I was thinking about manufacturing while I was on vacation. I swear.
I was thinking about the blog I had to file once I got back and what brilliant insights I could share on manufacturing. During this particular week, I was experiencing things from the consumer standpoint, and something that we write about here at Allbusiness.com really hit home. Many small manufacturers today are successful because they bring something unique to the game. And although volume is one mantra you hear about all the time in manufacturing, volume isn’t always a good thing.
Here’s the deal: When I travel, I like to purchase something to remind me of my trip. Strangely enough, I want that item to originate in the town, city, region or even country I am visiting. A t-shirt made in Asia that says (in this case) “Clearwater, Florida” doesn’t fit the bill. Or any of the other mementos I saw: they were all mass-produced and could just as easily have read “Mansfield, Massachusetts” (although that would look silly on the sea-shell wind chimes or the flamingo paperweights, wouldn’t it?) Yes, these items were inexpensive. Some were even decent quality. None were unique.
Even if you make industrial products or subassemblies, there’s plenty of room to be unique. I remember reading about a manufacturer of metal baskets that are used to hold loaves of bread that couldn’t compete with lower-cost products from overseas. So the manufacturer tweaked its product to hold bagels instead. Rather than stamping out baskets that can be made anywhere in the world, this manufacturer offered a unique product that apparently is distinctive and still in high demand.
It’s hard not to get discouraged when so much manufacturing is moving overseas. But most of those products are high-volume “generic” products you can get anywhere in the world. Where’s the value in that?