North Star Ice Equipment Corp., Seattle
North Star Ice has been in business for more than 65 years making barrel-shaped machines that produce flake ice used for preserving fish at sea or to cool concrete in massive construction projects like dams. The company faced two challenges to continuing that heritage: the loss of a major contract and the loss of institutional expertise as a large cohort of employees hit retirement age. Management responded by focusing on key markets and strengthening customer relationships with preferred contractors. The result was a rebound in revenue and improving margins.
To handle the transition after employees with a combined 125 years of North Star experience left, the company carefully documented “years of tribal knowledge and key pieces of information that were key to building the strong North Star brand for so many years and that were key for our continued success.” Management at the family-owned company also has installed lean manufacturing procedures, an employee coaching program and improved communication channels. Meanwhile, the company also has been addressing the product itself, introducing a new line of ice makers for commercial customers who don’t need industrial-size machines, and pursuing development work on more environmentally friendly chemicals.