MMT Chats: Marketing’s Impact on Mold Manufacturing

MoldMaking Technology Editorial Christina Fuges chats with Kelly Kasner, Director of Sales and Marketing for Michiana Global Mold (MGM) about the benefits her marketing and advertising, MGM’s China partnership and the impact of COVID-19 on the moldmaking industry as well as the next-generation skills gap.  
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MoldMaking Technology Editorial Christina Fuges chats with Kelly Kasner, Director of Sales and Marketing for Michiana Global Mold (MGM)—and one of MMT’s new Editorial Advisory Board members—about the benefits her marketing and advertising background brings to the company in terms of overall business development and marketing operations. This duo also discusses MGM’s China partnership and the impact of COVID-19 on the moldmaking industry as well as the next-generation skills gap.

Click above to watch this 30-minute chat, and here is a recap:

You bring a marketing and advertising background to moldmaking, which is often missing or not a priority in a mold shop. You are now Director of Sales & Marketing at MGM and manage overall strategic and operational marketing and customer relationships. Let’s break that down. What does a day in the life of Kelly Kasner look like?

My days at MGM routinely include multiple aspects of business development and marketing operations. It is just as important to devote time and resources to managing current customers as well as targeting engagement with new desired customers. Our marketing strategies include inbound and outbound marketing communications as well as industry and community outreach to better position our branding as a desired partner.

And how has this position helped MGM grow, stay competitive?

MGM has a strong reputation in the industry for its legacy and tenured, experienced talent. Someone, as myself, dedicated to sales & marketing capitalizes on our company’s strengths to introduce ourselves to other industries and market segments we haven’t connected with before. Back in the 1960s, we were 100% automotive. Our diversification has helped stabilize work flow where we are not as subject to industry-specific economic conditions. We are also more competitive with our value-added capabilities of ‘conception to completion’ assisting with design and development.

What is your #1 tip for other mold shops when it comes to sales, marketing and business development?

This is the perfect time to try something new. Traditional sales methods of line cards, trade shows and cold calls are no longer. The vast majority of the sales process is complete before you get the email or phone call with RFQ because of on-line research. If you have various demographics of desired customers, your virtual presence needs to include not only your capabilities, but successes, corporate culture, etc. Demonstrate the what, who and your why.

You are also very active outside of MGM—with regard to workforce development and training, manufacturing workplace culture, advocacy, business development and local economic development? Talk about this involvement and how that outside work impacts MGM?

As the daughter of a toolmaker and growing up in the family business, I learned the value of people long before I learned the value of our product. To witness my father recruiting and training apprentices hands-on, and advocating for small business manufacturing instilled in me the same passions. As a self-proclaimed ‘manufacturing enthusiast,’ my community and industry involvement has presented MGM with more business opportunities as well as community recognition for the manufacturing industry overall, which helps our talent recruitment and retention. I channel my activity mainly via three positions- Active Director of the Board and Chapter Executive for local chapter of the National Tooling and Machining Association; Lead development and support coordinator of M.A.P. (Manufacturing Advancement Program) in partnership with Goodwill Industries of Michiana; and active support coordinator for community’s annual MFG Day in partnership with the South Bend Region Chamber.

One of MGMs competitive strategies is Chinese partnerships, how has COVID impacted those?

COVID has definitely impacted the moldmaking industry. Depending on your primary industry served, shops are either experiencing downturns or record sales. The advantage of MGM having a successful long-term China partnership today is our capability to internally foresee impacts within China and formulate responses minimizing any disruptions in production. Although China experienced setbacks early in 2020 with COVID shutdown right after Chinese New Year, we’ve seen first-hand that the China manufacturing sector has bounced back very aggressively.

How did you find and develop these partnerships, and why?

Back in the early 2000s, our owners recognized China quickly emerging in the moldmaking market offering cheaper labor and alternative standards for more low-cost tooling. We had customers who shared interest in exploring more cost-effective tooling, but we simply cannot compete with the China labor market. It was the old expression, ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ and his quest to find a partner was on. After several years of trial projects, negotiations, and evaluations of several companies, he secured a partnership with a business owner and company who likewise, recognized the need to have a US connection and desire to implement a more Americanized manufacturing culture of quality standards so he could ‘stand out’ in the flooded China pool.

