Innovation and Strategy in Manufacturing

#USAMfgHour Twitter Chat Recap for June 25, 2020

Be Innovative

What would you do if it never went back to “normal”?  How would you adapt, what would make sense to do anyway? – Justin Spannuth (@JustinUnique)

On June 25, 2020, Justin Spannuth (@JustinUnique), VP/Chief Operations Officer of Unique Pretzels (@UniqueSnacksUSA) hosted the #USAMfgHour Twitter chat and discussed strategy and innovation.

After brief introductions, Justin kicked the chat off by asking participants if they think it is possible to plan during COVID-19.  @JimShockley4 said, “I think it’s possible to plan during Covid but you have to have multiple plans and realize that you most likely will have to switch to alternative plans depending on the changing situation… flexibility is key right now…”, a sentiment that was echoed by all of the other participants.  Justin agreed, but also stated that COVID has been a time accelerant to industries, not a change agent. “If you have had to over-pivot your long-term business plans you should review how you plan. COVID has helped people around me have a clearer picture of the plans already in place.”  

Question two asked, “What are some of the biggest changes happening that we should be listening to? Which ones are short term effects, which ones are long term effects, and which ones affect you the most?”  The top three responses were the e-commerce explosion, social distancing on manufacturing floors and in offices, and supply chain diversification and modification.  Justin noted that shopping methods, meetings, and sanitation are some areas with changes, or, rather, 2-4 year acceleration.  He mentioned Unique Pretzels started focusing on alternate sales channels years ago and the current conditions have enabled the company to take advantage of the investment when the timing was best.  “It’s not too late to plan. As things start to hit normalcy, many of the changes that have happened will take time to revert or what are new ‘habits’ will take a slight step backwards in progress until they become normal in ‘normal’ times.”  

Next, Justin asked how participants find the biggest opportunities for change or growth.  The one common answer was to ASK QUESTIONS.  @DynamaticOEM said, “…We’re trying to get ahead of business by being a bit more proactive than we have been in the past. That means we have to ask questions we’ve never asked before.”  And @NJMEP opined, “Question everything! It’s vital to get out of the mindset of “we’ve always done it that way” and start asking questions. Ask employees where they see opportunities for change or growth. Continue engaging with clients and really listen to their needs.”

The new norm is being able to adapt. If you can’t adapt & be willing to make changes, then you’ll find yourself in a rut. By adapting & LISTENING to customers’ needs you’ll come up with a solution that works for everyone. – @SpaceGuard

Justin went on to answer his question with more questions. “Who’s problems are you trying to solve? Your own, your customers’, the end user?  Knowing who’s problem to solve is where people don’t look far enough. Do you have someone in your company asking these questions?” 

Next, Justin opined that margins are typically a struggle with manufacturers and that capital is the #1 reason a vision can’t be implemented. He asked participants, “Do you have a brand name to sell the trust on? Are you a B/B brand or a B/C brand? The more people that know and buy your brand the harder it is to fail.”  @Paul_Kiesche stated that he often sees companies that gain enough capital to start their vision and produce, but not enough to successfully market, bring awareness and sell.  And @FelixNater shared that trust is a huge factor in sustaining the business model when change necessitates a new direction.  

According to Justin, service, product quality, and trust are the biggest factors, as 42% of consumers will pay more for better customer service. The top 10% of customers will pay 3x more for a brand they trust. He asked, “Are you servicing and branding the best you can or are you in the stone ages?”  Forbes states that customer experience is going to be key as we move forward.  “We were already seeing a refocus on service as online experience has left us cold but again, the world has leaped by 2-4 years. This is a must and quickly.  When you are a manufacturer for other brands it is a hard step to take to become known at consumer level. It is worth the effort because it is much harder to be forgotten. Gimmicky example, Flex Seal has many competitors but everyone knows and trusts the brand,” Justin said.

Justin’s final question asked participants if they have someone in their companies creating connections outside of the company? @SpaceGuard said, “It’s all about who you know. We have constant communication with the outside world, in-person meetings (when allowed), social media, podcasts, emails, ABC Club, being active on different industry boards, you name it we’re there shaking hands & kissing babies.”  And, @DuraTechUS added, “We recently created a Social Media Brand Ambassador Program here.  Our goal is to have our team members who engage on Social Media can also help with building our relationships on Social Media to assist with recruitment and prospecting.”  Every participant mentioned social media and its advantages for establishing connections and building relationships with prospective customers, referral sources, partners, and employees.  However, the level of use, platforms relied upon, and engagement strategies vary. 

