In Tough Times Take Action to Shape Your future

By Clare Goldsberry
Published: April 8, 2010

Although Plastics Color Corporation has been in business for over 40 years, the company never saw the need for a formal marketing program. However, when economic realities set in over the past two years, PCC saw the writing on the wall and took action to shape its future.

Relying on past reputation, service and customers has its advantages, but totally relying on the past for future growth – especially in a down economy – can have negative results.  Plastics Color Corporation (www.plasticscolor.com) is a company with a great track record, but like most companies that have been in business for 40 years, PCC has evolved. “We’ve been doing business a long time with the markets we cater to,” said Joe Byrne, vp of Sales and Marketing for PCC.  “We started out as a commodity driven company servicing mainly film accounts. Over time, we began identifying and catering to many other market segments, which gave us a great customer base in many different markets.”

And like any good B2B company, PCC relied on its “feet on the street” sales force to identify new prospects and develop new opportunities.  “While we developed a great base of customers, we felt the need to get our name out there and increase awareness of PCC and to identify like customers in like market segments that are growing, to those we felt we had a nice niche.”

PCC, based in Calumet City, IL, learned what many companies soon discover when taking a close look  internally:  they can’t be all things to all customers.  Byrne notes that PCC’s customer base encompassed a “pretty broad range.”  However, with the help of Christine Stadler, President of Business Development Solutions, which PCC hired as its outside marketing consultant, the company has narrowed its future growth focus in its primary markets: packaging (food and pharmaceutical) and the medical device and supply industries, while still serving their existing markets.

Stadler began working with Byrne and PCC about a year ago, after Byrne convinced Doug Borgsdorf, President of PCC, to add marketing capabilities.  “It took some convincing for sure,” Borgsdorf comments.   “I always thought marketing was getting some brochures to hand out and I can get the sales.  It was about a two-month sell for Joe to convince me that PCC needed a formal marketing program.  But after a couple of meetings and showing me some demographics, I became convinced that PCC needed to get back out into the market place in a structured and consistent way.  It was probably one of the best learning experiences I’ve had.”

One of the first projects was to take a close look at PCC’s customer base.  “We identified their most valuable customer (MVC) which is the launching point for understanding their best customer,” says Stadler.  “We then explored questions such as what does this MVC  value about us? What is our competitive advantage for this customer? This led to the focus. It’s not ignoring their other customers, but rather shining the spotlight on those customers in the markets where we have a story to tell with regard to PCC’s specialized capabilities.”

One initiative included conducting a “Voice of the Customer” survey with about two dozen of PCC’s customers.  “This is becoming very important for a lot of smaller companies,” notes Stadler. “We are trying to uncover our strengths, not from our perspective, but from the standpoint of what is the customer expecting of us for the future.  The only way to find that out is to talk to them.”

Byrne adds that nothing really surprised him in the surveys, but “by doing this it helped us gain a deeper understanding of the needs of the customers.” Traditional relationships, while important, didn’t typically involve really understanding the customers’ needs. “We found out there were people within the organization of our customers that had input for us that we weren’t aware of,” Byrne says.

PCC found that at some of its accounts things had changed. “People had changed, and we discovered some new names in the organization. Policies and procedures had changed, and the buying process was different,” notes Stadler. “Some had implemented supplier performance reviews.  The game had changed and we weren’t aware of the new rules.”

Byrne adds that in going through the supplier performance reviews, they discovered that things had changed with the end users. “It’s really critical to understand our customers’ end-user needs. While on the surface we understand what our customer needs, the consumer at the very end of this is the important factor.  As consumers require more custom needs, our customers have had to become more nimble to supply those, and it’s been helpful for us to dig into the layers of our customers’ organization to understand the entire supply chain,” he says.

One of PCC’s main goals was to drill down within those market segments that the company identified as “emerging” markets with good growth opportunity, to gain awareness of what is important to them within those segments, explains Byrne. “We know what we do well – how to service our main customers, but understanding those new customers in new markets that offer opportunities is key for our growth.”

In May and June, with Stadler’s help, PCC did a “deep analysis” of the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) and SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes to uncover some of these market segments that PCC hadn’t identified yet. “Sales people don’t look at these markets from an analytical standpoint,” notes Stadler. “In one case we ran a scan of the SIC and NAICS in the markets where PCC was prevalent.  There was a certain category – a typically broad category – and we found that PCC was doing business with about 150 companies in that SIC category.  But when we did the analysis we found that there were 4,000 companies in that SIC.  We then had everyone in sales look at these companies to determine where they fell in the territories, and which ones fit what PCC currently does best.”

Because PCC sells into a wide range of customers the SIC analysis allowed them to perform an account profile on these prospects, and understand the needs and ask the deeper questions.  “If our customer is in pharmaceutical packaging, who do we know at a prospective account? What do I need to know about them before I walk in the door? We gather the intelligence before the sales people walk in the door,” explains Byrne.

Next, the company developed an entire marketing communications plan that is much more targeted, based on the previous initiatives.  The company contracted with Greg Rosenberg of Business Communication Solutions Inc., to help the company with this endeavor. Now, PCC is doing more promotional activities such as advertising.  “We have developed a multi-faceted plan around the targeted customers and potential customers,” says Rosenberg.

Stadler adds that much of PCC’s promotional activities are the result of an integrated marketing/sales plan. “Marketing isn’t a disconnected activity from sales, but we take the marketing plan and the information that we gathered in developing that, then use that insight to serve as a basis for the integrated plan.”

Today, PCC has a marketing budget, thanks to the team that helped provide an educational process to get management to understand the importance of these activities.  PCC has a month-by-month calendar that keeps everyone very focused on the continuing process, that ties back to the main objective. “Working with limited budgets means you must be very focused on the process,” notes Stadler.  Byrne says that the month-by-month activity program, which is a tactical level program that includes every form of communications that the company can do, provides a basis for strategic growth.  PCC overhauled its Web site that contains interactive areas so that visitors can request company information and a complete a contact form, and creating value for people through the web site with case studies and white papers.

PCC also has an advertising and trade-show budget for this year, and an array of sales support tools including sell sheets and brochures. “The vast majority of what we’re doing is a first for PCC,” notes Byrne.  “All of this represents a commitment on the part of the company not to live with the status quo but to actively manage our future. Too many manufacturing  companies are buying their heads in the sand waiting for all of this economic downturn to pass, but doing that makes it too easy for your competitors to pass you.”

Stadler notes that there’s a movement among small companies to “Save American Manufacturing” and she’s helping to take that message across the country. “We hope to showcase companies that are focusing on shop floor efficiencies, lean, kaizan, etc.” she says. “Once you do this you have to create levers of growth – growth cannot happen without marketing and sales planning.”
Now that the groundwork is completed, Borgsdorf says the investment has been worth the money.  And he believes that it’s something that every company in this industry needs to do if they expect to stay in business. “Shame on me for not doing it sooner,” he states. “Shame on any plastics company that’s not doing this! We need to get U.S. manufacturers to have a face again. If you’re not spending the money in marketing and putting the right message out there to let people know about your products and services, you’ll be closing up.”

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