How have these partnerships benefited Michiana?

Our partnership has been strong for about ten years now and it’s been very effective in our ability to offer more options to our customers. The top reason molders and OEMs seek out MGM is our offerings of quality domestic as well as partially/fully sourced tooling by our China partnership which we back, oversee and manage from design to the customer’s dock.

Can you share any tips or lessons learned for developing and working with a Chinese partner? What is the key ingredient in this partnership?

Our experiences taught us to invest in our Chinese partnership much the same we do our home team – with time, talent and technology. Take time to form a trusting relationship, invest in the management and workforce talent and use technology to increase capacity and capabilities. Take the time, as well, to invest in incorporating an American craftmanship culture. Although, a mutually beneficial partnership also includes respect of both U.S. and Chinese heritages. We would testify that the key ingredient is communication. Having an in-house engineer dedicated to managing our global programs - engaged with our customer and our China team in effective and continuous communication - is critical to the success of our mold-build programs.

How is business?

We are fortunate to be in alignment with our sales forecasts, which were made last year before we knew COVID was coming. Our quoting activity has more than doubled from 2019 which has given us opportunities to compete for positioning on various mold-build programs serving multiple industry sectors. Despite the supply chain disruption outcome from COVID, the ‘hurry up to quote then wait’ hasn’t slacked much from our perspective.

A big topic nowadays is workforce mental health amidst COVID and employees feeling safe at work. How are ensuring that you are aware of employees feelings regarding this … as it can impact productivity?

I believe that this generation of MGM, and the manufacturing industry in general, has had high standards for safety in the workplace; though COVID has certainly raised the bar in depth and scope. At MGM, we took the necessity and opportunity to evaluate everything from our workflow processes to how we simply interact and work among one another. We made adjustments to our traffic flow areas and reconfigured appropriate workbench and other ‘static’ areas. We also redesigned our office spaces more suitable and appropriate for in-person and virtual meetings. Our leadership has taken an active role in communicating to our team the value they place on safety and good health. We’ve presented other changes we plan on making in the near future which will not only address the current COVID situation, but will improve overall efficiency in our shop such as more touchless surfaces, perishable tooling handling/inventory and access to reliable health information.

Let’s chat about any virus-related projects your team has taken on.

MGM has yet to receive a COVID-related work order. We are actively quoting multiple projects and have adjusted our estimating and scheduling processes to address complexity, lead times, what we are learning, etc. We’ve lost bids for PPE projects based on price & delivery challenges.

What is your take on reshoring after this virus is over?

Depending on the industry served, there is a strong position to re-shore the mold supply chain, however, the global marketplace is already stepping up. It is up to us, as the American moldbuilder to demonstrate the value proposition of US over off-shoring. Now is the time.

What is your single biggest concern related to the Coronavirus?

Our future talent pool. There are more schools opting out of offering skilled trade-related courses due to pandemic restrictions on project-based group learning environment. Schools are opting out of field trips, including MFG Day tours to expose students to viable career options. My concern is that without the opportunity to introduce the industry and career paths to our high-school students, we will experience a talent gap over the next few years which will impact the growth of our industry.

Any tips for other companies? What is the key to getting through this?

I’ve seen my family business and MGM withstand many recessions and national disruptions over the decades, and we rose above all of them by getting lean, valuing people and moving forward. This pandemic and it’s response by specific entities is unprecedented and still very fluid so there’s no magic key through this door that I know of…but welcome one if anyone has it!

Lastly how do you see moldmaking emerging from this crisis in terms of what business will be like, and how shops will run differently because of what they learned during the crisis?

Succession planning will be key to outrun the natural lifecycle of a shop. Whether you’re experiencing growing pains or pain of shortfalls, this crisis will escalate a company’s attention to its lifecycle. Traditional business models have succumbed to the ‘Amazon of things’ needs and expectations of the marketplace. Now and in the near future, it’s just as imperative to work on your business as you do in your business.

For more MMT Chats, visit this MMT Chat Playlist.