Justin mentioned that some of his best opportunities have come from being involved.  Forums, leadership or trade groups, political panels, etc. can all be advantageous.  He also suggested having mentors in many areas of business. “Some of the best mentors come from non-competing industries. They see things differently and people provide them different information that can still be relevant to you.”  Even though you can’t put a rigid value on these things, the returns are there. #karma

Justin closed the chat by saying, “Everyone’s situation is different yet our opportunities to adjust to conditions are the same. Are you doing everything you can? Are you activating your employees to help you create?”  

You can connect with Justin by emailing him at [email protected] or finding him on LinkedIn where he posts about current company announcements, as well as mentorship statements and other visionary thoughts. 

Next week, July 2, 2020, @DCSCInc and @SERVICECASTER will be hosting an informal chat on Summer Survival as we head into the July 4th holiday.  We hope you can join us!

The #USAMfgHour chat, held every Thursday from 2-3 PM Eastern is founded by @CVTPlastics @DCSCInc @witzshared and @SERVICECASTER.  Be sure to follow the official account for chat highlights, recaps, and information at @USAMfgHourChat and visit us on other platforms to keep in touch between chats.

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Leveraging Competitive Intelligence and Market Research

#USAMfgHour Twitter Chat Recap for June 18, 2020

“…Information is valuable. Having that information to help guide strategy and business decisions is essential.” – @NJMEP

On June 18, 2020, chat co-founder Jennifer Wegman, Social Media / Communications Manager at Service Caster Corporation (@SERVICECASTER) hosted our #USAMfgHour Twitter chat on our @USAMfgHourChat account and discussed how manufacturers can easily leverage competitive intelligence and market research to inform their marketing, strategy, and operations.

After introductions, Jennifer asked participants, “Have you ever benchmarked your direct competitors to see how you fit with them in the marketplace?”  @ZeroSurge said, “Market research is the foundation of any successful campaign. Understanding who you’re marketing to is essential to securing new customers. We definitely use both of these tools!”  However, a few of the participants said they generally do not do much CI benchmarking because their offerings are niche and/or unique from those of their competitors.  Jennifer’s answer to that was even if you believe “There’s no such thing as competition”, there is.  Being aware of what your competitors are doing and how you stack up gives you significant advantages, specifically with marketing and strategy.  Competitive intelligence (CI) benchmarking can 1) inform your content strategy 2) help determine if there is a hole in the marketplace to be filled, and 3) provide you with early warnings of possible market shifts.  @BIllGarlandSpkr concurred, stating that tracking jobs won vs. jobs lost from a technology, technique and personnel standpoint is a great CI action to be doing as well.  In reply, Jennifer recommended participants check out Ellen Naylor’s book on win/loss analysis as a great resource to inform their customer intelligence.

Next, Jennifer asked participants how many competitors they monitor on social media and other public (often called OSINT, or “open source intelligence”) channels.  Numbers ranged from zero to as high as 13.  A few participants, such as @CVTPlastics, @NJMEP, and @DynamicOEM said they don’t have a lot of direct competitors, so they monitor similar companies to gauge their brands’ social media and other activity.  Jennifer thought that was great, but also mentioned that participants should regularly monitor at least 5-10 of direct competitors, as well as at least 3 indirect competitors.  Benchmarking spreadsheets should include information relevant to what you’re trying to measure.  Social media handles, average likes and comments, frequency of posting, type of content posted, overview of blogs posted, and customer sentiments are some examples of items to monitor, as well as pricing, order avenues, products or services offered, job openings, new products, retired products, and more.  

When asked how often they should update their CI benchmarking data, participants responded with a range of timelines, including monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, and annually, depending on the data they are monitoring.  While Jennifer recommended at least a quarterly update, she encouraged participants to set their own timelines, but not not go out past a year because data can get outdated.  And you can’t make timely, relevant insights for the future of your business based on non-current data.

