BY: Mike Chalmers
From the Archives: This article appeared in the January/Februrary 2021 Issue of Wire Rope Exchange.
Since 1901, Nicopress has designed and manufactured a range of tools as well as connection and terminating solutions for applications in electrical cable, wire rope, and fiber rope.
Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, but globally recognized as an industry standard for mechanical and electro-mechanical connectivity applications, Nicopress serves a diverse array of markets including utility, aerospace, military & defense, medical, OEM/industrial, railroad, oil exploration & production, entertainment and performing arts, farm, ranch & vineyards, and specialty solutions.
To develop and sustain its position, Nicopress has pursued innovation in its products and consistency in its service and delivery – staying one step ahead of both its competition and changing technology.
Nearly everything Nicopress sells is manufactured in Cleveland—reinforced by an expansive distributor network which makes the products available on-demand. And customers are well aware of the quality of product they get when they purchase Nicopress—easily recognized with its safety-orange-colored branding.
“Our systems are perfectly integrated; tools and connectors have been specifically engineered, laboratory- and field-tested for dependability,” affirmed Chris Watkins, Nicopress General Manager.
The best-known brand of The National Telephone Supply Company, Nicopress got its start in the telephone utility industry. And though that avenue has faded in time, some of the technology remains in place to this day, according to Watkins.
“Some of it is similar, indeed, but these days, our products are more focused on a system of products—much of it compression-technology related,” he said. “And most of our tech, all the way back to before World War II, has been developed in-house, which is something we’ve prided ourselves on for a long time.”
With over 30 patents to the company’s credit, Watkins explained that the people behind Nicopress are true industry experts. “We consider ourselves specialists, and since we’ve been around so long, we’ve become involved in a broad range of industries. Our products are focused on our end-user base, and our distributors truly rely on us. We receive calls from people in the field who need our help—calls can come from distributors, safety inspectors, or end-users. Since we’re so diverse in terms of the markets we serve, we’re able to really add value and help them out.”
But global reach or not, Watkins considers Nicopress a smaller company, focused heavily on personal touch. “We really want to be a company that’s accessible. We don’t hide behind voicemails; we always make sure you talk to a human. With the world we live in today, that value in finding someone you can actually talk to—an expert to help you with your problem—goes a very long way.”
And similar to product development at Nicopress, growth has been purely organic rather than through acquisition. “This way, we believe we can control it better,” noted Watkins. “And that’s what our products are about too—giving people peace of mind. Customers need to be able to rely on somebody, and I think we fill that role. We consider every single one of our applications mission-critical in terms of safety. Ultimately, our brand is built on that. We’re also ISO-certified with design, so the engineering follows the same system as the products.”
To that end, the majority of the Nicopress product line is catalog-based, but they will custom-engineer a solution for customers in need. “We’re not necessarily a custom-engineered solution type of company, but it is a component of our business,” said Watkins. “If it’s a good fit, we will pursue that opportunity.”
While the Nicopress product line is largely metals such as stainless steel, copper, and aluminum, they have evolved. “There are new synthetics in the market, and we’ve been working on those,” Watkins indicated. “Titanium has also entered the market, and we’ve been working on solutions with that as well. A good chunk of the market sticks with the tried and true, but material science continues to evolve, and we have to follow that evolution where we can.”
As for when new products are available, Watkins believes there’s no better way to spread the word than face to face. “We have a direct sales force that spends a lot of time in front of our distributors,” he explained. “The relationships are very important to us, and many of our distributors go back with us decades, if not generations.”
But with industry overall facing a generational shift, as well as a pandemic that has kept face-to-face interaction at bay, Watkins understands that digital solutions are in demand, and Nicopress is adapting accordingly.
“We’re enhancing our web presence. We’ve also spent a fair amount of time developing technical bulletins that address some of the pressing needs of our industry. So, we’re certainly loyal to the face-to-face process, but we realize that current circumstances might present challenges, and even when things get back to normal, not everybody will have the time—and we can’t reach everybody all the time. Being global has really driven us to grow ourselves digitally as well.”
Regardless, Watkins and his staff choose not to see it as an either/or. “In terms of a catalog or the website and/or face-to-face meetings—we look at it as a combination,” he stressed. “You want to provide people with as much information as you can. People are accessing information throughout the industry in very diverse and different ways these days. Any means that is going to attract them to what you’re offering is worth cultivating.”
Part of that cultivation, in the COVID era, involves a strategic marketing plan and related messaging. “Since we haven’t been traveling as much, we’ve been able to allocate some of that budget to higher-level things,” said Watkins, “and we’re going to provide some clarity to our people, our distributors, as well as our customers on exactly what we do and how we can help them. Especially with a newer generation taking positions at companies we work with—they need to be educated. This generational shift is a big deal, and these new people are hungry for knowledge. They might not learn in the same ways, but they’re still very interested and engaged.”
Success by Design
Boasting between 50 and 100 employees altogether, Watkins, who’s been with Nicopress for 16 years, pointed out that the average tenure for an employee is at least 20 years. “Our people are the backbone of this business,” he assured. “It’s very important to us that we keep them.”
He added that while the engineering staff is probably larger than would be a typical staff for a company this size, it’s by design. “They’re such an important component of what we do, so yes, we need them and want them here. But that said, every person at Nicopress is an expert with the knowledge needed to handle each of the markets we serve. We have both mechanical and electrical engineers. We pride ourselves on our ability to wear multiple hats.”
Watkins also believes that this ability to service different markets and navigate different levels of expertise has enabled Nicopress to not just survive, but thrive over the decades. “I really think it’s helped us to get through challenging times like these, but also excel when the opportunities are there,” he said. “You see it around the industry with different companies and markets—some markets didn’t really fall that much [in 2020], while others really dropped off. But it’s in our core to solve problems—to provide solutions. It’s who we are, and maybe that’s how we differentiate ourselves, especially in times like these—with proven products, a proven track record, availability, trusted relationships.”
At the end of the day, noted Watkins, success at Nicopress is a well-intended mix of reliability, dependability, and the right people for the job. “You know, engineers are a curious group—they’re naturally very interested in how things work. And I think it’s stimulating for our workforce to get exposure to a lot of different applications. It makes them think in ways they may not have otherwise thought about a problem. And I think that works out in a very positive, constructive way for us—which, in turn, feeds the culture, the products, and the solutions we’re able to provide year after year.”
For more information visit www.nicopress.com