Frequent Communication Helps Hatco Employees Remain Informed and Stay Connected to Customers

Lorne Deacon joined Hatco in 2018 as director of global marketing and product development. Since then, he’s risen through the ranks, most recently being named executive vice president in June 2021. He is responsible for all of Hatco and Ovention’s manufacturing operations.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve heard during the past year-and-a-half?
No doubt there has been a significant amount of advice and opinions shared  during the pandemic. The first thing that comes to mind came from a study regarding remote work. Like many other companies, we had a long period of working from home, which was new to the Hatco culture. This study indicated you must work hard to keep employees connected while working remotely. Managers may have felt connected to their direct reports; however, their remote employees did NOT feel connected back. Showing up early to video calls for the proverbial watercooler dialogue and making intentional one-on-one calls to team members became a weekly activity for many of us.

A second one would be fro m our internal leadership team. And simply the advice is “Leadership Matters.” Starting March 13, 2020, our leadership team began meeting each morning of every day. Things were coming at us very quickly. Everything was changing very quickly. We continued this practice for many months and to this day we still meet two times a week. Very quickly we realized how important good, fact-based communication had become to us and likely everyone else in our Milwaukee office and equally our production employees in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Dave Rolston, our president and CEO, began sending a daily (Monday-Friday) email message to the entire company very early on. It contained incredible yet simple to digest information about all the topics we were dealing with due to COVID and our businesses performance. We watched as a single daily email became one of the most effective ways to not only inform employees but also to be informed and keep our sense of Hatco community. Dave continues to send them (now once per week) and end them with “If you have questions or comments, I’m happy to hear them. Just reply to this e-mail.” Many employees replied and Dave has responded to every single response email for more than a year and a half. Leadership does matter, especially in times of significant change and stress.

What are some ways your business has pivoted during the pandemic and ensuing supply chain disruption?
Very early on we looked to not only grow our business but also support the clean environment and safety shield efforts related to containing covid and airflow indoors. We quickly released a line of high-quality Lexan and polycarbonate dividers. We also developed and introduced some UVC disinfection products. Another fun fact (not just because they are Hatco Red) is that we began making donation stands for the Red Cross. Supply chain and production, in general, have been significant challenges.

Because we are an employee-owned company (ESOP), we made the strategic decision to not lay off any of our employee-owners. It was a difficult financial decision due to the significant decrease in sales at the start of the pandemic. However, when your employees are also your shareholders, you look at things differently. We knew it would cost us money in the short term. But, having these team members in place for the recovery has been invaluable. They work very hard to keep the best lead times possible for our customers. As business picked up, it has personally been an amazing experience to watch how our teams dig in, work efficiently and overcome challenges to serve our customers and the foodservice industry.

What is something you wish your organization had done differently or implemented more quickly during the pandemic? What did that experience teach you about managing future disruptions and downturns?
We did not survive COVID without our share of items we look to improve upon. One of the challenges that I think about often is speed to market. This was especially important during the COVID pandemic. The market and our customers had needs that came up quickly. In some cases, like our Flav-R 2-Go lockers, we were already working on the design and close to production. However, in other cases, we had to take a ground-up approach, which took us more time than we were afforded by the pace of change during COVID. We have done and will continue to integrate these challenges into our CPI (continuous process improvement) plans.

Another was keeping up our KYSO (Knock Your Socks Off) customer service. We always want to lead in this area and as the supply chain has become constrained, we continue to do even more around communicating with our customers.

Finally, regarding what COVID-related experiences have taught me: 1) work harder to connect with your customers during times of change; 2) find and validate fact-based information sources to inform your decision making; and 3) dedicate yourself to be a positive driving force and empower others to join you in solving the challenges.

Can you share a recent example of how your company worked with a distributor to successfully solve a problem for a foodservice operator?
We had a major university struggle with frictionless pick up of carry-out orders placed by students through their campus cafeteria. We helped them install a bank of our Flav-R 2-Go lockers and this instantly provided them with a safe, frictionless and high-quality experience for their students. This was a great solution to a very real problem.

Can you tell us about one of your products that is responding especially well to the problems facing operators, such as the labor shortage or the migration to new business models?
Our Glo-Ray 2-Go heated shelves have been a great solution for operators who needed to quickly add or augment their delivery and carry out business. These provide operators the ability to keep hot foods at proper temperatures while they wait for customer pick up. And they are compact, easy to use and very affordable.

Another new item that brings excellent value to the operators is the new Flav-R2-Go locker systems. These new lockers come in pizza size and a size appropriate for general carry out orders. They provide labor savings for the operator, food safety and excellent product quality for the end customer. This solution has become a major focus in our industry. COVID brought about more delivered food which needs holding to maintain quality. If you combine that with a renewed focus on cleanliness and reduced touchpoints, the locker systems are a perfect solution.

Although the industry has gone through a tough period, it energized new foodservice concepts and ways of reaching consumers. What excites you about the industry and working with dealers going forward?
First off, I am excited to get back together in person with our FEDA dealer partners. The best ideas we take to market come from them and engaged customers. Although COVID has forced some very hard times on our industry we have continued to look forward to what new ideas our end users will want. I love the innovations we made this year around delivery and safe holding. I personally have benefited from technology when ordering an evening dinner delivery for my family. With the proper equipment and technologies, restaurants in more locations will become available to more people.

Second, when I am onsite for a meal, which remains often, I visit so many restaurants where I feel their level of safety, unique menu items and total meal execution exceeds expectations. It has been a difficult path, but these must be the silver linings we take from COVID.