At the halfway point of the chat, Jennifer switched gears into market research and asked participants what efforts they make in that area in order to help them excel at their businesses.  Everyone who responded said they don’t have anything formal in place for market research or don’t do it at all.  Jennifer explained that continuous #market research enables companies to increase awareness of their standing and advantages in the marketplace.  However, it is more focused on the market itself than on specific companies than CI benchmarking is. Companies who do market research often monitor market forecasts and trends, new entrants, exits, product/service development, influencers and thought leaders, and customers using open source info, databases, and proprietary information.

When asked about great sources for market research information, participants came through in a big way and shared the following great information:

  • @CVTPlastics – We are all custom B2B.  So, we monitor Twitter, LinkedIn , and YouTube. Also, websites.  We sell to other molders so we review their websites as well.
  • @NJMEP – One of our favorite sources are our clients! We focus heavily on building strong, real relationships with clients. Sparking up conversations and recording that data provides valuable insight into our market.
  • @ZeroSurge – We use a lot of internal information that we’ve gathered from our customers. We also keep a close eye on various social media channels to see which way the industry is heading. We’ll definitely keep watching this thread though to learn some new avenues for information!
  • @DynamaticOEM – Our go-to sources for market information include our sales team and clients, social media and websites, trade publications, and news sources that post company updates. 
  • @SERVICECASTER – Generally, I love @EYManufacturing @IndustryWeek @strategyand @stratandbiz @DeloitteUS @mckinsey_mfg @McKinsey for overviews of what’s going on.

Following up on these responses, Jennifer said some useful go-to open sources include social media, industry publications, industry associations, chambers of commerce, big consulting and accounting firms, public companies in the industry (especially their investor presentations), and databases like @IBISWorld.

Finally, Jennifer asked how participants get the most bang for their buck out of their market research efforts.  @DynamaticOEM said, “That’s a bit of a loaded question. The short answer: We keep a close eye on our budget, use analytics (search engine and social media) to find out where we need to be, and monitor engagement consistently.”  

Before closing the chat, Jennifer shared her favorite proprietary methodology for easy market research – P.U.L.S.E., which stands for the following:

  • PLAN: Know your purpose. What do you want to know? Have you done previous research? Create a plan for completion. 
  • UNDERSTAND: Know your audience. Who are you asking? Where will you find them? How will you contact them?
  • LEVERAGE: Search online resources. Actively listen on social media. Perform regular internet searches. Follow influencers and competitors.
  • SURVEY: Ask your audience. Create periodic surveys. Ask single questions regularly. Perform informational interviews 1:1 or in groups.
  • EVOLVE: Act on your findings.  Record data so it is comparable. Analyze findings without emotion. Be willing to make changes. 

Finally, Jennifer reminded participants that CI and #market research only do you good if you ACT upon the information and insights you gather and shared the following Great CI and #market research resources: @SCIP, @AIIP @ToddingtonInt’s free #OSINT resources, and  

Questions about implementing a CI or market research program into your manufacturing business?  DM us at @USAMfgHourChat on Twitter or email [email protected]Don’t forget to download your free CI benchmarking spreadsheet template.

The #USAMfgHour chat, held every Thursday from 2-3 PM Eastern is founded by @CVTPlastics @DCSCInc @witzshared and @SERVICECASTER.  Be sure to follow the official account for chat highlights, recaps, and information at @USAMfgHourChat and visit us on other platforms to keep in touch between chats.

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Partnering with a Staffing Firm to Recruit Top Talent

#USAMfgHour Twitter Chat Recap for June 11, 2020

Recruiting – illustration with street sign in front of office building.

Recruiters can save time and money, which could have a massive impact on a businesses bottom line.” @NJMEP

On June 11, 2020, Marie Moser of East Pointe Search Group (@EastPointeSG) hosted our #USAMfgHour Twitter chat and covered how manufacturers can partner with a staffing firm to recruit top talent.  

After introductions, Marie asked participants, “What are the top three attributes on your checklist when partnering with a recruiter?”  The participants who worked with a recruiter said that expertise in their areas, reputability, and candidate evaluation process were all important to them. Marie said that her clients generally look for integrity, proficiency, and respect for their time and investment when they work with her. 

What is the biggest value-added benefit when working with an independent recruiter?  @Paul_Kiesche said you can save time finding candidates and prevent headaches with bad ones, while @NJMEP said recruiters take the lead on finding potential hires while business leaders build the business.  Marie agreed, pointing out that companies recruiting on their own have to spend time and money to create ads, pay for them, review resumes, pre-screen candidates, and respond to all resumes and calls.  So, working with a recruiter can save them a lot of money.

