Making It In Northern Michigan: Hayes Manufacturing

Not all business marriages work. However, the purchase nearly a year ago of Hayes Manufacturing in Fife Lake by the much larger CK Power in St. Louis seems to be doing just fine.  There are concrete reasons for that. First, this is not a case of one company buying – then stifling – a competitor.  “CK Power is one of our long-time customers,” said Hayes’ president Penny Challender, whose company designs and makes power transmission products for the off-highway market. “That’s how we got on their radar and they continue to use our products.”  That doesn’t mean that CK Power – which makes off-highway power products – will become Hayes’ only customer. Challender estimated that even with some growth in its role as a customer, the larger company will probably end up accounting for less than 10% of Hayes’ sales.  According to Challender, the family-owned manufacturer is anticipating Hayes’ independent growth.  “Their goal is to help us grow and diversify across all our current and newer markets,” she said.  Second, even though they are much different in size – Hayes has about 40 employees compared to CK Power’s workforce of roughly 500 – the cultures are similar because of the family leadership each has.  Last – and perhaps most important –Hayes now has the resources to expand sales, offer better employee benefits and update operational practices.  “Before the sale, we didn’t really have a sales department,” said Challender, whose team relied on internet sales and long-standing relationships with John Deer, Caterpillar and other equipment manufacturers.  Now, though, Challender can rely on an entire sales team.  “It’s exciting to see what that will do for our business,” she said. “It gives us a structured selling plan, which means we’re poised for growth.”  The added resources have helped in other ways.  As a division of CK Power, the company now has access to an employee benefits package that includes profit sharing, up to six weeks of vacation, greater job security and a health plan that covers medical, prescription, dental and vision needs.  In addition, Hayes has received a $200,000-plus Michigan training grant. The money, which is administered by Northwestern Michigan College and the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, will cover lean manufacturing techniques and other measures aimed at continuous improvement of all aspects of the plant.  “(The grant) has allowed us to do a lot more employee training, improve skills and make the work more interesting,” Challender said. “Those are things we could never do before. And with the COVID pandemic, it’s been great to have an executive team help us brainstorm and sift through the complications.”

With the changes and growth opportunities, Challender says she is proud of the company and its contributions.  “Our employees are like surgeons of steel – we have an enthusiastic workforce,” she said. “Some of the best ideas come from people on the floor. And it’s amazing to know that the parts made in this tiny town help harvest sugar in Brazil and pave roads in India.”

Making It in Northern Michigan: Hayes Manufacturing