Why don't one or more of you cutting and sewing equipment suppliers do something that seems intuitively obvious to me: Start an information-rich Web site, with a bulletin board or chat room for the exchange of information, and offer the years and years of sewn products industry experience available in your staff to small operators like me?
Because there are fewer big factories to sell to, I'd sure think that selling to lots of us little folks, all over the country, might be an opportunity to survive and even thrive.
But you've got to use the Internet to share information, to answer our dumb questions, to teach us better ways of making our products and to show us what's new out there. Think of it as an electronic, year-round trade show, with your booth the only one in the hall and thousands of people you've never seen at traditional trade shows all clustering around you.
You'll have to do better than the existing industry Web sites. You have to do more than just hire a computer geek to put pictures of cutting and spreading machines on the page with your name, phone number and some dreadful statement about how long you've been in the business. You need to make your site user-friendly, interactive, quick-loading and most of all, informative. You have to make the commitment to respond quickly to our questions on your site's message board by e-mail and phone.
You'll have to make a commitment to educate us little guys about the business. We exist in every part of the country, in numbers larger than you can imagine, and more of us are starting up every day. There aren't even SIC codes for what we do, so we're not even listed as sewn products factories. But we need what you have to offer: your knowledge!
If you give us that knowledge, WE'LL BUY FROM YOU.
You can become our exclusive supplier . our business "partner." You can become indispensable to us. And you can do it without the expense of calling on each of us personally!
It's knowledge that we seek. Your knowledge. Many of us didn't grow up in the sewn products business, with old Herman, or Sam, or Manuel to teach us. And we've found that, in the business of sewn products manufacturing, nothing is written down. There are no books that tell one how to operate a straight knife, let alone how to service one. There are no books that tell us how to set up and level a cutting table, or how to build a roll rack. There are no books to help us learn, and the manufacturers' literature is absolutely useless to the novice. It assumes that we know how to assemble, mount and use the equipment we buy, or that we have a trained mechanic on staff. Guess what? Wrong, on both counts.
Traditional trade shows? Most of us don't attend. Either we think we can't afford the expense, or we can't spare the time.
The trade magazines are our best single source of information. Most of us little guys subscribe to at least one, so advertising in them will be important in getting us to visit your Web site.
So, that's the challenge. Give us information. Give us knowledge. Become a year-round, electronic trade show. Show us equipment that we don't know about, tell us how it will help us make money, and answer our dumb questions patiently and with good humor. You'll not only survive; you'll thrive. You'll find business you never knew was out there!
ROBB RUYLE is president of Powderhorn Industries Inc., a manufacturer of non-apparel sewn products in Montrose, CO. He is a graduate of Monmouth College, Monmouth, IL, and holds an MBA from the University of Arizona.