Take one limousine parts and accessories company, add a loyal staff dedicated to customer service, and the end result is Infinite Innovations. For 14 years, Infinite has used this winning and successful formula to reach the top of the competitive parts industry.
Bud Thomas, president of Infinite Innovations, based in Springfield, Mo., co-founded the company in 1987 and has been the sole owner since 1991. He continues to focus on developing new products while concentrating on customer satisfaction. Precision Tooling Makes the Cut
Infinite is involved in the manufacturing and assembly of the majority of its product line. All of the stainless-steel rocker manufacturing is done on-site at Infinite’s plant. According to Thomas, Infinite’s stainless rocker panels are very delicate to manufacture because of the thin, mirror-like finish of the product and can be subject to damage during the manufacturing process.
“For this reason, the majority of stainless rocker kits manufactured in the U.S. are manufactured by hand,” Thomas says.
Each individual part has to be cut out by hand, because if the steel becomes hot during the cutting out of the trimmed part, it will discolor and turn a blue tint, losing the mirror finish. “Because of this, the rocker kits are very labor-intensive,” Thomas says. “I knew there had to be a way to manufacture the product and bring the labor cost down.”
After a year of research and working with different laser manufacturers, Infinite’s engineering team developed a process of cutting the rocker trim with a laser machine, thereby removing the bulk of the labor cost and allowing Infinite to produce identical parts on a consistent basis. The computerized machine delivers a precise cut, guaranteeing no variance from one piece to the next.
Developing New Products
When developing new products, Thomas’ philosophy is to let the market dictate what the needs are. “We get our ideas from the needs of the industry, and we have a very good relationship with the coachbuilders and end users,” Thomas says. “We get all kinds of scenarios when we’re out spending time with the coachbuilders — we’re asked questions such as, ‘Why can’t you guys do something like this?’ or ‘Let’s come up with something new to light the car.’”
Whenever he senses there’s a common need in the industry for a new type of part, he will then explore that avenue while considering costs. “You can build anything, but it comes down to whether it’s cost-justifiable,” he says. “The parts industry is a very competitive industry and a price-conscious world, not only for vendors, but also for the coachbuilders.” When researching a new product idea, Thomas will analyze the different products in that particular field. “We try to pick out the pluses of each product, then develop a new product with a higher degree of quality, or perhaps go in a totally new direction that nobody has ever been into before,” he says. An example is the white, LED coach light. “That’s a very popular item at this time,” Thomas says. “There wasn’t anything like that on the market. Nobody else had been making a white LED light, and when we first started trying to develop this product, there wasn’t even a white LED available to manufacture a light with.”
Infinite had to wait for technology to bring a white LED light online, and at the time was working with the LED manufacturers overseas. “Those are some of the things you get into when developing a new product,” he says. Products currently being worked on for release in the near future include several items for new lighting and products in the electronics field.
Getting the Word Out
Infinite’s advertising methods have proven to be very successful, according to Thomas. “We’re always in touch with our customers to let them know of any special pricing, inventory overstocks — maybe we’ve made a large purchase so we can reduce our cost, and that enables us to offer a lower price to the end users,” Thomas says.
For Web-related matters, Infinite has recently hired a company to work with them on improving the quality of its Web site. “Our goal is to make our Web site more user-friendly, and we want the customer to be able to see color pictures of the products,” Thomas says. Another bonus is that customers will also be able to place orders online.
According to Thomas, technology has been Infinite’s biggest challenge in order to stay on the cutting edge of an extremely competitive industry, along with the need for consistent communication. “Technology is always changing, and we’ve got to constantly look for ways to improve the quality of the part, while at the same time decreasing the price.”
Good communication is also key at Infinite, not only with end-user customers, but also with its vendors. “The people at GM and Ford — these guys are always telling us, ‘You need to be working on this,’ — both of these OEMs have pretty strict standards that they insist be followed in order to be an authorized stocking warehouse for this industry,” Thomas says. “This consistent teamwork with the OEMs has really helped coachbuilders.”
Customer Service Always Counts
Thomas credits Infinite’s long-term success to his staff of good people and consistent customer service. “Company policy is that the customer is always right,” he says. “Policy number two is, in the event that the customer is wrong, revert back to policy number one. It is true, and we do have to live by it.”
In Thomas’ view, the world is driven by customer service. “Granted, we have got to stay in business, and everyone has to make a profit, whether it’s the end user that’s running a limousine service, or the coachbuilder, or us as a manufacturer/supplier to the coachbuilders and end users,” he says. “It’s a fact that you have to take care of the customer.”
Thomas stresses focusing, paying attention to detail and having a good attitude when dealing with customers. “That’s what I strive for in our weekly sales meetings — making sure that our sales staff understands the importance of being nice to our customers,” he says, adding that a customer may be upset and it could be totally unrelated to Infinite. “You’ve got to let them vent — and then come back and ask, ‘What can we do to help the situation?’ And then try to reason with and service that customer. That’s the heart of any correctly based operation. If you’re out there selling product, you’re still servicing the needs of customers.”
It’s All in the Family
With a staff of 38 employees, the atmosphere at Infinite Innovations is that of a large, extended family.
“I’m very fortunate that there’s an ample staff of people that have many years of experience in building limousines,” Thomas says. “I’ve got many people that have years of experience of actually being on the shop floor. I, myself, have 14 years of experience building limousines. I’ve got employees with that same time frame of experience, physically building limousines, putting moldings on and working in the electronics of limousines.”