That's not the case with McNichols Co, a specialty metal producer. This manufacturer has such an aggressive marketing campaign that it has taken advantage of new markets for its product and expanded its client base.
"You have to find your niche in the marketplace," says Gene McNichols, president, chairman and CEO of McNichols Co. "You have to be in tune with the types of applications that customers need and what they are using your product for."
In the past, McNichols' products were used primarily in industrial flooring, safety devices, industrial shelving and grating, but in the last five to seven years, other industries have found uses for metal sheeting with holes.
"It's used decoratively now, it's used in a lot of news and sports news sets. It has acoustical characteristics and good sound diffusion," McNichols says. "It's lightweight but has great strength. It's not a new use but it is much more in vogue today.
"It's a high-tech looking world, and we incorporate much more metal, it seems."
To sell to this market, McNichols has to get his product out to a whole new customer -- designers and architects. No problem, he says.
"We've been a marketing machine for years, and focused on trying to create awareness," he says.
In 2002 alone, the company sent out 3 million catalogs and more than 1 million direct mail pieces.
"We've been doing direct mail since 1967 ... We printed up 75,000 copies of our first catalog ... just trying to get the message out," he says.
McNichols adds that every sales lead is tracked from beginning to end to discover where customers are coming from.
"We do understand that we need to market well. I have to make sure I get the customer what they want, but I also have to make sure they know what I have, and then I have to respond quickly," he says.
The company's marketing tradition started decades ago when McNichols' father founded the company after returning from serving in WWII and began a company that made not just metal products but metal products with holes.
"He recognized that the products he was carrying were not readily available," says McNichols. "It's the holes that set us apart. You have to know where to put the holes."
Beyond the normal product marketing, McNichols wages a careful annual branding campaign. The company has had an in-house advertising firm for 30 years, and conducts both external and internal campaigns, always using the phrase "The Hole Story" consistently throughout its marketing material.
"We try to make the ads light," says McNichols referring to its 'Holey-cow' campaign. "We try to develop a theme ... We want it to be fun to read, but in the end, you have to ask yourself, what did you really accomplish?" How to reach: McNichols Co.; (800) 237-3820 or www.mcnichols.com
Testing Ohio's metal
Although it's true that Ohio's steel industry is smaller than it was 12 years ago, it's still one of the strongest is the United States.
According to a recent survey of manufacturers:
* Ohio produces $4.59 billion in valued-added steel production and processing, more than any other state.
* Ohio employment in the steel industry is down 33 percent, from 38,700 to 25,720.
* Ohio ranks first in capital expenditures and second to Indiana in the number of people employed in the steel industry.
* The value-added steel production in the United States overall is more than $21 billion and Ohio has stayed relatively competitive with other steel producing states in its share of the pie.
* Approximately one-fifth of all steel produced and processed in the U.S. comes from Ohio.
* Indiana produces $4.27 billion, Pennsylvania produces $2.58 billion, Michigan produces $1.09 billion and Illinois produces $936 million.
Source: Ohio Steel Council