The next time you question the impact customer service can have on your business, consider the story of Mathias Klein.
The year is 1857. The place is the bustling Midwestern town of Chicago, and more specifically, the forge of a German immigrant and blacksmith named Mathias Klein. One day a man repairing one of the city’s telegraph lines enters his shop.
Klein pauses from his everyday duties to speak with the man, who has apparently broken one of the handles on his cutting pliers. Klein takes the pliers and forges a new handle to help get the man back to work. A couple of weeks later the same man returns to Klein’s shop. He’s not there to complain, but to ask if the blacksmith can repair the other handle in the same manner as he fixed the first. Again, the blacksmith pauses to accommodate the man’s request.
The telegraph line repairer is so impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of his newly forged tool that he tells others. And those people tell people. And so do those people. And on and on it goes. But if you really want to understand the dividends of customer service and high-quality products, you have to look not at this specific event, but rather at its ramifications.
Nearly 150 years after helping their first customer, Klein Tools employs more than 1,000 people nationwide, with five U.S. manufacturing plants pumping out a growing product line comprised of over 3,000 SKUs. The company is also owned and managed by the fifth generation of Kleins, including Richard T. Klein, Jr., who serves as chairman of the board and CEO; Mathias A. Klein III, president; Tom Klein, executive vice president and treasurer; and Mark Klein (sixth generation), the company’s sales and marketing support specialist.
Klein Tools is a classic example of how the more things change, the more they stay the same. When Mathias Klein produced what the company cites as the first pair of pliers made in the U.S., he was equipped with a forge most likely powered by coal, and a focus on quality. While Klein’s focus hasn’t changed, these modern-day blacksmiths call for equipment that packs a little more technology.
The pictures used in this article were supplied by Klein Tools, as access to their manufacturing facilities is limited, and photography prohibited. The company closely guards its proprietary manufacturing technologies and boasts cutting edge equipment that they say is often specifically designed just for them.
In some cases they may also be the only company in North America that has implemented these machines for forging, manipulating and treating the specialized U.S. Tool Steel they use in creating products from screwdriver blades, pliers and nut drivers to wire strippers and hex keys.
“Our manufacturing processes and attention to engineering details are what sets us apart when it comes to measuring the quality of our tools,” states John McDevitt, Klein’s executive vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ve invested significantly in production technology that allows us to make tools that last longer and deliver more precise results.
"In many cases this means special hardening and heat-treating processes that are specific to each tool, or in some instances, each part of a tool. We take these steps to ensure the right feel and functionality for the wide-ranging group of professionals that we serve.”
“Our real hope,” continues Mark Klein, “is that our tools reflect the same values as those who use and sell them. We want to work with people who appreciate quality products centered on customer needs.”
Another driving force behind the company is a commitment to manufacturing in the U.S. McDevitt states that 95 percent of the Klein product family is made in either Illinois, Michigan or Arkansas.
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