The expansion strategy was put on hold until about 2011 when American Roller began to grow again.
“The last two years, the company has doubled in size revenue wise, tripled in profits, and we've got 105 more people,” Cahalane said. “We are excited that the strategy worked because what that ultimately does is free up a lot of cash from which to reinvest in initiatives that we may not have otherwise went after in 2007 or 2008.”
The roller industry has been facing challenges, but Cahalane views those as opportunities.
“Over the last decade ... there's been a tremendous amount of downsizing,” he said.
In decades past, the 1990s and early 2000s, companies could rely on big, corporate engineering groups. Today, because of downsizing, very few companies have engineering teams.
“And as a result, we have a lot more generalists. A lot more people wearing a lot of hats,” Cahalane said.
In turn, there are fewer corporate deals. He recalls a large aluminum company that spent $3 million in 2008 and had 35 different rollers. The company deemed this too many and consolidated, reducing its need to three different rollers. However, it did not work as customers expected a certain turnaround time that was not being met.
He said the maintenance and engineering departments have had to wear several hats. Because they are focused on keeping things running “and because of these multiple hats and some of the people retiring, there is a vacuum gap in a lot of cases about roller tolerances, roller compounds and how rollers function on the production machine,” Cahalane said.
Clients are leaning more on roller companies to fill that gap. “They need that engineering knowledge, but they still like to be pretty unit-price focused,” he added.
Other changes are occurring in the industry besides the business transitioning from a printing focus. For example, business practices are changing.
Cahalane said when he joined American Roller, he saw a struggle with paperwork and tried to mandate if there was no purchase order, to stop production. His managers told him that would stop 40 percent of the business, so this was something to iron out.
Clients are working with multiple suppliers, he said, which makes sense. American Roller does the same. Everyone gets anxious with just one supplier, so that must be understood.
Cahalane said one position shoulders most of the blame for clients not understanding the value of rollers: the plant manager. Rollers are important to a machine's productivity and quality, but he said some plant managers aim solely for a lower price. Plant managers are not really looking for continuous improvement.
If the plant manager undervalues the importance of a rubber roller, that belief can filter to the maintenance and engineering departments.
Cahalane said he is amazed about how important the roller is to production, and how little the customer actually knows about it.
“When you think about that, that's a big gap for being an efficient organization for our customers. And likewise for ourselves,” he said, noting that specifications will continue to change if customers do not understand the process.
In 2008, Cahalane said he kept saying, “If we don't innovate, if we don't change, we're going to die.”
The roller industry is not like software or mobile phone companies that change every six months, he said. Even though the industry has a longer time frame, it still needs to grow.
“We cannot just be happy with the status quo,” he added. Whether it is a new formulation or a better business practice, “as an industry, (we) have to challenge ourselves.”
To start that process, a company must first decipher how to innovate. That does not refer to something the company did 20 years ago, Cahalane said. That was great then, he said, but what about now?