Small businesses everywhere are learning the lesson – adapt to technology or die. Consumers increasingly look for both marketing and retailing online and companies need to meet those expectations or lose sales. In the first of a series of reports on the rise of social media in marketing, WNPR’s Harriet Jones looks at how one manufacturer is facing up to the challenge.
This is the shop floor of The Plastic Forming Company in Woodbridge, where workers are blow-molding large plastic carrying cases. CEO of the company is John Womer.
“What you’re seeing there is a balloon of molten plastic. It’s dropped into a mold, and at the moment the mold closes a hypodermic needle punctures the balloon and inflates it up against the contours of the mold. The same process that’s used to make a detergent bottle.”
The company has been doing this here since the 1960s.
“It was started by Peter Sherman, who was the inventor of the double wall carrying case, which sounds a bit arcane, but I think everyone has one in their garage.”
Think of the case your socket set is in, or any power tool you have and you get the idea. Womer says traditionally they’ve made cases for tool makers and other manufacturers, but that business model is being whittled away by increasing globalization.
“If an American manufacturer decides to make his widgets in China instead of in the United States, any cases he’s going to need are going to be made in China as well.”
In order to find new ways to grow, the company has sunk $300,000 into developing a line of cases that they’ll market direct to consumers.
“We’re targeting people who for example would like to take their camera onto a boat and keep it clean and dry, or who have equipment that they want to take out in the field camping, and they want to keep it free of dust.”
But how to reach these consumers? YouTube of course. The company has produced a series of YouTube videos that will go live next month – the spots spoof the marketing schtick for competitor’s cases that are advertised as indestructible.
“When we test our All Conditions cases, we really test them. Just watch how an All Conditions case filled with three dozen eggs stands up to a 25 ton fire truck…..”
That test, performed with the enthusiastic help of the Branford fire department, doesn’t have a happy ending.
“Most people don’t actually need it to be indestructible.”
PFC’s Owen Chen.
“Rather than making it so that a tank can run over it, we just make it so that if it drops off the back of your truck or your car, everything inside is well protected.”
The benefit of not being indestructible – PFC’s line is 40 percent cheaper than the competition. Chen’s regular job at the company is as a production and tooling designer. But today he’s up a ladder behind a camera tripod in the company’s conference room, which is currently doubling as a photography studio.
“Yep, that’s exactly what it is right now. It looks a lot different when it’s actually a conference room.”
The room has been transformed with drop cloths and lights. Chen, an accomplished amateur photographer outside of work, is taking photos of the new cases that will go on Facebook and the company’s own Internet store site.
“It is nice, usually I’m sitting at the desk and modeling molds and drawing on the computer. It’s nice to get up and move around and exercise my artistic side.”
PFC sought the advice of an Internet marketing company, Site Seeker in Bloomfield, as it developed the web strategy. The affordability of the YouTube, Facebook and Twitter approach was key to the company after the costs of actually developing the consumer product line.
“We’ve probably done more market research developing this line than in anything else that we’ve done in the time that I’ve been here.”
Gary Amatrudo is vice president of customer and product development. He admits he’s not a digital native.
“I find it a little unusual, let’s say. I do believe it, just by the sheer number of companies that use it. But I am really a neophyte at social media, so this is a new experience.”
Overcoming that reticence is crucial for older, traditional companies according to Marie Swift of Impact Communications.
“For many consumers today, you are not a viable resource unless you have a strong online presence.”
She says while Internet marketing isn’t expensive, it does take an investment of time, and a comprehensive strategy.
“I like to suggest that business owners also start a blog, so that they can establish themselves as experts, and they can tie that blog to a Twitter account, to their website, to their LinkedIn status updates and to their Facebook feeds.”
Swift will visit Fairfield University later this month for a one-day social media bootcamp aimed at small business owners – another indication that Internet marketing really is changing the game in many industries. The Plastic Forming Company officially launches its own social media adventure next month.