The Natural Entrepreneur

Mike Hoover of KIB Electronics discusses … ▶ on-shore production ▶ on-time delivery ▶ diversifying his company ▶ being honest with customers ▶ his hardworking employees

SAVING FOR A RAINY DAY paid off for CEO and owner Mike Hoover. When the economic downturn hit, KIB Electronics had zero debt and was later able to gain credit to ramp up inventory when it came time to rebuild.

Even at 15, Mike Hoover knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur. In 1984, Hoover was hired to be in charge of sales at KIB Electronics, an Elkhart, Indiana-based company that opened in 1975. Two years after coming on board, Hoover seized an opportunity to purchase the company. Under Hoover’s leadership, KIB Electronics, a general manufacturer of electronic components, has served the RV industry for over 25 years, providing customized monitor panels, motor-control boards, switch plates, and more. KIB Electronics maintains on-shore production, within US borders, and has a no-back-order policy that sets the company apart from the competition.

How did you get interested in this particular industry?
It was the opportunity that was put before me and I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I love the excitement of building something new or figuring out a way to build it quicker or better. It’s a game. It’s fun to see if we can do things better than before.

And what do you do to try to be better than the competition?
Before anything leaves our shop, everything’s at least tested one time. Some of the components are tested two or three times. It’s important that we always maintain our quality. Outside of on-time delivery, it’s got to be right and we’ve been pretty successful at that.
Our concept of no back orders has been one of our major success stories. We do anything and everything possible to not have a back order. If the customer didn’t need it, they wouldn’t have ordered it. It’s just something we strive to do, to get it shipped on time.

Is that why maintaining on-shore production is so important to you?
I think that we need to, if we can, build it here in the United States. We have qualified, educated, and creative people right in our own backyard.

KIB Electronics was hit hard by the economic downturn, being forced to cut a staff of 100 to 27. Yet, you managed to keep the doors open and eventually rebuild. How did you do it?
I saved for that rainy day. I knew there would be a downturn someday, so I never overextended the company. At the time that happened, whatever we owed our supplier every Friday we would pay. So we didn’t owe anybody anything at the time that this happened. And I had no bank debt.

The customers that made it in our industry, when they came back they came back very strong and very quick. By not having the debt on the company before this whole thing started, I was able to still get credit to go out and buy inventory to get ramped up again. My banker, suppliers, and dedicated employees, they all did some great things to help us get back going again.

Despite your success with the RV industry, you find it important to work in other markets as well. Why?
We ended up in the RV industry, and there are so many opportunities there that it’s just unbelievable. But when the economy went south, being really tied to the RV industry was very, very tough on our company. Now I am trying to get into other markets and diversify the company. For example, we’ve developed custom software along with circuit boards and control boards for packaging fruits and vegetables. We do passenger information systems used in public transportation on message boards in municipalities. We’ve developed a monitor for asphalt rollers, which aids the road crew in rolling the asphalt at the optimal temperature, prolonging the life of the asphalt.

One of your goals is to create a family-like atmosphere among the employees at KIB Electronics. How do you encourage that even while growing the company?
For Halloween, if [employees] come in with a costume they get $50. We also do a Fourth of July cookout where I do the cooking and we have our traditional root-beer floats. We do stuff like that throughout the year. It’s just more important to have fun and enjoy life than it is to worry about the bottom line. And when we’ve done that the bottom line seems to be okay.

We try to treat our people like you’d like to be treated. I go out and work on the plant floor right along with everybody. Whatever we need to do to get the job done we all do it, which means we all work together as a team. Without the great team at KIB we could not have accomplished all that we have. Some have been with me for 25 years and others are just starting. I feel I have very loyal employees that have fulfilled the promises I have made to our customers.