At small manufacturers, the spark of change comes from many places

In a nearby coffee shop, there is a tip jar with a sign that reads “If you fear change, put it here”. It’s a humorous reminder that tipping is appreciated, and who wouldn’t rather do without change? In the world of manufacturers, things have changed, of course. The past fifteen years have brought an onslaught of new global competition, advancements in technology, and financial crises. Most people, it would be fair to say, would prefer to part with a few coins during their daily java ritual than embrace change.

What kinds of events trigger a company to change long-held practices? What pushes a firm to embrace something new? That is a sweeping question, but we can share a few common observations. The Great Lakes TAAC has worked with many small and mid-size manufacturers over the past decades, and while each firm is unique, common stories emerge.

Loss of a major customer

Losing a major customer is a difficult wake up call. With many large OEMs taking operations global, long-time local suppliers are often left in unfamiliar territory of having to find new customers with new needs and different purchasing styles. This amplifies existing problems, such as lack of market diversification, limited sales functions, and absent online marketing. The change can often be driven with the help of an outside consultant, whether a market researcher or an ad agency bringing new insights on customer expectations.

Michigan Wheel Marine had to change as the demand for boat propellers shifted to new markets. They were determined to remain world class with their consumer products, but set a strategic goal to diversify into commercial and government markets. They comment, “When we first started working with GLTAAC, our website was dated and did not portray the company as a manufacturer of highly engineered propellers. With their assistance, we have been able to update our website on two separate occasions, staying up-to-date with the latest web practices, and giving us an advantage over our competition which operates primitive websites.” In addition to these projects, the company did additional projects in engineering and marketing with GLTAAC support.

New perspectives

There is sometimes a trigger such as an intense sales seminar or certificate or graduate program. Sharing ideas with peers in a program led by a good teacher/facilitator can reignite a leader’s vision for their business.

Several GLTAAC firms have sent their sales team to training programs. A commitment to training over several months can help reignite the staff and drive new sales. It also fosters conversations about the company’s value proposition and the true needs of their customers.

Big new system

Software for middle market manufacturers has come a long way, and more firms are adopting true ERP systems. This requires great attention to detail, more process mapping and clear responsibilities for collecting and tracking information. And managers are given powerful new tools and insights to manage the business. This fuels more advanced and real time management across the business and creates opportunities for production and marketing.

The Great Lakes TAAC funds ERP selection projects regularly. These are important projects that help answer crucial questions about the firm’s processes and the software systems needed to support the business.

New leadership

A new president with a new perspective can bring great change. Whether from inside or outside the firm, someone new approaching a job has big things in mind. Applying management tools learned at a larger company, or adopting new production methods learned at a more advanced manufacturer could be a great motivator for change.

Often, there is a new generation of leadership. The former owner, possibly the founder or a long-time president, steered the firm to great success during the last boom. They deserve credit. But, sometimes, an established leader can be comfortable with past successes and old practices. We often meet people who are skeptical of online industrial marketing, or they don’t develop employees in a way that matches today’s technical demands. Job descriptions and employee training may be lacking due to work practices going un-assessed for a long time.

All these scenarios, and others, lead to some kind of action. And new leaders and seasoned veterans have embraced and led the charge, like shot of caffeine to the system. It is inspiring for us to work with change agents and dreamers who have a vision to try new things to get back out in front. The Great Lakes TAAC provides support and funding for businesses needing assistance to make their ideas happen.

Is your firm taking steps towards new initiatives? If so, the Great Lakes TAAC could be just the program to help you take that next step!