Click on a thumbnail to see the full-size image
Diversify or Disappear
PERA’s Incoming President Details The Jasper Approach
By Doug Kaufman
When Brad Bawel went away to college to become a teacher, it didn’t take him long to realize staying at home and working in the family business was the educated career choice.
Of course, when the family business is Jasper Engines and Transmissions, it’s tough to pass up the chance to help lead one of the country’s largest production engine remanufacturers.
Bawel, production manager for Jasper’s gasoline engine production facility in Jasper, IN, has been with the company for 17 years. This year, he follows two other Jasper veterans into the leadership of the Production Engine Remanufacturers Assoc-iation (PERA). As he assumes the presidency of PERA following brother Doug, president, (1987) and Mike Schwenk, vice president, (1994), Bawel faces difficult overall market conditions and a challenging business environment. Still, he is optimistic about the company’s – and the overall industry’s – chances for growth.
"There may be some people who will argue with me, but we like to call ourselves the largest supplier of driveline components in the country," Bawel says. "This includes all of our production lines – engines, transmissions and differentials – and it’s something that our founder, Alvin Ruxer stressed since the company’s inception. We need to be a one-stop shop for our customers’ drivetrain needs."
Jasper Engines and Transmissions employs over 1,500 production and office associates at its two production facilities, as well as another 110 members of an outside sales force at 30 Jasper branch warehouses. More than 65,000 gasoline engines are expected to be produced at Jasper’s facilities and contracted "sister plants" this year. Although Bawel’s primary focus at Jasper is the domestic gas engine production line, a sizeable portion of Jasper’s sales is made up of engines for the diesel, alternative fuel and marine markets as well.
Bawel says this diversity serves Jasper’s customers best and has helped the company to grow. However, it is the quality that goes into each engine that has allowed Jasper to thrive, according to Bawel.
"Customers demand more now than ever before," says Bawel. "Competition is tough – our push now is to ‘wow’ our customers, because the only way we’ll be able to continue to grow is to give them more than they expect. That’s through performance, customer service, delivery time… but quality is the most important thing."
Jasper’s customer base is a combination of the local garage that may buy a few engines a month to the major national fleet accounts. "The biggest market we go after includes some of the largest fleets in the country," Bawel explains. "But whether they’re big or small, our focus is on the installer."
The drive to meet customer demands is especially important with the fleets, Bawel says. "If you’re a trucking company or have an ambulance fleet, you can’t afford to have those vehicles down. You’ll pay a little bit more to us to make sure you have a quality product.
"We do feel like our jobs are important here at Jasper," Bawel continues. "Some things we do can help save lives. Do you want that ambulance throwing a rod when it’s taking your mother to the emergency room? That’s the way I want our associates to look at their jobs."
Of course, meeting the demands of a diverse customer base can be a challenge. "Our outside sales force mostly calls on the independent garages, but we do have two full-time people now in the sales department for attention to the national accounts."
No matter where the customer is located, phone calls come into the central phone hub in Jasper via a toll-free phone number. Then, each call is automatically routed to a geographically focused regional representative. "We have a dominant presence with our branch locations in the East, but we have plans to become strong out West as well. It’s just a matter of meeting the challenges and opportunities," Bawel says.
One of the best ways Jasper Engines and Transmissions is able to interact with its customers is through plant tours. "We take more than 3,000 customers and potential customers through our Indiana plants each year," Bawel says. "We have a dedicated department of six people who lead tours, explaining our production process, showing why we feel we’re a cut above our competition and answering any questions about supply and distribution."
Because of the need to increase capacity, Jasper entered into partnerships with two national production remanufacturing facilities within the past three years. "Basically, we couldn’t keep up with demand," Bawel says. "We had low unemployment here, we couldn’t get help to meet the demand."
Bawel says increasing demand for engines outside of Jasper’s capacities led to the decision to partner ("we call them ‘sister’ companies") with PERs in the Northwest and Eastern parts of the U.S.
Bawel said the relationship has allowed Jasper to pay attention to the markets it had been unable to cover in the past. "Our biggest selling engine, volume-wise, continues to be the Chevy 350. But, we’re now able to learn the foreign market, from the application, parts and sourcing sides. The partnerships have been a pretty easy fix for us."
Bawel says changing to meet the times is critical to any business owner, especially so with this industry. "If you’re not looking at ways to grow, you’re going to die," he says bluntly. Smaller shops will have a tough time meeting the capital investment needs to handle equipment and customer service needs, Bawel says.
Bawel says he sees continued growth at Jasper within some niche market categories. "We do a lot of antique engine restorations – muscle cars, flat head Dodges, Ford Model As – as well as custom builds for late model cars we haven’t seen cores for yet. Additionally, we build a full-line of performance products for many racing series."
Bawel points out that, not only does Jasper build engines for outside race teams, the company is actively involved in many levels of motorsports competition. The most prominent is the #77 Ford Taurus driven by Dave Blaney in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. Jasper also supports the NHRA Super Comp/Super Gas efforts of Mitch Smith; the NASCAR Hills Bros. Coffee All Pro Series Monte Carlo driven by Chad Bland; and the Sportsman Stock Division Champion Off-Road Racing Ford F-150 driven by Don Williams.
Jasper Engines & Transmissions is the exclusive supplier of engines for the Jarrett/Favre Driving Adventure. These engines are competition-ready 358 cid engines composed of a balanced rotating assembly, H-beam rods and performance heads. The engines are dyno tested for consistency and reliability. Jasper supplies these engines with carburetor, intake, distributor, water pump, alternator and pulleys.
Bawel’s commitment to quality within the walls of Jasper’s plant will be evident during his tenure as PERA president as well, Bawel says. "My main goal this year will be to make sure PERA members realize that quality needs to be the number one goal in their shops. Whether it’s in the milling job or during assembly and testing, if you’re thinking about cutting your price and dropping your level of quality to compete, don’t bother. You’re never going to get there."
Countering the claim from some people that a PER is less attentive to quality than a custom engine builder, Bawel points again to the number of tours his company gives. "Once they’ve been to our facility, they see what we have; our research and development facility; our checks and balances for quality assurance. They see that we are committed to providing a quality product at a competitive price."
Bawel believes association involvement is critical to the survival of large PERs like Jasper, as well as smaller production engine remanufacturers. "I think as an industry, we do as good a job as we can sharing information with each other," he says. "But there’s always more we can learn from other members and to benchmark ourselves against them is important."
Bawel says, bottom line, "Jasper operates on a philosophy of a continuous improvement in safety, quality, productivity and customer service. Our corporate mission statement is simple: ‘Do It Right and Have Fun!’ We are committed to remain a leading force in the automotive industry. Progressive programs of research and new product development enable us to provide quality value-oriented products second to none."