Manufacturers: Are You Buying Into Alibaba?

October 7, 2014


I know we’ve talked in the past on manufacturers using the likes of Amazon Supply to make your product available through another distribution option. Many of our clients are using Amazon Supply along with their traditional distribution, but until a few weeks ago, I never heard of Alibaba until they started trading on the NYSE.

For those of you who may not know who Alibaba is, it’s a giant e-commerce site started in China and has received traction worldwide. Its model is to build relationships between manufacturers and their customers. Its model is not to sell anything, but to just hook up the right user with the right manufacturer. They get paid by the manufacturers to coach them on how to be more attractive online to potential buyers. As they grow in this country, it will be essential that manufacturers get on the bandwagon because of the size of their network.

I recently read an article by Bridget Bergin, associate editor of, Amazon’s Involvement with Manufacturing: Is it too much? where she talks about Amazon testing some new models that will get them closer to the consumer.

One is Vendor Flex (where they are setting up shop in P&G facilities and ship direct out of there) and AmazonFresh (where they set up a program with food producers to deliver items directly to consumers).

I think the key point Bridget is trying to make is that both Alibaba and Amazon want to take over the customer relationship. Where will that leave you? Where does that leave your current distribution model? I certainly am not saying that all power transmission parts are going to be purchased online, but all signs are pointing to more and more purchases, even in the industrial sector, being done on the internet.

Who will have the ultimate power of the purse? Down the road, when someone buys a hydraulic fitting from a supplier, Amazon may pop up and say people who buy this normally buy hose too. If you’re a hose maker, will it be yours they are pushing? This should be interesting.

As a point of reference, before reading this article, did you know what Alibaba was?

Please answer these quick questions below.

Thank you!

Education, recruiting and the trades – a small step can make a big difference

October 2, 2014

Today we have a guest post from Candace Roulo, senior editor at Contractor magazine.


Since I have been writing for CONTRACTOR magazine, I just had my six-year anniversary in September, education and recruiting in the trades are two issues that continue to be prevalent. No matter what trade show or convention I attend, education and training are key topics that are discussed. Since education and recruiting are of utmost importance to the key associations and industry-specific manufacturers, it only makes sense that industry professionals are starting to rally behind the issues surrounding these topics.

You may have already heard this news… With so many people planning to retire soon from the plumbing, hydronic and HVAC industries, there are not enough people in the trade pipeline to fill all of the future available positions.

During the next 10 years, the country will experience a projected 11% growth in jobs across the board, and the HVACR and plumbing industries are expected to grow by 21%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the HVACR industry is expected to need an additional 55,900 trained technicians; the plumbing industry, an additional 82,300.

You just have to wonder how we will find all these industry professionals, especially since the trades are still looked down upon by so many people. To me, this is the crux of the problem, so the industry needs to change the stereotype.

Of course, I understand that a tradesman/tradeswoman can have a lucrative career and have the opportunity to run his/her own business if he/she chooses to. He or she can also decide after years of hands-on work to go into a corporate environment – many of the people I meet that represent manufacturers are just that – a plumber or HVAC technician that decided to change up their career and work for a manufacturer in a corporate setting, so this proves that there are many paths that can be taken when having a career in the trades.

Everyone involved in the trades understands what a lucrative career this can be — the problem is that people outside of the industry do not know and that is where we are failing as an industry. To me it sounds like we all know what the problems are; we just keep revisiting them at conferences, conventions, seminars, etc. What needs to be done is to go out and promote the trades. We need to go to high schools and talk to counselors and kids about why they should consider studying a trade. This comes down to changing the mindset of the educational system in this county, so high school counselors not only promote college, but trade schools too.

At the moment, state education systems focus more on prepping everyone for college, and vocational classes and electives are being cut because of budget issues, etc., and many of the electives prepping kids for the trades are falling by the way side. So many of the students that are good with their hands and have a knack for technology are missing the boat and not being exposed to the basics of the trades.

In a recent Chicago Tribune’s Sunday Paper an opinion piece about this very topic was printed, Apprenticeship Programs Can Close Skills Gaps by Dick Resch, CEO of KI Furniture. In this piece he writes that the feds can’t solve the nation’s shortage of skilled labor on their own. I completely agree with this observation, so it’s time that we step in!

He also points out that skilled trades require an aptitude for math and technology. He then states that a skilled machinist makes about $60,000 per year and a Master welder can bring in up to $200,000 per year. You have to ask yourself, if this is the case then why are there not enough recruits going into these fields?

The good news is that in Illinois, employers are partnering with municipalities to expand vocational training, according to Resch, and there are vocational centers in a handful of cities teaching high school students skills that will be utilized in careers such as machining and welding.

The great thing about what Resch is doing is that he is bringing in high school students to tour his company and he also offers students internships at KI Furniture. I think the plumbing and HVAC industries need to take Resch’s lead and get kids interested in the trades by opening up their businesses for tours, offering internships and going to schools during career days to discuss the trades, pay ranges of different positions, etc. This would be one small step to take, but a step in the right direction that can make a big difference!

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.

Manufacturers: Content Overload. What Are You Doing About It?

October 1, 2014

Even though the economy appears to be improving, corporate hiring is not reflecting it and we are all challenged to do more with less. That’s bad enough, but new things keep getting put on the “stack of stuff” you need to do.

Content Overload! It’s not just in the everyday workload of getting stuff done, but in all the new options of delivering your great content that needs to be reviewed to see if it’s appropriate for your audiences.

