Choosing a custom toll blending partner is often the start of a long relationship — one that continuously improves with age. Developing this relationship with an experienced partner can help a company expand to meet increased demand or enter a new market, improve product quality and consistency, strengthen a supply chain and ultimately boost the bottom line. Given that, choosing the best toll blending partner can feel intimidating. We recently sat down with Andrew Hoyt and Jeff Merritt, custom toll blending experts at Black Lab®, to dig into the details of why companies choose custom toll blending and what customers should consider when choosing a toll blending partner, including cost, quality control, logistics, customer service and experience.
If you’re exploring how toll blending can benefit your business, this blog can help you find the right partner to meet your needs.
Q: To start with, when might a business first consider working with a toll blending partner?
Andrew: It depends on the situation, but there are a bunch of reasons that someone could have for seeking a custom toll blending partner. They might be using non-specialized equipment to blend materials in their own facility and decide they want to scale up production. Or they might have concerns about contamination if they don’t have dedicated space for blending.
Jeff: Or they might want to expand their operations without having to make a big capital investment or take on extra risk.
Andrew: Some customers come to us when quality or supply issues have been a problem and they recognize that the knowledge required to blend products and maintain a high level of quality really comes from experience. Knowing what can go wrong and putting measures in place to prevent those things from happening is where an experienced toll blender makes a huge difference.
Q: What about cost? We imagine that’s a big deciding factor …
Jeff: Of course, cost is always a top concern. When a company has been blending in-house, they know what their current costs are and expect a toll blender to do it for a similar or maybe an even lower price. We often sit down with potential customers to really analyze the potential value. You have to think beyond the cost of raw materials and shipping and consider the full overhead costs. When you partner with a toll blending company, you don’t have to worry about investing in equipment, sourcing raw materials when availability might change or extreme weather interferes, not to mention storage and distribution. And let’s not forget the personnel to make all of that happen.
Andrew: Once that’s off your plate, it really frees you up to focus on your core business. That’s a cost benefit a lot of customers don’t always think about when they’re considering outsourcing. Along with that, toll blending offers efficiencies that build stronger supply chains, reducing the number of suppliers and positioning distribution from centralized locations. That can make things simpler and more streamlined for everyone involved.
Jeff: The bottom line is, everyone’s situation is so unique to them and their products, it takes a conversation to really evaluate specific costs and potential value. We’re happy to go into the details on a case-by-case basis, but overall, working with a toll blending partner offers many efficiencies that can be a cost-efficient solution.
Q: Okay, so once cost is out of the way, what are the top concerns?
Jeff: A huge concern for companies is our ability to protect their formulas, since their proprietary information is what gives them a competitive edge. Our customers are always innovating to better meet their customers’ needs and most are, understandably, hesitant to share their information given the potential damage to their business if it were shared with others.
Andrew: We work with them to build that trust, which is very important to us as well. Our top priority is protecting their formulas. In addition to mutual nondisclosure agreements, we maintain strict security policies and standardized procedures to keep our customers’ proprietary information safe.
Jeff: One thing that really hits home for our customers is that we don’t develop formulas for companies; we focus on the production. That goes a long way to eliminate the concern that we would use knowledge gained from one customer’s proprietary information to help another. We do have a lot of industry knowledge, and we do help troubleshoot problems, but never at the risk of divulging confidential information.
Andrew: And the quality we ensure in producing their formulas is equally important to the integrity of their brand. Our processes ensure that quality is consistently maintained from the first package to the last. We fill directly from the mixer — some toll blenders don’t, and that can cause issues with consistency of the product.
Q: What are some of the challenges that companies can avoid with the right toll blending partner?
Jeff: It’s critical for all service-oriented businesses to maintain a steady supply chain, even when extreme weather events or natural disasters happen that can slow down production. Because Black Lab has three production plants spread out across different geographic areas, we have some flexibility there. If we would ever have to shift production from one place to another, we can.
Andrew: And the fact that our three locations are close to major travel lanes also helps cut back on transportation costs and speed, since we generally don’t have to cover long distances. This can make a real difference for time-sensitive projects. Another flexibility we offer that I know our customers value is that we have so many different packaging options, including custom packaging. That’s a big consideration for our customers.
Q: Does Black Lab being a division of Covia® offer a benefit to customers?
Jeff: Sourcing raw materials is another factor that can make a big difference in turnaround time. Because we’re a division within Covia, we have built-in access to a wide range of specialty raw materials. Covia is the premier high-end industrial sand producer in the world, and our plants are located close to Covia facilities, making it really convenient for us to source materials and cut down on transportation costs and time.
Andrew: But to be clear, if our customers need something that we don’t normally stock, they can supply their own raw materials, or we’ll use sources that they prefer. We will store these at our warehouses for around six months at no added cost to the customer. And, going back to protecting information — sometimes customers send “black box” components to us. We won’t know what is in them, just how it functions in their formula and the safety profile.
Q: In closing, what do you think is the most important thing people should know about Black Lab before the decide on a toll blending partner?
Jeff: At the end of the day, we’re all about being flexible to meet our customers’ needs and building strong customer relationships. We take customer service very seriously and work to maintain great relationships with all our customers. This holds true from the very first contact someone has with our company through decades-long partnerships.
Andrew: Before we ever start making a product, we really work to build that trust, so that we have a good relationship as a foundation. If issues do come up, our customers know they can trust us to fix them. If something doesn’t seem right for whatever reason, they always know exactly who to contact to have that open communication. We don’t look at this as a transactional business. We have long-term vendors that we trust, and long-term customers that trust us.
Choosing a custom toll blender can be a complex process, but by evaluating an organization’s capabilities, experience and quality standards, you can find a partner that can deliver consistent, reliable and cost-effective blending solutions for your business.
Black Lab is well-positioned to help you achieve your goals. Contact us today to see what it’s like to work with a trusted and experienced custom toll blender that can deliver the customer service and quality you expect.