Next Marie stated that “Companies can interest top talent by putting their best foot forward – sharing what makes them unique and why current employees love working for them because money isn’t always the answer.”  That statement was echoed by participants who mentioned culture, work-life balance, benefits, and advancement as other significant considerations.  @NJMEP mentioned that rethinking job descriptions and being creative with them can go a long way to drumming up interest, while @SocialSMktg suggested that practicing a consistent social media presence is helpful.

Communication is the key to keeping top talent interested during the interview process.  Not only should you provide timely updates and next steps as Marie suggested, but nearly everyone on the chat agreed that being honest about the position, a candidate’s fit, and the potential for growth is a must.  This helps to align expectations on both ends and avoid potential costly hiring mistakes.  

Marie closed the chat by asking what hesitations or concerns participants have about working with a recruiter.  Cost, potential waste of time, and losing good candidates who don’t want to go through recruiters were the top concerns.  However, most everyone wanted to know WHEN companies should hire recruiters?  Some reasons Marie provided to answer that question include 1.  Lack of time for managers to hire on their own.  2.  When positions are tough to fill, it helps to have another set of eyes/ears searching.  3.  A Recruiters network goes above and beyond what a business may have available to them.

If you have additional questions regarding hiring, staffing and recruiting, please contact [email protected] or call 610-689-9127.

The #USAMfgHour chat, held every Thursday from 2-3 PM Eastern is founded by @CVTPlastics @DCSCInc @witzshared and @SERVICECASTER.  Be sure to follow the official account for chat highlights, recaps, and information at @USAMfgHourChat and visit us on other platforms to keep in touch between chats.

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Personal and Team Motivation

#USAMfgHour Twitter Chat Recap for June 4, 2020

On June 4, 2020, DCSC Inc. (@DCSCInc) hosted our weekly #USAMfgHour Twitter chat and asked participants, “How do you keep moving forward in a positive manner when times get tough?”  Since everyone had such amazing answers to the questions, we included them below for you to read and enjoy.

When you get out of bed in the morning, what do you do to prepare for your work day?

@GraphicProducts – Put on a grateful heart. See how I can help others.

@SpaceGuard – Put on the coffee and then focus on how to be better than yesterday

@FelixNater – Review personal goals and objectives; prayer

@DuraTech – Get the kids squared away

@Paul_Kiesche – Prioritize tasks and emails

Have you ever faced an individual that seemed to hurt your spirit or bring you down, if so what did you do?

@SpaceGuard – Rise above and continue focused on the task at hand

@GraphicProducts – Kill with kindness

@ObsidianMfg – Try to work it out with them

@Paul_Kiesche – Remember it’s about them

@SERVICECASTER – Set boundaries

What is the most important thing to do – to get a project done?

@GraphicProducts – Plan ahead, time balance, and ask for help

@CVTPlastics – Prioritize it and focus on getting done rather than perfection

@EastPointeSG – Break it up into smaller segments

@AxisNJ – Dedicate a set time and collaborate to maximize efficiency

Why do you think some projects fail?

@EastPointeSG – Lack of understanding of project / timeline

@AxisNJ – Overwork, under-organization, or lack of enthusiasm

@SERVICECASTER – lack of support or resources from others

@Duratech – procrastination 

@SpaceGuard – being rushed and “thrown” together; not on same page

What is your favorite motivational quote?

“Do All the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley submitted by @EastPointeSG

“One small positive thought in the morning can change your whole day”  Dalai Lama submitted by @DuraTech

Try to eliminate “Should have” and “Could have” from your personal vocabulary. NOW needs to be the focus to move ahead. Submitted by @ObsidianMfg

“Teamwork makes the dream work.” Submitted by @BigelowBethany

What are some ways to motivate an entire team?

@SpaceGuard – Positivity and dependability starts with you

@DuraTech – Servant Leadership training!

@CVTPlastics – Open and honest communication

@Paul_Kiesche – Give them ownership of their responsibilities

@DynamaticOEM – Gratitude messages

The #USAMfgHour chat, held every Thursday from 2-3 PM Eastern is founded by @CVTPlastics @DCSCInc @witzshared and @SERVICECASTER.  Be sure to follow the official account for chat highlights, recaps, and information at @USAMfgHourChat and visit us on other platforms to keep in touch between chats.

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