Scott Peters has some inside information. As sales/engineering manager for ProMold, Inc. (Cuyahoga Falls, OH)—a designer and builder of precision thermoplastic injection molds, extrusion and pultrusion dies for the electronics, aerospace and medical industries—he knows the ins and outs of what it takes to successfully market a mold shop in today's ultra competitive environment. Thus, two years ago he decided to parlay his expertise into helping fellow moldmakers market their services—and dba Designs Unlimited (Smithville, OH) was born. According to Peters, the company's focus is to help the American mold builder develop a branded image. "Over the course of moldmaking history, business has generally come by word of mouth," he comments. "I perceived a need within our community to change the word-of-mouth marketing approach into a focused effort. Potential customers would gain an appreciation for the abilities of the tooling firm based on a more direct approach of developing a company's marketing plan and a clear identity within its core market. This includes a plan with objectives and goals—such as creating an identity, a logo, a mission/goals statement, building a capabilities brochure, positioning and marketing the firm, implementing the plan, measuring results."
Once Peters' vision began to take shape, he sought assistance from other industry experts. "Designs Unlimited has formed strategic alliances with two other companies," he explains. "I have significant experience in the art and craft of moldmaking and therefore provide the technical oversight for projects. The other two entities bring the experiences of an advertising/photographic studio and a copywriter—all with significant plastics industry experience. Each entity brings a unique component to the potential client that creates a well-rounded marketing firm with a broad understanding of the moldmaking marketplace. Our underlying love of the plastics industry melds these talents and postures us uniquely to service this segment of the market."
To hold down costs, Peters has not yet added any other staff members. "Initial meetings are accomplished either by telephone or in person with a commitment to move forward with the project," he says. "The scope of the project is defined and a price estimate is prepared, not unlike a tooling job. This is usually the real test of commitment—to see if the owner truly understands the time and financial commitment to market smart and be proactive versus reactive."
According to Peters, a part of this process is identifying a company's strengths and capabilities, then matching them to key areas and publicizing these with cost-effective mediums like Web marketing, e-mail marketing, trade publications, involvement in trade groups (SPE, SPI, even regional economic associations and local chambers of commerce), advertising, regional workshops or demonstrations.
Once Designs Unlimited has won the account, the team works together to first create a specific plan tailored to the company's individual needs, and then implement it. Peters notes that they outsource some services as needed—like photography and printing. He remains the primary contact and is ultimately responsible for the customers' satisfaction.
"While many advertising agencies offer a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing a company, we have endeavored to bring about a tiered methodology," Peters explains. "Our goal is tailoring the clients' specific needs and desires to the services delivered. This takes an understanding of the need, their commitment to targeted marketing and prospecting-and a budget. It also takes time. Results don't happen overnight and patience is critical—especially when tough market conditions exist.
"From an entry-level logo and letterhead design to a full blown advertising/marketing campaign, we offer the proper mix of practical design and outreach to generate leads and new business, plus increase a company's visibility," he continues. "This is what I mean by a multi-tiered approach. It takes the owners' commitment to position the company, not wait for the phone to ring. They need to make it ring!"
A major challenge Designs Unlimited faces is its employees dividing their time between their full-time careers and this new endeavor. Plus, Peters acknowledges that some clients perceive his active involvement in a moldmaking firm as competitive. "Some may be reluctant to work with us for fear of disclosing confidential information," he notes. "However, all conversations and plans are treated with confidentiality. We treat each customer's information with the same regard we do as our own. It is a matter of respect and industry ethics. Simply put, their secrets are safe with us.
"Understanding that we can only be of service so long as there exists a high level of trust is the key to each of our clients' successes," Peters adds. "We can only truly be of service and help the company reach higher potential once we fully understand the goals of the company. Trust is earned."
According to Peters, moldmakers who aren't changing with the times are the ones in trouble. "'We've never done it that way before' are the seven deadly words to an organization," he emphasizes. "Since our industry has primarily relied on word-of-mouth references for securing new business, there appears a reluctance to embrace a contemporary marketing approach. We must become more aggressive and proactive to position and market our companies. New business comes to those who find it. We must overcome that resistance and build one success at a time."
To that end, Peters recognizes the difficulty many moldmakers have in finding marketing dollars during tough economic times and urges shop owners to look at marketing dollars like they would any capital investment. "Simply buying equipment and adding staff won't get the job done any longer," he says. A good 'image' brochure will be a tool used for years to came and provide return on investment time and again. I believe that with every success story there will be growing acceptance. My current base is in the Northeast Ohio region, but we are positioned to serve the global marketplace."
The Next Step
Designs Unlimited's top priority is "assisting as many moldmaking companies as we possibly can" in the near future. "We know that this industry segment is a close-knit group of entrepreneurs and the Internet has made the community that much smaller," he comments. "We plan to use our relationships and the industry's size, our own tight tolerances if you will, to build on our initial contacts, practice focused niche marketing and position ourselves as a tool specifically for the American moldmaking industry. Smart marketing and relationships will enhance this to build a foundation and broaden it from success story to success story."
Paramount to meeting this goal is the continued use of low-cost marketing through news releases, public speaking engagements, web marketing and networking at industry functions, Peters adds. "We understand that paid advertising—for many companies—is an expensive proposition," he states. "We are as frugal with our money as we are with our customers'. We maximize clients' investments with high visibility, focused marketing techniques. An often-overlooked media is that of the help wanted ad. A properly worded advertisement not only builds market image but also helps to attract the right kinds of personnel. We know that in order to attract the best employees we must project the best possible image. Beyond the employee however, this tool can and should be used to attract the best potential customer. Why companies pay hundreds of dollars a week for a mediocre ad and then question the results is beyond me. We can help to focus the ad to attract the right customers and employees while causing the competition to change their view of the client company. It is all about image!"
Once his company grows, Peters looks forward to adding some staff. "Additionally we see that the custom machining industry is lacking in focused marketing," he notes. "If our market understands the concept, we believe this is a fairly easy bridge to cross, and we hope to service that segment as needs arise.
"Things will never be as they were and we must realize this," Peters continues. "However, we can salvage and rebuild the U.S. moldmaking industry to help it be a semblance of its former strength. We must reinvent ourselves. As an industry we can become stronger and once again be the key part of the industry in the United States—if we work smarter and be more aggressive with outreach and marketing efforts. The old ways simply aren't effective—we must change or die. Sit up and take note: Our foreign competitors are always using combinations of technology and marketing; if they weren't, there wouldn't be a need for those storefront shops in the Pacific Northwest. Getting that message to our market segment is the key to our success and to the rebirth of our industry."