Getting Back The Edge

We are emerging from our economic malaise slowly but surely.

We are emerging from our economic malaise slowly but surely. I just heard that the latest quarterly report from the American Mold Builders Association shows that moldmakers are reporting increased business activity, a good sign for plastics processors because it signals that new projects are on the way. Get ready.

Reexamine your business and refuel the technology engine that drives innovation. Learn what leaders in your field--or others, for that matter--are doing to position themselves for growth. What's the status of your equipment? Odds are you've shut down lines over the past two years, and cannabilized parts and components from those lines to keep running machinery operating so you could fill what orders you had. Now what? The old lines you've drydocked are probably well beyond firing up again. Maybe you've look at used equipment; shrewd processors have taken advantage of some good deals over the past couple of years, but word I'm hearing is that the used-equipment market is starting to slow down. If you're looking at new machinery, think long-term; maybe it will be worth a few extra bucks to invest in some cutting-edge technology up front because it will allow you to make parts faster or better, perhaps even while using less material. Speaking of material, when was the last time you sat down with your resin or additive supplier (or compounder) to discuss something other than price? Of course price is extremely critical, but have you asked your supplier if their are new products in the pipeline that you can get first crack at? Or maybe you're using one type of material, when another, less costly compound can do the same job. I have found that the North American plastics processing market by and large doesn't always think this way. Frustrating.  When was the last time you updated your website? When was the last time you attended a trade show or took advantage of some other networking opportunity? When was the last time you attended a conference? Are we finished learning? When was the last time you exhibited at a trade show? When was the last time you looked at your marketing plan? Do you even have one? When was the last time you walked a show in a market you currently don't participate in to get a feel as to the opportunities that might exist there for you business.

I ask these questions because I am concerned about the future of our industry. My dad ran a dress factory in New Jersey for more than 40 years before retiring about 25 years ago. His was one of the first businesses that started to migrate to nations where labor costs were practically nill. We've seen plenty of that in plastics over the years. Sure, a lot of it was out of our control. But I think we've lost a bit of our edge too. Are you stuck in neutral? Maybe you'll have to learn some new tricks. Maybe you'll have to shift from higher-volume commodity-type products, which tend to shift from one manufacturer to another predicated mostly on price, to lower-volume, higher-valued, higher-margin products that solve problems. I think our industry is headed that way. Most of us are going to have to change something to stay in the game.