Owner Tom Teske says Teske Manufacturing has managed to expand its operations, despite absorbing serious punches from everything the so-called COVID economy can throw at it, including workforce issues, supply chain disruptions, and rising material costs.
Teske acquired the trailer manufacturer from bankruptcy in 2002. Since then, Tom and his team have done “whatever it takes” to strengthen the business. They’ve invested in the plant and equipment and concentrated on building customer relationships. Teske has also branched into subsidiary companies: Complete Target Systems, a shooting target manufacturer, and Teske Metalcraft, a fabrication company.
Today, the family-owned company employs about 30 workers in Springfield, Minn., where they manufacture utility and landscape trailers that “follow you anywhere.” For nearly a decade, Tom’s son Matt has been a full-time team member and is currently vice president of sales and new business development. Tom’s wife Karen also has ownership in the business.
Tom built his success by immediately integrating a culture of best practices into the company’s processes that enabled them to do more with fewer steps. Instead of learning through trial and error, the company elicited help from experienced consultants at Enterprise Minnesota.
The lean mindset and a value stream mapping exercise were gamechangers.
“These changes seem almost obvious after the fact, but it’s amazing the returns you can get from taking the time to think through the simple things and actually making those changes,” Matt says.
Toward ISO certification
Teske’s current priority is to earn its ISO 9001:2015 certification.
Despite the COVID-era disruptions and challenges, Tom expects to achieve certification by mid-2022. This new credential will help Teske make full use of its equipment through contract work with an expanding list of external manufacturers.
One example is a laser cutter that can run overnight with minimal oversight, an opportunity being assisted by Enterprise Minnesota consultants. “They have the asset, and they’re not keeping it busy enough,” they say.
Taking advantage of automation
Enterprise Minnesota consultants are also helping Teske audit its management practices and implement a quality management system. The ISO practices will help Teske better deploy the use of its robotics.
Tom is betting that his heavy investment in automation will allow the company to adapt to a smaller workforce and focus more on better using employees’ time.
The occasional growing pains of incorporating robots into the manufacturing flow appear to be paying off. According to Tom, the robots strengthen Teske’s adaptability, enabling the company to accommodate a wider range of products and branch out into other niches. They also insulate Teske against future workforce fluctuations.
With five robotic welders and two robotic painters on the floor, Teske has improved consistency and output, Matt says. Now, a single employee can use a robot to weld an entire trailer, where the previous process required four employees.
“All the robots have names, and we speak about them as if they were people,” Tom says. And they don’t erase the human component, either. Workers still need to load and unload the machines — and it opens opportunities for the employees to gain new skills, too.
“The employees are warming up to the machines as we find new ways to use them,” Tom says. “The robots accept the more mundane work without objection, and the guys are happy to oblige them. It gives us a broader scope of what people can do. Before three years ago, there wasn’t much opportunity here to learn to become a robot programmer.”
Enterprise Minnesota president and CEO Bob Kill calls automation a workforce multiplier. “It can make better use of the existing workforce, but it also allows the opportunity to bring in less-skilled labor,” he says.
This investment in Teske’s existing workforce underscores its pride in being a family business, exemplified in both the father-son partnership and in creating jobs for the wider Springfield community. Matt had worked summers at the company before joining full time, and after working in retail sales, he realized he enjoyed both Teske’s team and the manufacturing opportunities it presented.
“I knew we had something good going here,” he says. “People really enjoy the product.”
And while the Teskes plan to expand their customer base, their first priority, they say, is always maintaining high quality service to their existing customers.
“There’s no real magic to it,” Tom says. “We don’t cut corners, we don’t use the cheapest components, and we make products that provide value to the customer. And we’re proud to be in a small town in Minnesota and doing our part for our rural community.”
Featured story in the Spring 2022 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.