Putting the Customer First

MDS of Michigan
Written by Paul Hutchings

In looking through the inventory list at the website for MDS of Michigan, you will find a whole list of items that you may have never encountered before. When you read that list – motors, chains, sprockets, bearings, belts – you could be forgiven for thinking you are reading an automotive list. However, this company has been a distributor of power transmission goods to farms, food processors, OEMs, and numerous other industries for thirty years.

The company’s representatives enjoy sharing these essential products and providing stellar customer service, according to Company Owner Craig Bull. “We take pride in being able to take care of the customer, whatever the need might be,” he said. “We’ll travel twenty miles down a two-lane road to provide a $5 part, if that’s what helps the customer out.”

MDS of Michigan products include items like roller chains, V-belts, mounted bearings, bushings, roller chain sprockets, sheaves, gears, drive systems, lubricants, and variable speed drives. A lot of it looks like complicated stuff, but Bull said the company does its best to make it understandable as well as affordable.

Based in West Michigan for its entire thirty years, MDS tries to take a different approach to keep customers happy, according to Bull, and it all begins with a combination of integrity, quality, and employees who will go above and beyond to get the job done.

MDS General Manager Jeff Buit believes that having good people is vital. “We have people here who are experts,” he said. “We need people who represent us who know what we do and how we can do it and actually provide the assistance that is needed in any situation.”

Buit added that the company does not just get anyone to represent it in the marketplace. Putting the right person in any given situation builds trust with customers. It is another advantage thirty years in the business has given it. “We may sell widgets, parts, and pieces; but really, we go to market with a customer drive, a customer-focused approach; we take a lot of pride in that.”

Thirty years is a long time to be in business, but Buit said that for the customers who need MDS’s service, it is important to everyone in the building to take a kind of an old-fashioned approach to getting it done.

“We roll up our sleeves and work hard every day. We take nothing for granted. Our passion and love for the customer and providing a solution at an economical price, that’s the biggest take away from us,” he said. “We’re kind of a one-stop shop. We have a tremendous amount of knowledge.”

Over the last two decades, MDS’s year-over-year growth has been what Bull called “outstanding.” And just because it likes to serve clients the old-fashioned way does not mean the company is old fashioned. Its recently installed e-commerce platform means it can now sell across the U.S. “E-commerce has been wonderful for us,” said Bull. “It’s really an untapped avenue for us, a different way to go to market that people seem to enjoy.”

Bull said there will always be a brick and mortar facility from which to sell. But he and his team recognized that there are those who, if they cannot do something from a device in their hands, will not do it. Using e-commerce, he said, adds a younger customer base and adds to the company growth and bottom line.

Buit likes MDS’s e-commerce for a different reason. The company is now selling to all fifty states. “It also opens up a lot of territory that we wouldn’t have covered. We’re selling to Texas now, Florida, California, everywhere,” he said. “The stuff we sell, the average American may not know much about it, but there’s a need for it all over the place, and we’ve discovered that we can fill that need with our products.”

MDS’s e-commerce section is impressive, with a catalogue of each product listed, complete with picture and price. And of course, it is set for all devices.

It turns out that the business of power transmission goods is a competitive one. Even more so in the last few years. “We have multiple competitors, so when we negotiate our pricing, we have to do so on national levels,” said Bull. “But we want to leave the customer in the best possible financial situation because if you do that, word gets around time and time again.” He added MDS has earned much respect over three decades from manufacturers as well as customers.

Certainly, dealing in the best product lines helps as well. “We’ve been able to add all sorts of lines, so we can offer more solutions,” Bull said. “There’s nothing we can’t find for a customer; we’ve had the time, and we’ve built up the expertise. We’ve had some of the biggest companies come to us and want to buy what we have.”

It is hard for the company representatives to say what lines or products sell best. Bull said determining that is like setting a table – you know everyone will use a knife and fork, but you should probably put a spoon out just in case.

Bull said changing with the times is imperative to stay in business for a long time. “Our industry used to be an old-boys’ club. You’d go out and have a three-martini lunch with a cigar every day, and it just doesn’t work that way anymore,” he said. “If you go somewhere and you have a bad experience, you’re not going back. We try to keep it simple and treat everyone as well as we can.” Both men said having happy employees is also essential. Currently, the company employs twenty-two people.

MDS Purchasing Manager Jenny Jordan said she enjoys being part of the process of keeping other businesses moving forward. “I like to say it’s a small business that does big things,” she said. “The point of any business is to serve customers, but they also know very well that you can’t do that without good people, and they try to make sure that everyone here has a place they can walk into and be happy every day.”

Most businesses have to figure out what future trends will be, but MDS of Michigan sells products that Bull said will always be needed. However, there are a couple of areas where the company may have to expand.

“I think as generations evolve, we’re going to most likely get more into electronics and growing our e-commerce presence,” he said. “Technology will, of course, keep driving it, but there’s still no substitute for someone with knowledge and people skills and the ability to fix things – it’s why we’ll be around for another thirty years.”

As other businesses come along in the next few years, MDS of Michigan hopes to bring its level of customer satisfaction to other areas. Those new businesses, Buit said, will also realize that MDS offers something that no one else can in the field of power transmission goods.

“Our competition is really more order-takers. With them, if the customer can’t provide a part number, then that customer is out of luck,” he said. “With us, we’re not order-takers; we’re problem solvers. We don’t do business at arms’ length. We roll up our sleeves and go shoulder-to-shoulder with the customer to provide solutions for their needs and walk the customer through it.”

“And we always will,” Bull added.

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