Here are a few things I do that might help you cope with all your marketing challenges.

  • Prioritize - You and your team can only do so much. Focus on the things that will get short-term results.
  • Focus on your USP - Focus on delivering your unique selling proposition to your target audience, whether it’s current customers or potentials.
  • Focus on your target audience - Have you ever asked your customers how they preferred, not only to be contacted by you, but how they get new info? This certainly will help you focus on those avenues.
  • Be realistic with expectations - Don’t over promise and under deliver. Better to do less, but do it right.
  • Be consistent - In both messaging and points of contact.
  • ROI - Monitor what you’re doing so you can focus on what’s working and what is bringing in results.

Hopefully these will give you some insight. What are you doing to deal with the overload?

What we can learn from kids going back to school

September 30, 2014

My grandkids went back to school last month, and after having a very active summer, I asked them if they were looking forward to going back to school. They both agreed that they were, and when I asked why, some of the answers surprised me.

I expected to hear that they were looking forward to seeing old friends that they had not stayed in touch with over the summer. They were a bit apprehensive about meeting their new teachers and what the next grade had in store for them. But at the same time they were looking forward to learning something new.


I thought that their insights could be useful for all of us in business as teachable moments.

  • Going back to see old friends - When was the last time you called up a long-standing customer you haven’t talked to for some time to see how they are doing and thank them for their business?
  • Apprehension on meeting new people - What are your new challenges? Is it calling on some new key potentials or joining a professional group that would help improve your job skills?
  • New challenges - What are your goals to learn something new? Get active in a LinkedIn group, take an online course or go to a seminar that will help you do your job better.

I guess the key, to me, is we should never stop learning.

I know with all the things in both our personal, as well as professional lives, it’s sometimes hard, but I think we need to step back occasionally and re-evaluate what we’re doing.

What are you doing to challenge yourself?

Social Media For Manufacturers

September 25, 2014

Rachel Kerstetter, PR Engineer

Awhile back, we presented a webinar on social media for industrial manufacturers. Many in our clients’ industries wonder if social media is worth their time, and we typically say yes.

Social media is a broad and sometimes intimidating part of marketing. To simplify it just a little, we focus on the four areas where we see manufacturers receiving the greatest value:

  • YouTube
  • SlideShare
  • LinkedIn
  • Blogs

To get the scoop, you can watch the webcast on YouTube and follow along on the slides below.


Webinar: Social Media In Manufacturing

What Are You Doing With All Those Email Leads You’re Getting?

September 24, 2014

email-marketingWe all have a list of customers’ emails in some assemblage of order. What are you doing with them? Let’s not assume just because someone is currently buying from you that they will continue to do so. You need to continue to reinforce why they should do business with you and it doesn’t have to be a sell piece. Give them something of value that they can use in their business. A quick installation tip. A calculator link to help them figure out how much product they need.

Besides the emails you already have from current, past and future customers, what are you doing with all the leads you’re getting from digital sources?

Digital media is a great way to build on to your existing database list and start nurturing them along your selling cycle. By using an email marketing tool, you can build silos by market or by where they are in the buying cycle so you can tailor messaging to each.

Here are a few tips in developing your lists:

  • Get their permission - send them an email that you’d like to keep them on a list to send out valuable info on a regular basis that would help them.
  • Ask questions - when sending out the initial request, give them options of things that might interest them, i.e., markets, product or applications that they would find useful.
  • Get them engaged – invite them to a webinar or send them a how-to video or an e-book if you have one.
  • Stay on topic - focus on what you do. You’re trying to build brand awareness and credibility.
  • Respect their time - experts say you shouldn’t send more than 2-3 emails a month. My recommendation is start with 1.
  • Monitor who’s reading them - by using an email marketing tool, you can see who opened and read your message. If they’re regulars, you may want to pass them on to the sales force as a soft lead for them to reach out to.

By developing a list and starting communication with them, you’ll be able to see response rates increase and hopefully sales as well.

If you like this post, you may want to read:

Email Marketing: Is this the Best Way to Reach the Professional Tradesman?

Why Email Marketing is so Important in Nurturing the Professional Tradesman

Manufacturers: What Are You Doing to Maximize Your Brand?

September 23, 2014

With all the content marketing and social media options that are out there, where does a manufacturer start to ensure their brand gets noticed? What are you doing to build both your brand and your social media strategy?

I recently read a good article on Convince and Convert – 10 Company and Product Branding Tips from Microsoft that I found to be interesting, and most are applicable to the B-to-B space as well.

Here are some highlights:

  • Focus on one brand - This is especially true for smaller manufacturers with limited resources. You can’t be promoting both the company and a branded product line. Go with promoting the company. Use the same logo and description in all media channels.
  • Consistent messaging – Keep the message the same across all channels. Stick with the basics – who you are, what’s the product and why should I care?
  • Not all brands are equal - Depending on who you are and the audience you’re trying to reach, you don’t have to cover all the social media options. Cover the ones where your customers frequent the most.
  • Big picture - If you are in a bigger company with multiple people managing different silos, there needs to be someone overseeing the BIG picture.
  • Bigger is not always better - Don’t worry about the number of followers; be more concerned that they are the right ones. If they are, they will share your content with their peers.
  • Manage your content - Watch what engages your audience and give them more of the same.

These are just some of the things that will help you grow your brand.



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