasters that destroyed our facilities and many other challenges.
Bill: We’ve also understood the importance of building on the foundation of our past by looking forward. We actively pursue leading awareness of our markets and customers to reshape our business proactively. Our recent branding initiative is a good example. We’ve renamed our company, our businesses and captured the essence of our value in short powerful phrases. Betts Spring Company is now Betts Company, acknowledging the diversity of our businesses. “Improving the Way Things Move Since 1868” frames our purpose. We confirmed or created intentional names and tag lines for each of our businesses to similarly frame their purpose and value. We’ve received very positive feedback from customers and suppliers alike on our rebranding.
Having been in business for nearly 150 years, what are the keys to maintaining success during down times such as the recent recession?
Bill: The Great Recession was particularly difficult for our business as it occurred right in the middle of a planned infrastructure expansion and relocation of our headquarters and spring manufacturing operations to Fresno, Calif.
This was my first experience at managing through an adverse business cycle – what a challenge! We gained a very clear appreciation for cash in the process – resetting our focus from growth to positive cash flow. We examined everything in our business – people, processes, products and partners – and disciplined ourselves to pursue business where we knew we could generate cash.
Mike: Owning and managing a business during challenging times requires discipline to make hard choices. It also reinforces the value of relationship-building with customers, suppliers and partners, such as our bank. These relationships proved critical in from 2008 through 2010 as California businesses generally experienced a longer and deeper adverse cycle than elsewhere in the country. Where we could help others, we did. When we needed help, we asked for it.
The cooperation evidenced the strength of our relationships. The whole process was very powerful and rewarding. We also never wavered in our passion for quality. I’m particularly proud of the awards we won from Daimler Truck North America and PACCAR regarding quality [that we earned] during the Great Recession as tangible recognition of our commitment to quality.
The company has made some significant expansion efforts in the past year. Tell us about the new BettsHD division, which was unveiled at HDAW this past January.
Mike: BettsHD represents a strategic consolidation of two well-respected brands – Betts and Life-Time Fenders – where our product offering is largely focused on spray suppression solutions. We acquired Life-Time Fenders in late 2007 and invested substantial intellectual and financial capital in market and product development prior to brand consolidation.
Bill: We saw 2013 as the perfect time to position BettsHD as a unified brand with a platform for broader product line extension focused on safety. “Parts for the Long Haul” is our tag line, speaking clearly to our commitment to heavy-duty transportation where product quality is the foundation for safe operations. Our focus extends to the public by providing products that improve safety for fleets and everyone else who shares the road.
Please give us a breakdown of all of the various markets Betts serves.
Bill: Our business has always been focused on transportation. We serve both [the] heavy-duty and automotive aftermarkets, with products ranging from mud flap hangers to suspension springs for off-road enthusiasts.
In heavy-duty, we enjoy deep relationships with all OEM tractor builders and enjoy standard specification of our products on many tractor models. Our “first fit” position, combined with broad-based fleet specification, helps us drive the aftermarket.
Mike: A smaller but still significant element of our business focuses on what we term “industrial markets.” A good example would be products that control liquid flow – pumps, valves, actuators and other similar products using springs as key performance components. Construction, oil field, mining equipment, barrier systems and other vibratory devices incorporate the design principles of spring steel to improve performance and life.
With all the changes taking place in the trucking industry over the past decade or so, which technology advancements in the truck parts segment do you feel are going to have the most significant impact in the long-term?
Mike: Fuel cost continues to drive innovation in heavy-duty. Component weight reduction and aerodynamics are clear, emerging trends, providing opportunity for product innovation.
Bill: Our customers are also interested in improving the productivity of the back office. We see greater demands for EDI, VMI, CRM, social and other system integration initiatives to improve the strength and agility of the supply chain. We plan significant investment in such technologies to provide differentiating value.
What do you feel will be the biggest challenges to your business over the next several years?
Bill: Downstream customer consolidation, particularly in the transportation fleet sector, creates both opportunity and risk. Providing a clear, focused demonstration of value that can be nimbly communicated through technology helps mitigate consolidation risk. Larger customers tend to make greater demands – we look at these demands as opportunities to grow by continuously improving our products, services and systems. The trick is to do so in a cash flow-positive manner.
Mike: I see greater challenge presented by the regulatory environment we live in. America, and California particularly, must focus on creating a positive business climate, particularly for smaller employers. Tax reform, policies that incent innovation, competitiveness and job creation all will contribute to the long-term health of our economy and our citizens. Too many of our legislators forget who pays their bills!
Anything else you would like to add?
Mike: We see renewed customer interest in products made in America. Currency valuation and certain legislation has increased domestic competitiveness and we have seen a tilt toward re-shoring component manufacturing that was long ago off-shored for cost reduction. We see opportunity to promote the quality of our American-made products and recapture market share. We are striving to source domestically and locally where we can to support the country and communities where we live!