Wall Street CEO Jamie Diamond of JPMorgan Chase was once asked by his daughter, “What's a financial crisis, Dad?” To which he bluntly replied, “Something that happens every seven years.”
During the recent global macroeconomic crisis, mold-shop owners looked at their industry's economy, and voiced concern over the future of the mold-making business and the viability of their companies ahead.
Frequently I'll ask owners of mold-building companies which shows and conventions they're considering attending. During difficult economic times, I often hear, “I feel like my business is on the ropes right now. I can't be out of the office walking some trade show.” Or, “Yeah, that conference has some of my customers there, but I can't be spending the money right now.” Or “It might send a wrong signal to my shop if I'm away at something that looks like a junket.” It's a fact of life for those promoting through various events: Slow times equals low attendance.
But now the macroeconomics are different, not only on Wall Street, but on Industrial Drive as well. Mold makers I talk to today are more likely to say they could use more guys in the shop or a project manager. Yes, there are now numerous sightings of that thought-to-be-extinct creature “backlog.”
This occurs as those who sell to the mold-making community are forming plans for the coming year and deciding what events to participate in. This week, there is the Plastec East exhibition in New York. Later in September there is the Plastics News Plastic Caps & Closures conference in Atlanta. In December is the industry's global conversion conference, EuroMold in Frankfurt, Germany. Then comes a packaging and medical show in Anaheim, Calif., in February. And then things really heat up: In March the AMBA hosts its national convention followed by NPE in April.
Surely with better economic times, attendance will be strong at these events, right?
Not necessarily. Now when asking around, I'm hearing that because things are busy, it's difficult to get out of the shop.
Rather than the understandable case for not attending during a downturn, the reasoning for not attending now is due to a mold shop owner's often integral role in the company's day-to-day operations: quoting jobs, customer communications, reviewing team scheduling, problem resolution before that mold goes out the door, debugging during sampling, etc.
But that reasoning isn't held by each and every mold-shop owner. I was surprised to recently bump into AMBA members Vince Lomax of Tech Mold and Helmut Mueller of Helm Tool at last month's Brazilplast in São Paulo. Junket? Hardly. They were there to sell molds!
Similarly, at a recent Euromold in Germany, Steve Rotman of Ameritech, Robbie Earnhardt of Superior Tooling and Scott Phipps of United Tool & Mold approached my stand and asked, “How come we don't have a show like this in the U.S.? All the technology is here in one place!”
Not everyone can take that journey. Maybe the root cause is that for the diverse skill set needed to be a successful mold shop owner, delegation doesn't come easy. It's no simple task to put in place a strong backup manager whose capabilities allow the owner to spend a significant amount of time exploring past that horizon line, past the foreseeable backlog, and form relationships that might not come to a tangible fruition for two years, four years or longer.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining.” With that sun now shining for more mold builders than it has for some time, it seems to be the perfect time for further exploration beyond today's backlog — to prepare for the next storm that many predict will not be for awhile, though few would hope for infinitely blue skies.
Starkey is president of Progressive Components in Wauconda, Ill.