Also Published In - Manufacturing Today Sept/Oct. 2006
By: Joanna Miller
When Richard Ward came to the United States from Zimbabwe in 1991, he wanted to start a business that would offer unique products no other company provided.
He identified waterjets as a young industry and decided to build a career around it. He established Wardjet Inc. and, today, the company is a leading waterjet manufacturer and says its industry knowledge is phenomenal.
Recently, Ward spoke to Manufacturing Today about how he built the business and how it has continued to grow.
Manufacturing Today: How did you go about establishing the business?
Richard Ward: I set myself a 10-year goal to build the foundation of the company. I approached a company and started a job shop for them. I ran a machine for three years and learned everything I could learn about them and became familiar with the machines. I spent five or six years working as a consultant to waterjet companies throughout the world.
I would spend a week at a time at people's facilities and guarantee them an increase in production of 15 percent and reduction of cost by 15 percent.
I'd tell them that if I could prove that at the end of the week, they paid me. I got paid by every single company, and I consulted to hundreds of waterjet companies. I was learning the industry [during that time].
[I also] built up a good reputation and started repairing machines, rebuilding them and buying and selling used machines. My client base expanded because people trusted our company and wanted to buy more machines from us. At the same time, I realized there was an opportunity to start training people on waterjet cutting techniques.
The business started to grow, and we began offering classes. We'll complete our 50th waterjet cutting course in October. We bought hundreds of used waterjet machines and got to know every machine out there.
We started to manufacture components for waterjets and do retrofits of electrical components. We developed our own software as an add-on. We started to cover all the bases. When you're working with other people's equipment, you see a lot of good things and a lot of things you don't like.
All this was going into the bank as we had started to build new waterjets. We also designed and patented an abrasive removal and recycling system that started to pick up and is now a major part of the business.
MT: How has the business changed in recent years?
RW: After 9/11, we had a lot of used equipment that we couldn't sell. Our sales stopped, so we took all of our used machines, put them together, and started our own job shop. We grew to be the sixth-largest-capacity job shop in the U.S.
We sold that operation in 2003 to focus on continuing to build machines, but it gave us the experience we needed to understand what it really takes to make a company successful in waterjet cutting.
The bottom line is that we really do have hands-on experience right there from the beginning.
We've serviced every make and model out there. Today, we are building new equipment, but that wasn't the original goal.
MT: How would you describe your business strategy?
RW: Our strategy has been to provide machines where you are not held captive by the manufacturer. Very little is proprietary – software and controllers are not proprietary. Everyone wants to build, sell at a discount and force the customer to come back and buy all the parts from them.
I wanted the exact opposite. I wanted to offer the best of absolutely everything. I wanted to offer a product where customers were not held captive.
They can choose whatever software they like and modify controllers. We are known for innovation.
This attitude has allowed us to constantly grow into things we didn't know existed.
I wanted to make sure we provided the best technical assistance in the industry and keep machines at the lowest possible price. We sell our own machines.
There are no dealers, no distributors, no traveling salesmen. That has paid off and allowed us to take 20 and 30 percent that would typically go to someone in the middle and put it into the equipment and reduction of price.
Our goal is to be the best. We don't try to beat other people. We just try to build the best product.
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