Marketing Gives Balance to Talan – The Plain Dealer (January 31, 2005)

January 31st, 2005

January, 2005

Steve Peplin

By Steve Peplin, as told to Plain Dealer reporter Marcia Pledger
Steve Peplin of Talan Products, Metal Stamping Company in Cleveland, OH

When you talk about manufacturing in America, you generally don’t use “high growth” in the same sentence. It’s a tough industry that is suffering from overcapacity, has low margins and is hyper-competitive. But we grew steadily and very quickly for many years, and we’re still having fun.

I started this company 19 years ago with two other guys. We each put in $2,100, and we clawed our way up the glass wall.

We are metal-forming specialists that make parts typically unseen in products – unless you’re a manufacturer. We’re in the metal stamping, tube-forming and aluminum-extrusion business. We make components for the fastener, appliance, building hardware and automotive industries. In the 1990s we got used to receiving awards for growth. We won Inc. 500 awards in 1993 and 1999 for being among the nation’s fastest-growing privately held companies.

We won the Manny award from Inside Business and CAMP for manufacturing excellence in 2000. We were named to the Weatherhead 100 list of fastest-growing private companies in Northeast Ohio from 1993 to 1997. That’s kind of unique, because by the fifth year, you’re not comparing such small sales numbers.

But that was the 1990s. Our sales stayed flat at around $10 million to $12 million for many years. My biggest mistake was not building a sales and marketing arm sooner. We were unbalanced. We concentrated on innovative tooling and processes of manufacturing, but I was the only one selling our manufacturing services.

After our high sales growth period settled down, we still grew at a rate of about 40 percent a year for a few years. And we made nice profits. We didn’t even have a brochure for a long, long time. When you’re growing fast, who needs one? We had built the business by networking and through our reputation. Our efforts were spent becoming a better manufacturer by working with an organizational development consultant.

We tried to just let growth happen. We never participated in trade shows or had reps doing work for us. Then, a few years ago, we finally decided to start marketing, and we fumbled. We hired someone, and it didn’t work out. Nothing was sold for a year. After we were burned by the experience, we got cold feet.

I was a little naive, though. It takes a few years to make it work. You have to have a formal process that includes a way to create leads, such as brochures and a Web site. It took a while to get qualified leads. Then, once we did, we still didn’t have anyone in sales to chase them down. We ignored the sales process until we plateaued.

The good news is that in a four-year period when our sales were flat, we increased our productivity. Thanks to improved processes, 32 employees can do the same volume of business that 50 to 75 employees used to do.

Being more productive enabled me to spend more time landing a big job. After years of networking, we just closed a few deals that make us a $20 million company. Now I have breathing room to work with sales. Before, I was too busy doing what I call presidential crap.

About six months ago, we hired a known entity in our industry to be in charge of sales and marketing.

We’re successful in an industry that’s been hurt greatly by offshore purchasing. The industry is consolidating, too. Forecasters are saying that half the metal stampers will be out of business in just a few years. The ones that remain will be twice as big.

We’ve been fortunate. We still have the first, second, third and fourth accounts that we landed. Now that we’re generating leads, getting quotes and going after new business, I’m more excited than ever about our prospects.

It’s great to be high-growth again. Now, when I go to bed, I can’t wait to get back to work.


Copyright 2005 – The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com. Used by permission

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