By Anthony Brass
The Hershberger family’s early experience in building materials supply has served them well. Their many years in the industry helped them familiarize themselves with roll-forming machinery. This positioned them to pursue the equipment vital for builders.
“They were always on the lookout for good machines that have good local support and could produce quality materials,” says Burnell Rohrer, CEO of Hershey’s Metal Meister.
This pursuit led the Hershberger family to take a hard look at the Variobend CNC trim folder. The German-made machine had been used in the European market for some time. They eventually jumped on an opportunity to purchase the patent rights for the Variobend trim folder. These patents opened the door for Hershey’s Metal Meister to manufacture the machinery to supply the US and Canadian market.
The company knew they had a superior product with the Variobend in their sights. “When the opportunity came it was like, ‘This is it,’” Rohrer recalls.
Several components of this trim folder are from overseas. Hershey’s assembles the equipment here. They had the momentum of making a product where they could both produce their own parts and receive other parts for the machine. “We were off to an excellent start because we had the design and a partner who was able to supply us with the main components of the machine.” Hershey’s builds all their American-made hydraulics and controls into the Variobend. “We machine some of the parts here,” Rohrer says. Hershey’s conveniently stocks their own parts inventory in Illinois.
The trim folder is the core focus of Hershey’s. They’re also a distributor of the Slinet slitters built by the same company overseas that manufactures the European-based Variobend. The slitters come with an automatic coil-handling system. Hershey’s distributes the slitter here in the US and provides the support. The partnership of over 10 years is a proven success.
“We have a very good working relationship with the Variobend mother company in Europe,” Rohrer says. “When we get a lead outside of the US we hand it to them, and they do the same for us.”
Hershey’s continues to this day keeping an eye out for new products and improvements to help their clients’ metal-building equipment needs.
“It’s my challenge as CEO to keep that vision alive of looking for new opportunities,” says Rohrer.
Hershey’s Metal Meister credits their success to prioritizing their faith-based values, and then making the people and products stronger. “In an order of priority, first of all it’s God, it’s our people, and then it’s profit,” Rohrer says with confidence.
“When we honor God and we treat our employees and customers the way we’d like to be treated — with respect and dignity — then the profitability of the company is a result of that. We have a bright future if we maintain the values that we stand for.” Rohrer adds it’s a day-to-day challenge.
SERVICE AND SUPPORT
Their folders and slitters are in high-demand in the metal-forming industry. But Hershey’s continues to think ahead. “We have robust product development in new features and upgrades to machinery we already produce and have some new machinery on the radar. We are here to supply high-quality machinery to the metal-forming industry.”
Rohrer says there are business pitfalls others can fall into.
“What we don’t want to have happen is, that as we produce new machinery, that our service and support begin to suffer,” Rohrer stresses.
“We have some longtime customers who are very free to give us feedback. We want to hear our customers,” Rohrer says. He adds it’s important bringing that feedback into the right place. “The key is interacting with different departments. It’s Product Development, Sales, and it’s Service, collaborating to bring that together.”
He says they are happy to service all under the umbrella of the sheet metal supply, including families with smaller businesses and larger production companies.
Hershey’s has over 40 employees in Mattoon, and takes pride in maintaining chemistry. Rohrer and Hershey’s believe communication is a focus.
“We highly value structured meetings. One of our goals is to give our employees a voice to give input.”
The company also runs fun, interactive, extra-curricular activities. “We play volleyball, and that’s a big thing now; we can fill that camaraderie with team building. Everybody looks forward to break time.”
They also love to eat together when they can. Or, they schedule in times where different departments go out to eat and talk.
“We can feel that human side of people to people, talk about things beyond business and sharing challenges and any frustrations.”
Rohrer adds he is blessed with a “wonderful team” and that he is “very grateful for having a team that’s passionate in what they do.”
THE LAST ‘METAL’ FRONTIER
One part of the hemisphere with a “relatively” untapped market for roll-forming machinery is Alaska. This is an area Rohrer and Hershey’s is happy to enter.
“We just delivered a machine to our second customer in Alaska this week,” Rohrer says. “This is an exciting time for us. We see opportunity up there; we haven’t begun to scratch the surface yet.”
His new clients in this state face extremes during winter months, which extend to a longer season with temperatures well below zero every day. These newer clients must dramatically adjust the conditions inside when using their new Metal Meister machines.
“Climate control is huge. They need to be in a heated, climate-controlled environment.” Rohrer says, if necessary, servicing those in remote locations is a challenge but they have solutions. “We’re willing to put in little service stations as needed.” He adds they are motivated to hire local services to remedy access challenges.
The company sells slitters and folders to many locations; he says these go hand in hand. Rohrer reiterates they are relatively new in selling the slitter in this market, let alone a European-designed one. But they have a great relationship with the overseas corporate office and get support and the parts to spur their slitter growth. “The slitter market is on path to really ramp up,” he says.”
‘GAUGING’ THE GRADE
The roofing and siding industry goes through advances in technology. The company keeps up on the enhancements to fit today’s market.“That’s some of the features we’ve developed to adapt to: different gauges of metal, different grades of metal, different features that our customers want to see. This is why it’s important we keep their feedback.”
They build machines that fold precoated metal into trim and understand the parts within their equipment and the metal going in. “It’s more of the grade,” Rohrer says. He adds it has to do with more of the tempering of the coating. “We can supply different bending segments with a different nose, so if you’re running a higher-grade metal it doesn’t bend it quite as sharp.” He says it gives it a higher radius and prevents the coating from chipping off.
Rohrer says effective machines should ensure positive structural and cosmetic results of the panel. “You have to have that metal looking as good coming out as it did going in.”
Hershey’s provides metal-forming equipment for many companies. They understand what brought them to where they are, and don’t intend to forget. “We’ll keep our values and the passion for supporting our customers and their needs in the metal-forming industry.” RF