The More Things Change

See how SK Hand Tools' new ownership group plans on continuing to add new products and improve internal processes.

Prior to his other experiences throughout the automotive industry, and before taking over as president of SK Hand Tool in 2001, Michel Moulin had been a racer. From 125 CC Moto-Cross bikes to 350 HP Rally Cars, his ability to handle the bike or automobile in changing course conditions was vital. Little did he know how finding the right groove, laying off the brake or punching down on the gas would also help in keeping a company on the right track.

SK Hand Tools was founded in 1921, and proudly manufactures over 4,000 hand and specialty tools at their facilities in Chicago, IL and Defiance, OH, with distribution, marketing and customer support in McCook, IL. Although its operations have always been centered in the heartland of America, SK Hand Tools only recently retained status as an American company.

Prior to its recent ownership change, the company was owned by Facom, a French company with a very strong European presence. When Facom originally purchased SK in 1985 the plan was to grow and build a North American brand that paralleled their successes in Europe. As good as the company's intentions were, Facom's conservative growth strategies didn't mesh well with the demands of the American automotive aftermarket. The majority of programs that have recently pushed the company forward came after Moulin's appointment, with little involvement from Facom.

Moulin now serves as the President, majority owner and chairman of SK Hand Tools, with CFO Claude Fuger and national director of sales Cliff Rusnak comprising the remainder of the new ownership group. The trio's buy-out from Facom became official at the end of April. It's a process that began about 18 months after Moulin's initial appointment, and one year after the group made an official offer to Facom, whom they still supply on a limited basis. "We're very happy to be an American company," states Moulin. "I was born French, but I'm American by heart."

A New Approach

When you combine the fact that new products are the lifeblood of the tool and equipment marketplace with an understanding that SK Hand Tools are a flagship line for most independent mobile distributors, it's no surprise that a commonly cited benefit of working with SK has been an influx of new products over the last 3 years. It's also no coincidence that this time span coincides with Moulin's tenure.

According to SK, they've unveiled over 1,000 new products since 2002. "Our goal is to continue the strategy that we implemented in 2002, and just keep building on it," states Rusnak. "Our direction hasn't changed with Facom out of the picture, we'll just be able to operate much more quickly."

This is important when developing new hand tools, and vital in producing low-volume, high-profit potential specialty tools, which have become a staple in the company's growth strategies. Additionally, market research identifies end-user demand for specialty tools as second only to diagnostics.

With 20-25 new tools constantly in development, and a strategy that calls for 20 percent of annual sales coming from new products, the flow of new tools shouldn't slow anytime soon. The company has also made investments in the areas of production, research and development in order to deliver special product features, such as Tested Tough™ Corrosive Resistant® and Tested Tough™ SuperKrome®. In addition to specialty tools, Rusnak points to high visibility impact sockets, expanded 1/4"-drive chrome socket offerings and the G-Pro ratcheting wrenches as recent examples of product innovation.

Addition By Subtraction

An engineer by trade, Moulin also brought a background in production and manufacturing to SK. The impact was almost immediate.

"The focus was on refining and improving our personnel, equipment and processes," explains Moulin. "So we invested in new equipment and worked to develop more efficient processes by implementing the SK Production System, which is based on the Kaizen philosophy."

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