Embracing ISO 9001 Certification

“[ISO 9001] certification put a series of systems in place that organize and control every aspect of our business, enabling us to provide better service and continuously improve our quality.”—Chris Conard, President

While many companies don’t see the point of becoming ISO 9001 certified, Processed Metals Innovators, LLC (PMI) knows firsthand its many benefits. PMI president Chris Conard says taking on this “gigantic task” has turned his company into a sure thing. Here he shares with Profile how undergoing the rigorous quality-management systems certification process puts them on potential clients’ radar, but emphasizes that delivering on promises is what seals the deal.

I worked my way up from sales manager of PMI to company president, so my favorite part of the job is getting to watch employees grow personally and professionally. I equate it to being a proud parent. We’re situated in a small town and many of our employees have grown up with each other, so we operate like a family business, though none of us are related.

A few employees have been with us from the very beginning when PMI was a division of AJ Manufacturing. It eventually branched off into its own company in 1998 with five employees, one major customer, and revenue of $3 million. Now we’re a very unique, multimillion-dollar company that has 75 employees. We owe a lot of our success to the unique place we hold in the steel supply chain. Traditionally, steel mills produce steel in high volumes, then that steel must be sent to a steel service center that modifies the steel, enabling it to be used by different manufacturers. PMI is vertically integrated; we process our own steel, eliminating the need for outsourced-steel service center work.  Typically this creates an 8–15 percent cost advantage for our customers.  We call this the PMI Advantage.

PMI has been ISO 9001 certified since 2004. Some companies don’t see the value in being certified, but we believe it’s been more than worth it. Certification put a series of systems in place that organize and control every aspect of our business, enabling us to provide better service and continuously improve our quality. This is why we spent over two years preparing to meet the 23 clauses that make up the ISO 9001 standard and it’s why we invested tens of thousands of dollars to become certified. Every year we undergo an independent audit with incredibly strict guidelines that outline everything from the calibration of our tools to the way we manage documents. We even have four dedicated quality-department employees ensuring that our business performance is top notch. Our employees also undergo 30 to 40 hours of training each year, including safety, OSHA, and operational skills, keeping us operating within the ISO guidelines. We operate our business as if we’re larger than we actually are. Becoming certified was a gigantic task, but just because we’re on the smaller side doesn’t mean we can’t offer the best quality possible.

The ISO certification allowed us to become more efficient, more consistent, and it ensures that the outcome of any process is successful. So many companies are flying by the seat of their pants. Certification puts the checks and balances in place to reduce the negative effects of uncontrolled operations. There is no risk, only guarantees of cost savings, efficiency, and quality service to customers. Now that we’ve had the ISO 9001 certification for seven years, I can’t imagine ever going back. Our certification fits into our corporate values; it drives our company. We’ve seen an 80 percent cut in our returns since becoming certified. Simply put, it’s made us more professional.

Though we’ve gained a number of customers because of our certification, it’s not the reason why they stay. ISO certification is important, but delivering on promises keeps customers coming back. Potential customers will call and ask if we’re certified and once they find out we are, they bring in their team of auditors to make sure we’re keeping up with the standards. Once they’re with us, they recognize our commitment to quality and our willingness to bend over backwards for them. The certification put us on their radar, but we got them to stay.