5 Key Lessons for Digitally Transforming Your Shop

Chris Inverso, CEO of Rainier Industries, has learned a lot during his 126-year-old company's digital transformation. He decided to share some of the lessons he believes could be beneficial to any manufacturer looking to make the same transformation.

Rainier was founded in 1896 and is one of the 100 oldest businesses in Washington state. The company began its digital transformation in the mid 80's.



Rainier Industries began in 1896 during the Alaskan Gold Rush, producing tents for prospectors traveling north to the Klondike. Post Gold Rush, it diversified into an awning business to support a growing downtown Seattle.

Today, Rainier Industries boasts three divisions -- Display, Shade, and Shelter -- and credits its success to operating at the nexus of creativity, unique engineering, and precision manufacturing. With 126 years in business and counting, Rainer has built an enduring, world class, manufacturing company. To cement its future, the company has adopted a long tail approach to its digital transformation journey, with its people squarely at the center of its decisions.

The company's digital transformation journey began in the mid 80's with the introduction of accounting and payroll software -- all powered by commercial laptops, workstation computers, and the latest software. In the 90's, many competitors were still screen-printing graphics on fabrics, while Rainier was an early adopter of digital printing technology. A decade later, Rainier implemented a suite of independent software applications, including a CRM tool, that collectively digitized its entire value stream.

Rainier Industries manufactures custom-built entrances.



Fast forward 20 years and Rainer's "people centric" commitment remains steadfast while the technology solutions continue to become more sophisticated. Here, the company's leadership shares five key lessons they believe have universal impact to all manufacturers.

Digital transformation is a marathon not a sprint

Chris Inverso, CEO of Rainier Industries, describes the company as an early adopter in certain areas of its digital transformation journey, while more of a comfortable "middle" adopter in others.

For example, the company made early investments in a CNC plasma table, plasma pipe tube cutter, and robotic welder in its metal shop while the adoption of software applications didn't come as quickly.

Rainier Industries promoted Chris Inverso (front) to CEO in 2021.



Regardless of timing, all decisions are made strategically by asking the question, "what positive impact does this solution deliver for our customers?" In short, digital transformation is not an all or nothing journey; ask the hard questions about what investments need to be prioritized based on the outcomes you are looking for.

Keep your people at the heart of your technology decisions

Rapid change can be difficult to effectively adopt.

Inverso mentions, "rather than asking our teammates to adopt all the latest and greatest technology, we continue to selectively employ digital technology only when it gives us a strategic, competitive advantage and when it allows for the highest and best use of our teammates' talents and abilities. Teammate development is a critical byproduct of our digital transformation journey. Our investments are strategically made to free up our existing talent and move them onto higher and better applications. It's a love triangle of sorts between people, process and technology."

Inverso credits the implementation of Epicor ERP software for improving revenue production in their metal shop by 160%.



Inverso goes on to describe how young teammates have joined the company as laborers and worked towards becoming skilled craftspeople in the metal, fabric, or wood shop as a result of the powerful marriage between software and machinery.

The value of industry-specific ERP

Today, the central nervous system of Rainier's digital competitiveness is powered by an industry-specific ERP solution. In 2010, the company realized that their various digital systems were not "talking" to each other. This led to a search for a new ERP platform and, ultimately, the selection of Epicor.

Rainier went live with an on-premises solution in late 2014 and migrated to the cloud in late 2022.

VIDEO: Epicor Kinetic Demo

Today, Epicor Kinetic is the technology backbone helping power the company to an 11-12% compound annual growth rate. Serving as both integrator and hub of the company's ongoing digital transformation journey, the implementation of an industry-specific ERP solution allowed Rainier's salespeople to close more deals, reduce the administrative burden on customer service and order-processing teams, increase productivity, and optimize the accounting department.

Inverso concludes, "we credit the implementation of Epicor for improving revenue production in our metal shop by 160%, all by empowering our existing workforce versus adding to it."

Digitally extend your store front

Following the Epicor implementation, the company began looking for other opportunities to strategically differentiate themselves which led them to develop an e-commerce site to streamline incoming orders from across the U.S. and Canada.

Rainier's metal shop specializes in TIG welding and uses CNC routers and a Waterjet for precise and rapid manufacturing.



Before the e-commerce site, the company only accepted orders via fax, email, and phone call. But in 2016, they selected and implemented Epicor ECC and went live with a dedicated e-commerce site called Rainier Direct. This revolutionized the industry, making Rainier the first North American, exterior-shade-product OEM to build such a platform. Public facing, e-commerce sites for their outdoor and tent businesses were fast follows.

Digital transformation is equal parts art and science

The combination of its people, the right software, and machinery means if a customer can dream it, Rainier can build it.

The Rainier metal shop builds the base structure for many companies' award-winning projects -- particularly in its display business. The shop specializes in TIG welding and uses CNC routers and a Waterjet for precise and rapid manufacturing. Meanwhile, the shop relies on the use of Epicor software and tools to improve efficiencies and allow them to carefully coordinate jobs across their fabric, grand format printing, and powder shops.

Man-sized hockey pucks and a 24 foot Cloud Fountain were two custom projects produced by Rainier.



As a result, Rainier's people get to push the boundaries between art and science. For example, Rainier fabricated 34 identical man-sized aluminum framed hockey pucks for the NHL All Star Game delivering precision at scale. They also tackled a custom installation art piece titled the "Cloud Fountain" in Elk Grove, Calif. This 24-feet tall metal structure looks to embody a sense of kinetic rippling movement; the sculpture looks like it is moving as pedestrians walk or drive by.

In summary

Putting your people at the heart of business decisions and empowering them with technology can create unimaginable results. Inverso concludes, "digital transformation is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself."

Want more information? Click below.


Rainier Industries

Rate this article

[5 Key Lessons for Digitally Transforming Your Shop]

Very interesting, with information I can use
Interesting, with information I may use
Interesting, but not applicable to my operation
Not interesting or inaccurate

E-mail Address (required):


Type the number:


Copyright © 2024 by Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction Prohibited.
View our terms of use and privacy policy