All year long we’re celebrating the moments that got us to this great spot: 35 years of Making the Workplace a Betterplace™. It’s a tribute to our history and the big part you’ve played in it. So join us every month for a new tale, a quirky giveaway, and a fresh playlist of tasty tunes … ‘cuz there ain’t no party like an Ergodyne party, and this one’s gonna go down in the books, kids.
“She said ‘I don’t know whether they’re gonna make it or not, but if they do, it’s gonna be a fun ride.’” -- Greg Schrab, SVP Operations and Product Management, Ergodyne
Hard to picture now, but back before life was streamed to us on demand, folks had to resort to all sorts of desperate measures like searching for jobs in newspapers and actually talking to people on the telephone. Out loud. Like, with words and stuff.
“I didn’t really know anything about Ergodyne,” recalls Schrab. “And this was before email and the Internet were really a thing, so I was looking up jobs and actually calling connections and references to learn whatever I could and that’s what this lady told me about Ergodyne.”
“I don’t know whether they’re gonna make it or not, but if they do, it’s gonna be a fun ride.”
Red flag? Nah. Actually a pretty damn intriguing sales pitch to an unencumbered Wisconsin kid in his twenties. Fun ride, you say? Sure. Let’s do this. *chugs Old Milwaukee, crushes can on forehead, tosses can over shoulder*
(Above) Somewhere in the Ergodyne warehouse there’s a random box with a Hootie and the Blowfish CD, a small library of VHS tapes, a Windows95 startup disk and “fred”.
“Looking back, I came in at a chaotic time in the company’s history, but was too young and clueless to really notice at first,” says Schrab. “I just liked the idea of working for a smaller company, jumping in and seeing that I’m making a difference.”
The year was 1995.
(Above) Ergodyne print ad circa mid ‘90s
TALKING ‘BOUT HARD TIMES
Five years earlier, Ergodyne had been on a rocket ship to the moon, fueled by growing enthusiasm for its innovative industrial back support. By 1991, it had become one of INC.’s Top 500 Fastest Growing Small Companies in the U.S. A move from the quaint old house on Grand Ave. to a larger office space followed, along with the staff to fill it and an upgraded sound system to keep the party moving (“Music’s always been a huge deal here,” explains Director of Accounting & Financial Reporting Becky Nagel, who started with Ergodyne in 1990).
And then… “Times got tough and tough decisions had to be made,” recalls Nagel aka Ergodyne employee #11.
“Folks said to themselves they didn’t need [back supports] anymore because NIOSH says we don’t need to. People weren’t being held accountable by government agencies so they didn’t do it.”
Ah, NIOSH. Every party has a pooper and that’s why we invited you.
(Above) “The science did not support their claims.” Ergodyne teams with industry peers to strike back against federal agencies with a national ad campaign and educational effort.
In 1994, the National Institute for Science and Health (NIOSH) dropped a bombshell. A report written by staffers calling themselves the Back Belt Working Group (catchy, no?) concluded that they did “not recommend the use of back belts among uninjured workers, and does not consider back belts to be personal protective equipment.”
A widely circulated white paper followed to further their claims.
Well... sh!t. What now?
“We did our homework,” says Nagel. “We did studies of our own. [President and CEO] Tom [Votel] engaged with a group of industry peers and circled the wagons. He was very impassioned about the cause. He knew the supports made a difference. The science did not support their claims.”
But sacrifices had to be made in the meantime for the war effort.
“My first year or two, was all about how to trim inventory and survive,” says Schrab.
“A lot of competitors didn’t make it,” remembers Nagel. “It was like, OK, we need to diversify, but you have to be careful because you don’t have the sales revenue… you had to be creative with what you had.”
But that didn’t mean an end to the innovation.
A NEW LIFE
Eventually, Votel’s crack commando unit of industry soldiers won out. The feds backed down (we do love it when a plan comes together). And true to the founder’s medical roots, a groundbreaking patient transfer device (the On3) created a new energy around Ergodyne.
“By ‘98 there was no doubt we were going to survive,” says Schrab. “It was just a matter of how big we were going to be.”
PREVIOUSLY: PARTY CRASHERS // 1992-1994