As a person who spends a great deal of time working with manufacturers of all types, I am often asked what differentiates successful manufacturers from “everyone else.” Rather than point to one or two surefire reasons for success in today’s highly competitive manufacturing arena, I would like to identify some of the characteristics I have witnessed lately in the manufacturing companies that are indeed doing well (and there are a lot of them).
1. They really understand the meaning of the word “customer.” We all know that customers are users of our products and services and that they help pay our bills. We also know we will not be successful if we do not deliver excellent service to our paying customers.
However, today’s successful companies recognize there are other types of customers who must also be satisfied, namely our internal customers or those within the company who receive and use what is produced in the manufacturing process. If you are cutting off parts that need to be machined later, your internal customer is the machinist. If you are the machinist producing parts that need to be painted, your internal customer is the painter or the painting work center. Thus, you not only have to provide parts that will satisfy the paying customer, but you also have to ensure that what you produce will satisfy your internal customer. This concept, although simple and obvious, is not always clearly understood by employees. Too often, there is a pervasive attitude that the next operation can catch and fix any mistake we make before the product gets out the door. This can lessen our focus on quality. Successful manufacturers ensure that all employees understand the concept of the internal customer and its importance in the overall quality effort.
2. They do everything they can to avoid competing purely on price. Price is, and will likely always be, a large part of the buying decision. With so many other companies within the United States and abroad offering commodity-type items, it’s difficult to be the low-cost producer on a continuous basis.
Therefore, the successful companies are selling service as part of their overall cost packages. Faster deliveries; supplying turnkey solutions to simplify your customer’s life; ensuring that all required documentation is completed accurately and on time; providing money-saving ideas on a regular basis; and even keeping customers informed about changes in your particular industry that could affect them are all valuable services that may differentiate your company from everyone else.
3. They are never satisfied with the status quo. They realize all businesses are fragile. National events can change a business environment almost overnight. What was good enough last year, or even last month, may not be good enough today or next month. Successful manufacturers realize they can be better, so instead of defending the status quo, they challenge it.
Why would a successful company want to change the way its does things? Because it has to in order to stay even. There are two sayings that really get to the heart of this matter: 1) “If you’re not getting better, you’re falling behind,” and 2) “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” As simple as these two sayings may seem, they convey the need to change—not just to get better, but to stay even. Successful companies are changing manufacturing processes and, in some cases, even their business models. Whatever it takes, successful companies are finding ways to get better and stay ahead.
4. They seek input from employees. Leaders of the most successful companies are smart enough to realize they don’t know everything. In many cases, they don’t know nearly as much about operations as the people who do them day in and day out. Recognizing this, they listen and act (as opposed to pretending to listen and thinking about acting). Nothing motivates employees more that being given an opportunity to offer advice and watching that advice be put into effect.
5. They believe in training. Training is expensive and time consuming. Even if your state has funding available to train employees in various disciplines, for the most part, the company must pay the wages of the employee being trained. This means the company is spending money without products being made. The successful companies recognize that training employees does provide long-term benefits and that sometimes you must invest time and money now in order to reap those benefits.
These are only a few of the characteristics helping companies get ahead. Give some thought to how you can apply them to your business.