For Jason Zenger, values and transparency are central to building a good business.
When he and his sister Lisa assumed leadership of ZENGER’S, INC almost three years ago, they continued transforming the hardware store their grandparents started in 1951 to a more specialized supplier for manufacturers.
“My grandparents lived behind and above the store here in Melrose Park, and when my dad and uncle took it over, they adapted to the needs of local companies and became an industrial supplier,” Zenger said in a recent interview with TMA’s News Bulletin.
A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis with an MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Jason stepped in as ZENGER’S president in February 2014 with more ideas that would reflect their clients’ evolving demands.
It was crucial that ZENGER’S customers be able to trust their supply recommendations as being based on client value-add rather than distributor profit, Jason said. So, with one eye on ethical dealings and the other on being open and honest with ZENGER’S clients, he came up with a uniquely transparent pricing plan.
“We’re selling to our clients products at our cost, and then charging them a transparent service fee,” he said. “That lets the client know we’re not biased in the products we promote to them, making our service more simple and transparent.”
In addition to the unique pricing plan, ZENGER’S has developed a tool crib management vending system for clients to distribute and keep track of their in-house tools for metalworking. It also collects and uses data to report on tool usage.
“We help reduce manufacturers’ costs by installing the tool vending systems. Then users at each company can see what tools they want to use, who took it, and for what job,” Jason said.
ZENGER’S is now headquartered in a brick-and-mortar storefront on Grand Avenue in Melrose Park, but like all other industries, their clients are turning more to online catalogues for ordering supplies.
These days ZENGER’S Melrose Park showroom produces only three to five percent of the business, so as their clients’ needs change, so are ZENGER’S services.
“Our clients can’t leave their offices like they used to,” Jason said. “We have eighteen teammates in the field providing various services for manufacturing companies.”
The biggest challenge ZENGER’S faces is not uncommon – working more efficiently and getting the right people in the right places.
“We’re a people-intensive business, and our customers demand that our people are good at what they do and understand the products they sell,” he said.
Time is especially precious to Jason because in addition to leading ZENGER’S, he’s busy as a husband and father of three young children in addition to an array of passions he’s involved in: his neighborhood church ministry, the popular podcast “Making Chips,” TMA’s Board of Directors and TMA’s Christians in Manufacturing group.
For Jason, where and how he spends his time is all about perspective. He says if he weren’t leading ZENGER’S, he’d be doing more to make Chicago a better community. For him, life doesn’t revolve around accumulating possessions, wealth or power… it’s about enriching lives.
Jason’s worldview reflects in the way he runs his business. “There are four key values stressed at ZENGER’S: Do the right thing, be dependable, go above and beyond, and life is great,” he said.(These values are affectionately referred to among the ZENGER’S Team as “DO-BE-GO-LIFE!”)
“Those are values that we try to instill, and we hire and fire with them in mind. As an example, ‘Do The Right Thing’ goes to the Golden Rule of loving your neighbor and your co-worker, your customer and your suppliers.”
Jason says he enjoys spending time co-hosting the “Making Chips” podcasts with TMA Board Chairman Jim Carr and learning from industry experts how their fields are changing and about their experiences in manufacturing.
“’Making Chips' is all about elevating manufacturing leadership,” he said.
Jason is also optimistic about the future of TMA as he works with fellow board members he says have valuable vision and insight. He’s also delighted with how the TMA’s Christians in Manufacturing committee is expanding its impact on the community.
“Five years ago, CIM hosted only a prayer breakfast – a legacy that had been going on for 40 years. I want to honor God in all I do, and as chairman of Christians in Manufacturing, I thought the group could attract people by opening itself to service projects,” he said. “That’s the vision that I cast, and it was great that everyone was on board.”
This year, under the leadership of Jason’s successor Amy Arend, the group volunteered at the Northern Illinois Food Bank – the first step in implementing Jason’s idea. As if all that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Jason and his wife, Amanda, recently completed a major acquisition of Black Industrial and Safety Supply in Hammond, IN. The new addition will increase ZENGER’S size to 50 teammates.
As Jason has stated on Making Chips, he tries not to use the term “employee” because it insinuates an undesirable division in the value of individuals working together.
The idea of making values and transparency central to business and life is a good one. It’s obviously working well for the team at ZENGER’S.
By Fran Eaton for Technology & Manufacturing Association's News Bulletin December 2016