Companies Find Ways To Prosper During Slow Times

There is no doubt that many companies have experienced a drop-off in business during the past year. The economic downturn has affected almost every company in some way.

Columns From: 4/2/2002 Modern Machine Shop,

There is no doubt that many companies have experienced a drop-off in business during the past year. The economic downturn has affected almost every company in some way. During these times, it is critical that companies maintain a long-term business focus while taking some short-term actions to help "weather the storm."

I wanted to find out what some manufacturers are doing during this period. These companies have been successful in the past and are confident that the steps they are taking will lead to continued success.

The staff at Modelwerks in Seattle, Washington, believes it is critical to maintain strong relationships with their customers. "Customers return to us due to our genuine interest in making sure they get what they want and need, no matter what it is—something they don't feel they get elsewhere," says Charlie Gary, plant manager.

Mr. Gary also points to the need for a strong sales staff. "A good sales rep is crucial in a slow economy," he says. "A strong economy will have people coming to you, but a weak economy requires a strong sales effort to show that you can do a better job than the other 15 shops that also need the work."

The company is sticking to its core business of assisting customers with research and development. According to Mr. Gary, "R & D is an area that can't be sent to cheaper labor markets overseas because of the communication and flow-time requirements. Speed is critical to a successful R&D effort."

Fredon Corporation in Mentor, Ohio, is using the slowdown to improve business processes. "This is the time to do all of the things you always say you are going to do, but don't ever get around to when you're really busy," says Roger Sustar, president. "We have a core group of people who are taking initiative to solve a lot of problems and brainstorming ideas for improvement. It seems to really make a difference when you have people who are responsible and accountable for business improvements."

Cranberry Country Machine and Tool in Middleboro, Massachusetts, is a company that believes it is critical to know the financial condition of your company, especially when business is slow. "Knowing your financial condition will keep the unexpected situations manageable and be the leading contributor to profit when the economy rebounds," says Stephen McDermott, president.

To increase business, Mr. McDermott spends time networking, looking for opportunities that may only present themselves when talking to people. "In addition to networking, create a Web site and register your domain name," he recommends. "This is pretty easy to do now and is very helpful when it comes to marketing your company. Do not be shy about what your company Web site looks like. The goal is to get the message out, get some visibility, show that you are technically competent and have a place to call home."

Kimble Precision in Loveland, Colorado, sees the slowdown as an opportunity to change. "We have been taking full advantage of any slow times to address our way of doing business internally—cleaning up processes, creating and documenting procedures, and generally making a more efficient operation," says Larry Kimble, president. "We have set a goal of achieving ISO registration, which has required organizing everything."

The company is also diversifying its service offering. "We have been working to expand our customer base, branching into areas that we are not currently in," Mr. Kimble says. "We have formed an alliance with two other companies to provide ergonomic lifter systems for test fixture handling. We are excited about this alliance and the impact it could have on our business."

Kimble has also invested time in networking. "I have been attending more of the local business events to get a better feel of the active shakers and movers in the area. We are looking for the upstart businesses that may need the services that we offer. Basically we are leaving no stone unturned."

Ramco Machine in Rowley, Massachusetts, has been looking toward the future by investing in workforce training, according to company president Randy Jezowski. "We now can drill holes as small as 0.002 inch in diameter," he says. "We are still in a good position of being able to produce complicated jobs in small quantities with quick deliveries. What's interesting is that this is the most common type of work out there now."

From planning operational improvements, to networking and discovering new business opportunities, these companies are aggressively positioning themselves for better times ahead.

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