UnleashWD Speaker Leading New American Industrial Revolution

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Thogus President Matt Hlavin is leading his Cleveland area business into new revenue streams through innovation and rapid experimentation. He will demonstrate 3D printing at the Oct. 29-30 UnleashWD Innovation Summit.

"Our goal is to find unmet needs and create systems and processes to meet those needs," Thogus President Matt Hlavin said.

Thogus President Matt Hlavin will address the UnleashWD conference for many reasons. One of them is to show that his hometown is back.

The construction cranes dotting Cleveland’s skyline are dots of activity and progress on a canvass that many had written off as another rust belt city past its prime. Detroit’s recent struggles make headlines and Clevelanders understand those stories well because their own city went though a similar rough patch. Went—as in past tense because a spark ignited on the banks of Lake Erie, which might change the direction of the entire American economy.

Change might be the wrong word for what is going on in Cleveland—its more a revival or repeating past success. Manufacturing put Cleveland on the map, and now companies like Thogus Products Companies are leading a 21st Century Industrial Revolution. This is not manufacturing in the sense of traditional American factories belching out millions of the same project. That’s a different business model, and it’s a wasteful one these days.

Customers have become smarter—and products have had to become customized. Consumers now do not watch the same television shows while drinking the same beer. People have hundreds of television channels to choose from to go with whatever micro-brewed craft beer to fit their tastes. Google tracks the website that you browse so that only the potential ads that interest you popup. Customization has become the key to success in the business to consumer market. The same concept is trickling down to manufacturing.

Since Matt Hlavin has taken over as President of Thogus the company has thrived in solving problems for individual clients. The one-sized fits all model that worked for generations no longer fits.

The United States Military had a problem in the early 2000s. Toxic lead on the firing ranges of military bases around the world stood out as budget item in an era of tightening budgets around the millennium. A project to get the lead out of ammunition started with the military and was promptly put on the shelf after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the invasions Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even though the military temporarily shelved the project, Hlavin and Thogus heard that a medical supply company was looking to get lead out of their devices. The former military project provided a new way for Thogus to serve a client.

"We are a culture company," Hlavin says. "Culture defines you. We are a disruptor and an innovator. Our goal is to find unmet needs and create systems and processes to meet those needs."

Hlavin’s methods have been a boon to both his company and the community he grew up in. Thogus is a bit of a rarity as a business. Hlavin is the third generation owner of a family owned business that is thriving instead of folding. Part of the reason is that Hlavin is a bit of a throwback.

"Gen X and Gen Y do not want to get their hands dirty," Hlavin says. "Schools are pushing students to the service sector instead of manufacturing."

Hlavin got the manufacturing bug from the founder of Thogus, his grandfather Jack Thompson. Thompson started the company in 1950 after realizing that the only boss that he trusted was himself. The name of the company, Thogus, is the combination of Thompson and Gus, a journeyman toolmaker that Thompson brought on as a junior partner when he started his business.

Thompson’s grit allowed him to succeed according to his grandson Hlavin. As a World War II veteran who saw action at the Battle of the Bulge, facing the business world did not faze Thompson. He opened his tool and die shop and sold to major automakers. Thompson thrived as his own boss—taking on projects he wanted rather than being told what to do.

Thompson bought out his partner in 1982, and continued to be involved in the company even into his "retirement" years. Ever the contrarian, when Thompson collapsed on a golf course in 1990, doctors did not expect him to survive. He lived for another six years.

Hlavin joined Thogus in 1996. His grandfather’s company continued to operate as it had even as the world changed around it. In the late 90s, companies were outsourcing manufacturing to Mexico and Asia as a cost cutting maneuver.

"By the early 2000s I was trying to push the change I saw as a sales guy," Hlavin says. "Management was afraid of change, afraid of disruption. They thought they could stick their heads in the sand and things would go on."

Hlavin knew that this grandfather’s company needed to change, but in the early 2000s the economic outlook for most of the nation seemed bleak. The dotcom bubble burst amid the difficult transition away from a manufacturing economy.

"I established relationships with employees and became one of them," Hlavin says. "We created a culture that became a part of the company going forward. We did not say no to the customer. "

That outlook has lead to a new era at Thogus, and several new spinoff companies including one that is helping to lead a manufacturing revolution to bring jobs back to the United States: 3D printing.

About UnleashWD

UnleashWD is the only conference dedicated to bringing innovation to the wholesale distribution industry. UnleashWD features eighteen storytellers from outside the wholesale distribution industry. Modeled after TED’s short-session format, UnleashWD’s speakers share how to add business value through inspiring presentations on topics such as innovation, leadership, business model design, and corporate culture.

For the last twenty-five years, UnleashWD Founder Beveridge has worked with more than 3,000 firms as a leadership consultant, facilitating how wholesale distributors and manufacturers can increase market share through examining and improving their relationship with customers. For more information please visit: http://www.unleashwd.com.

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Christopher Troksa
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