In the last few years, marketing has become quite a juggernaut – a seemingly impossible to resist tool that can make or break a business. Interestingly though, a sizeable majority of solid surface fabricators do seem to declare, by their actions and marketing budgets, that they can practice their craft without too much reliance upon marketing. More on that distressing reality a bit later.
Do any of us go through one minute of our day without being exposed to, and affected by expert, overt or even covert marketing campaigns and strategies? I think not. Today, marketing can be so sophisticated in its approach, design and power, you have to wonder if any of your inner thoughts, opinions or sudden cravings are the result of your own intellect and brain function at all? Look at just some of the ways that marketing and promotional venues have expanded in just the last few years!
Pop-up internet ads, cd-roms in our cereal boxes, toll free numbers painted on prize fighters backs, "virtual" billboards in our stadiums, slogans etched into our sandy beaches . . . the list of innovative marketing opportunities just goes on and on.
It has been embraced by organizations and entire industries looking for that next breakthrough jump in revenue or awareness. Some industries have had trouble seeing the necessity for it and so they dip their toe in the marketing waters. Still others just can't seem to justify the investment. Often, those who question the value and feasibility of modern-day marketing are old-school businesses or those who sell traditional hard goods through established channels. They don't see room for innovation. Could fabricators fall into that trap?
As always, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who do not market simply become less marketable, further distancing themselves from today's promotional and branding opportunities. Soon, what was just an intellectual or philosophical hesitancy becomes rooted and turns into a quite-real obstacle. Before you know it, you can't play with the other 21st century businesses because you believed for so long in the "I'm just a shop" illusion, that it became the unpleasant truth.
Despite the rapid race toward product maturity, the solid surface industry is still young enough to have the majority of original business ownership still in place. What we now call an industry began not too long ago as a community of craftsmen learning, improvising and innovating on the fly. They were not simply converters. In fact, it was their skill and demand for increased functionality from manufacturers that brought solid surface into a promising new age. As a result, many of these owners developed a "no one does it like we do" entrepreneurial attitude about their process, their secrets and their finished quality. That headstrong thinking sometimes created finely-crafted handcuffs.
Ultimately, this belief on many an owner's part, that their workmanship would always continue to attract throngs of amazed and grateful customers, became an obstacle to expanding revenue and expansive business thinking. As an industry, there are simply too many fabricators who rely too much on their reputation and ability as craftsmen to direct a given market toward them. High quality might have once been a point of differentiation. Now it is mostly routine - your cost of admission to the marketplace.
We are, just now, seeing the original ownership begin to change hands. Might this prompt some elemental shifts in thinking? The great washing out of our pioneer owners is beginning. The sons of original fathers are now more often at the helm. Female ownership is making its own distinct mark at the front line. Outside investors, who can't run a router, have anted up and are busy proving their worth as profit managers. Perhaps more traditional success gauges (i.e. profit per employee trends and classical financial ratios) will enter our management lexicon alongside the more anecdotal data-free success stories which often dominate fabricator meetings and expositions.
One well-regarded industry watcher recently asked "Can they (fabricators) let go of the myth that just because they are good, they shouldn't have to engage in marketing?" This telling question points us directly to the point of this article; an urging and urgent message to learn more about marketing and the role it must play in your future. It is a not-so-gentle call to arms!