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Meet Tony Greenland – COVID-19 & The Abrasive Industry

Today we have selected Tony Greenland to take his interview. He is CEO of Red Label Abrasives.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

Dealing with COVID-19 these past two years has been a challenge, but Red Label Abrasives was certainly up for the challenge. We’ve been around since 1982, so we’ve survived other difficult markets like the housing market crash in 2008. We’re doing okay, and I think we’ll be here to serve our maker community for a long time. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. 

Tell us about you, your career, and Red Label Abrasives.

Like many family-owned company backstories, our operation started very small. My father, Bob Greenland, began producing and selling abrasives out of his garage using handbuilt machinery in 1982. He started with a handful of customers, but the company quickly grew due to the craftsmanship behind the abrasives and the level of service and support customers received. 

I always enjoyed getting a glimpse into my dad’s work as a kid. I grew up around abrasives, and I knew I wanted to help my dad grow his business eventually. For a long time, our work had come in almost exclusively from referrals and word of mouth. Eventually, I took over the family business, and I helped launch our very first website. I was able to get Red Label Abrasives online to establish an online presence.

Our team and manufacturing facility has grown, but we still maintain our family values, and Red Label is still a family-owned business. It’s been really exciting to watch the company grow and continue my father’s legacy. We’ve now been producing abrasives for over 35 years. 

What has Red Label Abrasives done to innovate and remain competitive?

We do that separates us from our competition by operating on make-to-order and make-to-stock systems. We’re not shipping customers belts that have been sitting on a rack for a year or more. Instead, our belts are made to order or limited stock, so customers receive fresh belts at their door. We’ve also placed a lot of emphasis on our support staff. We’ve got a great support staff, and they’re always available to answer both product and technical questions. 

How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you Coping?

 A lot of businesses were hit hard during the pandemic. We certainly had some obstacles to overcome, but we were fortunate enough to maintain most of our business through the pandemic. 

Our industrial sales initially slowed down with factories having to close down or reduce production in certain states. However, we’ve always served all makers, and that includes more than manufacturers. Many of our solo makers produced more in their home shops and forges with more time at home, so our consumer sales remained strong. 

We were very thankful to have the support of our maker community, and we tried to give back where possible. We had teamed up with a few other local businesses to put together free COVID-19 care packages that we gave out to those in need. 

2021 has been a much better year. Our industrial partners are fully operational and producing at full capacity again. The business has stabilized for us. 

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

We certainly had to make some difficult choices during the pandemic. We’re based out of Belding, Michigan. Michigan initially had one of the strongest responses to the pandemic in the country. We were limited in how many people we could have in the shop at a time. We had to furlough some employees temporarily, and we were running with a skeleton crew for a while. 

I think the pandemic ultimately reinforced the importance of remaining agile and avoiding putting too many eggs in one basket. Serving multiple markets and earning sales from several different sources helped us survive the pandemic. 

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

I can’t attribute any specific tools or software to our success in navigating the pandemic. We are looking to implement a new ERP system and a new CRM. I’m excited about both of those tools because I think they’ll help take our business to new levels. 

How do you plan to stay in the game?

Our plan to stay in the game is the same plan we used to remain competitive throughout the pandemic. We’re continually investing in our employees and our equipment to produce the highest quality abrasives on the market. We’re also continuing to emphasize providing unrivaled customer support and technical support. 

We’re big on education at Red Label, so we’ve heavily invested in producing content to educate our customers. I know that our community appreciates learning new things and reaching out with questions whenever they have them. We’re here for our customers whenever they need us. 

Any final thoughts or closing remarks?

I want to thank our community of makers. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the support of the knife makers, bladesmiths, and woodworkers that use our abrasives. We love our maker community, and we deeply appreciate all of our Red Label family members. We’d love to serve you if you haven’t given our abrasives a try yet. Our abrasive technicians are available to help you find the right product for your needs. 

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