When Cooper-Standard Automotive Inc. came up with a new way to make auto window frames, it didn't wait for a purchase order. Instead the company went straight to designers to convince them to use it on future products.
Cooper-Standard was able to sell designers of the 2007 Cadillac Escalade on the clean lines and high gloss available from its ``Day Light Opening module,'' and get its product selected early.
``You need to start talking with them when it's still in the clay-modeling stage,'' said Lyle Otremba, vice president of sales and program engineering for Novi, Mich.-based Cooper-Standard. Otremba spoke during an Aug. 8 interview at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
``When the designers understood how they could use it, they loved it.''
DLO is a proprietary product that combines a window seal with an extruded thermoplastic exterior applique, with no seams.
The company was able to keep its place by also winning over engineers with the single module, which replaced 15 separate parts on previous vehicles.
Designers and other top decision-makers can smooth the way for products they like, Otremba said.
``A vehicle-line executive is responsible for the entire car,'' he said. ``For those things he likes, he will protect them like gold.''
Getting to those people isn't easy, though.
``It's a hard war of doing business,'' said Jim Gillette, director of supplier analysis for consulting group CSM Worldwide Inc. of Mountainside, N.J. ``It takes a lot of time, but it can work.''
The firms with the best opportunities to pursue the strategy are those who can offer something consumers will appreciate, he said.
Companies that do not fight to get their products before the right people early in the process risk being lumped in with everyone else, Otremba said.
Getting involved early in the design process also can help firms connect with good customers and get work on high-profile vehicles, he said.
Cooper-Standard works constantly to satisfy requests from lower-level executives to keep them happy, according to Otremba. Those satisfied customers can open the door to other officials responsible for future sourcing.
``We took a car for a customer who was having problems with the seals. It wasn't our product, but they asked us to tell them what was wrong with it. We did,'' Otremba said. ``The next program that came up, we got it.''