What Are Manufacturers Doing Differently In Their Business to Adapt and Grow

Author: Mary Jo Preston

I had the pleasure of attending the BizTimes Next Generation Manufacturing Summit on Wednesday.Manufacturing_Summit

It was no surprise that the room was full, as the last time this conference was held was in 2019. Many of us were excited to hear how the industry weathered the pandemic as the title indicated we would be talking about Managing Complexities- culture, costs, customers & supply chain.IMG_2198

I would encourage any marketer to attend a conference in another industry to just listen. You gain a new perspective and come away with great insight into an industry. Below are my notes and my takeaways from this summit. I went in expecting it to be all doom and gloom but was pleasantly surprised by the optimistic vibe of adapting, innovating and growing forward mentality I heard.

The Summit Started Out with a Keynote Conversation with Steven Richman, Group President at Milwaukee Tool.

If you are not from the area, Milwaukee Tool, in my opinion, is the business that has defied all odds and expanded during the pandemic. They have built two new facilities in the area and have been on a hiring streak.

As Steven shared, Milwaukee Tool has displayed 20% growth each year for the last 14 years. Impressive! He went on to credit this to two bookends that every business needs: People and Culture. You hire smart people, but it is the culture you create that retains them. We had to become a solution provider. We use our people to innovate and incorporate technology to help become efficient. Yes, we had to pivot during the pandemic and go in new directions, but if you take on a proactive approach, you can make adjustments where needed and thrive.

Panel Discussion

We got to hear from 4 CEOs and Presidents of a good mix of local manufacturing companies:

Each is different in what they do, yet similar in their pain points and outcomes.

People and Culture again came up as a topic point.

I really like how Bob discussed creating a culture that made his employees feel like family. Not just the employees, but their spouses and family are involved as well. We host events, we celebrate wins (ex: Surf & Turf in the Parking Lot ((I like Lobster🦀!)) we keep open communication and keep expectations in check. Being thoughtful in our plans. We did not have to let anyone go. We found ways to do things more efficiently.

Favorite Quote:

“We let our engineers out of the basement as they had all these new innovative ideas, and in 6 months to a year, you will see them being used.”


Communication in our Culture was another topic of discussion.

Jim Schneberger captured it best when he said lots of internal discussions were done and they made sure everyone was in alignment with steps to move forward. All levels of management had to be discussing the process the same way so the outcome was our resolution.

Favorite Quote:

“We hired smart people...now we need to let them work.”

Recruitment was discussed and I found it fascinating when Jim explained why companies should hire military personnel and what they bring to the table: loyalty, quick thinkers on resolutions in time-sensitive situations, and team players who look out for one another to be the best in what they do – great set of skills to look for in an employee. (Jim, I thank you for your service👊.)

Then we turned to the Elephant in the Room- Costs/Supply Chain.

Costs in materials have gone up, we had to push the costs to customers and our customers understand why. They know what the economy is today. We then had to change some things internally to offset the additional costs, whether it was finding efficiencies where we could (lean again on smart people and technology here) be proactive in our forecasting and holding more inventory until more arrives. Going back to communication, we talk to our customers daily about what is going on and what we are doing to make sure they have what they need. Communication is key.

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The Breakout Sessions had a little bit of something for everyone.

I attended the one on “A Culture of Retention: Using Your Brand to Retain” by Thomas Schultz from CLA.

Other breakouts were:

  • Growth Through Automation - Expand production with the existing workforce
  • Managing and Minimizing Risk: The importance of having strong terms and
    conditions and understanding insurance coverage issues
  • Controlling Construction Costs and Mitigating Risks in Uncertain Times
  • The Impact Proposed Tax Law Changes May Have on your Persona Wealth
Keep in mind, it was the end of the conference and some of what he said was already brought up in the panel discussions, so the things I took from this breakout:
  • Stop being a Commodity. To be robotic are the traditional ways of recruitment, you need to stand out.
  • Go after the type of talent you want by Communicating with them and make sure they see themselves fitting into your culture. Show them a Connection between your culture and the skills they have. Go beyond today, explain how you see them helping you grow 6 years from today.

A great question was asked: Are your employees thankful to work for your company? Ask yourself that.

What does your communication style look like? Thomas explained that he does not like the word “transparency”, rather uses “free-flowing communication.” Do your employees feel like they have a purpose, that they contribute, that their ideas are heard? Do you communicate this to them?

He then shared one of the most awesome culture statements I have ever heard from his client, Mark Schnettler from Poly Vinyl Co. that wrapped up this session.

Our Culture

Our people support each other, look for ways to improve, and are responsible for each other, so that at the end of each day they feel thankful to be around other great people.

What changes have you implemented to adapt and grow your business?

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Topics: marketing strategy, Manufacturing, Industry Trends

About the Author:

Mary Jo comes with over 15 years experience in media, marketing, advertising, promotions and special events. I love ever changing technology and all the craziness that comes with it.

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