Sonnax: The Best Tech Secret in Bellows Falls, Vermont

Source: Vermont Journal

“What do they do at Sonnax?” This question, as several employees related, is a common one asked of them whenever they are outside the office wearing their Sonnax ID badge.

“On more than one occasion,” President Klynt Baker recounted, “I’ve been at lunch in Bellows Falls or elsewhere, wearing my company ID tag, and someone will tell me they drive by our sign all the time and have always wondered, what is Sonnax?”

For such a large and world-renowned company, Sonnax Transmission Company has remained surprisingly under the radar of most residents of Rockingham and Bellows Falls, even after more than 30 years of consistent growth and expansion. Their low-profile, industrial-style buildings currently occupy a combined 110,000 square feet across three facilities on Route 5, housing their headquarters (HQ), research and development (R&D), and distribution center. The company employs more than 250 people at the Bellows Falls complex, and another 60 employees work in their North Carolina facility.

The quick answer to the oft-asked question, according to Baker, is, “We manufacture after-market drivetrain components, primarily transmissions and torque converters.”

The expanded response is that Sonnax is an award-winning industry leader and globally recognized producer of cutting-edge design and manufacture, “high on innovation,” as Baker described. “We figure out what breaks on vehicles, and we design a solution that is going to repair that and is going to [create something] stronger than the original piece.” They are also well-known for excellent quality control and customer service.

Touring the three facilities was akin to visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but without the Oompa Loompas, or the chocolate, although Baker does keep a jar of mints on his desk.

Imagine each area of operation – manufacturing, testing, research, packaging, and distribution – all featuring state-of-the-art equipment, alongside some decades-old machines still providing vital results, with skilled operators working in perfect alignment.

One door leads to a quiet, sterile environment for parts production, another brings you into the HQ and R&D departments, with a large conference room hardwired to accommodate remote workers, and a casual break room and kitchen area where on-site staff can relax and visit over lunch or grab a piece of fresh fruit delivered to the office by Black River Produce. The highly automated distribution center was once operated by Ben & Jerry’s, and a pint of ice cream still sits high up on a window sill in the warehouse.

Vice President of Sales Mark Kaplan has been with Sonnax for 17 years, and pointed to the company’s standard of “safety, quality, delivery, inventory, and productivity,” a mantra implemented throughout every department.

Gregg Nader, product line manager, performance, will have been with the company for 24 years next month. Nader listed his top three priorities as new product development, exceptional quality control, and keeping parts available for customers.

A mechanic by trade, Nader was tapped to join the performance team when the company wanted to bring more technically skilled people onboard, and he is proud of the impact Sonnax has had on the auto parts industry over the years. “We’ve changed the landscape.”

Many employees have been at Sonnax for decades, but others, like test engineer Stefan Pilo, were hired two years ago. “I like figuring out how things work and problem solving,” Pilo admitted. “It’s like a puzzle, and we test a part until we can fix the problem and improve on the issue.”

Gregg explained, “With OEM [original equipment manufacturer] parts, once something goes into production, the engineers are working on future products. A problem pops up, there might be a recall, they might design a solution, then carry on. As the vehicle gets out of warranty, patterns of issues emerge, and that’s where Sonnax steps in to engineer solutions that allow the vehicles to live longer, get repaired less frequently and more affordably, and have a higher level of performance. I am privileged to work with the engineers here.”

Heather Ellis, controller and vice president of finance, who started with the company just seven months ago, commented, “There is amazing intellect and energy at this company.”

Hot rod drag racing father-and-son team Steve and Dustin Trance race a 2015 Mustang that relies on trusted Sonnax parts. “Sonnax engineering provided some heavy-duty hardware and good build advice,” Steve told the website Drag-n-Drive.

The cast of the Discovery Channel show Street Outlaws recently stopped in for a tour of the Rockingham facilities, took photos with employees, and signed autographs.

Vice President, Marketing and Communications Beth Houder has worked at Sonnax for nine years, and talked about the company’s “extensive on-the-job training program.”

“In addition to tuition reimbursement,” Houder outlined, “we work with local institutions and organizations to provide ongoing employee training and certification. We also offer job shadowing to give employees with an interest in another department an opportunity to explore what’s possible. We have many teammates who may have begun their careers in the distribution center or manufacturing teams, who have since advanced to positions in purchasing, sales, and quality. Promoting from within helps our employees and our company grow.”

More information on joining the team at Sonnax can be found at their careers page, www.sonnax.com/careers.

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