Lessons from a Long-Standing Industry Leader
Being a leader is a responsibility not everyone can take on. It takes flexibility, foresight, and true ability to work with others. For Klein Tools, we’ve remained an industry frontrunner for the past 159 years by supporting our customers, adapting to change, keeping a close eye on demand, and identifying our audiences’ needs. And similar to the electricians and tradesmen we make tools for, we get out what we put in – work ethic is still number one.
Leadership must radiate through our every endeavor, and as such, we’ve identified key areas where success relies on our ability to deliver leading support and solutions.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
True leadership means doing more than expecting others to follow; it’s supporting your peers and being an enthusiastic teacher. At the start of this year, Klein began a five-year program to donate and deliver more than €1 million in tools to electrical apprentices studying at JTL, a top electrical training organization in the UK. We also launched a similar program with Australia training institutions: AIG and Master Electricians Australia.
Klein Tools already has a history of making major donations in the U.S. – sponsoring and supporting tradesmen involved in IEC and donating more than a million dollars of tools and instructional materials to the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) – but we recognized a need to grow our support. Our new donations will help support and encourage young apprentices all over to become electricians. In order to continue attracting people to this great career path, we must do our part in actively supporting the community.
ACCEPT THAT CHANGE IS COMING
It’s easy to find a successful model and stick with it – that is, until it’s no longer successful. Leaders must understand when change is coming, and before falling behind, they need to get out in front of it. Upon recognizing a need for our customers and larger audience to have quality, industrial-grade scissors and shears, Klein acquired Heritage Cutlery, now recognized as Klein Cutlery, an affiliate of Klein Tools. With this transformation, Klein Cutlery continues as the largest U.S. manufacturer of hot-forged scissors and shears for a vast number of markets, including textiles, sewing, poultry, electronics, fiber optics, and pet grooming. This is a great market for us, but one we would have never benefited from without the willingness to change our business strategy and consider new offerings.
Recognizing another need, Klein is making great strides expanding internationally. As a made-in-the-U.S. brand, Klein Tools spent a large part of its history solely serving electricians in North America. To this day, we still pride ourselves on our tools being made in the U.S., but we’ve taken strides to share our products beyond our local turf. We partnered with Super Rod, a leader in wire installation tools, to expand our brand presence in the UK and Ireland. Now, Klein Tools products are available in hundreds of City Electric Stores across both countries. We also partnered with Mumme Tools, Australia’s leading mining tool manufacturer, to introduce Klein’s products with Mumme’s large distribution network. Our tools are now used by tradesmen on a grander, global scale, and as a result, we have a larger, more varied audience providing us feedback and becoming familiar with our brand.
UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
Consumer dynamics are changing all over, and as such, leaders in each industry must be flexible and sensitive to changing preferences. For Klein, we have sold tools in brick and mortar stores for years, and while this remains a successful avenue to reach many of our customers, it’s fruitless for reaching others. By closely watching and surveying our audience, we’re finding a large portion of customers, especially millennials and those newer to the electrical trade, prefer buying tools online. We also notice a great deal of our customers turn to online resources, such as how-to videos and online training programs, to get information on tools and the trade itself. With this understanding, Klein continues to improve our customers’ online shopping experience, helping them through each stage of their purchase. We also regularly interact with our audiences online by engaging on social channels; uploading informational videos on Tradesmen TV; and developing new resources, like our new video blog series “Klein A-to-Z,” to virtually introduce our audience to all of our various products and capabilities.
PROVIDE NEW SOLUTIONS
Great leaders listen to those around them and answer their needs. When Klein started, we were known for our pliers and traditional electrician tools. Today, things look a lot different. That’s because we paid close attention to what people were using our products for, and as it turns out, not everyone uses them for electrical jobs. We’ve seen great growth and success in our line of tools for HVAC applications, which includes voltage testers, adjustable wrenches, and more. We also design tools specifically for construction workers who are using our products, like wrenches and pliers, for industrial jobs. We still develop the highest quality of electrical tools in the U.S., but we found we could expand our products to create solutions in additional markets and still have success. It may seem risky to go against a model that made you successful, but it can also pay off to branch out and provide new, valuable solutions.
Since 1857, Klein Tools has adapted to the market around us, but we’ve always stayed true to the legacy of quality our brand is known for. Our ability to continue delivering high quality solutions through changing times has marked us a leader in our industry – not something we take lightly or for granted. We work hard to remain a leader by supporting our industry and its tradesmen, staying ahead of change and continuing to be relevant to our customers by providing the solutions and resources they need.
Mark was elected as co-president of Klein Tools, an IEC National Platinum Industry Partner, in January 2015 after playing a significant role in Klein’s double-digit growth over the past four years. In his leadership, Mark is responsible for world-wide sales; marketing; customer service; and the company’s affiliates, Klein Cutlery and Klein Tools de Mexico. Mark serves on the company’s board of directors, holds a BA from the University of Iowa, an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, and has attended executive education programs at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.