Teresa Schell, who runs a marketing company, has a message for women working in the still male-dominated plastics industry: Know your stuff, but keep the good attributes of being a woman.
“I know how important it is to position myself as not only an expert and authority, but also to position the softer side of a woman,” she said. “People want to do business with people they like, so from a woman's perspective, it's really important that you engage in the professional discussion.”
Schell, who owns Vive LLC in Milwaukee, learned that over the years. It doesn't always come naturally, she said.
Be approachable, but let your intellectual expertise come through, said Schell, who is a board member on the Wisconsin Chapter of Women in Manufacturing.
Schell, 46, has spent her entire career in manufacturing. She took a temporary job working for a manufacturers' representative firm that had been owned by Tom Duffey. Then, in 2005, Duffey hired her as the first marketing manager for his custom injection molding company in Germantown, Plastic Components Inc.
Schell worked to re-brand PCI and supported the sales team with tools to tell the company's unique story. As a result, PCI won new customers, in new markets.
That success prompted Schell to co-found Strategic Marketing Partners to help other plastics processors. In 2012, she bought the firm exclusively and did her own rebranding — changing the name to Vive.
Her clients — all in plastics — include processors, service providers and mold builders.
Schell got interested in the nuts and bolts of plastics processing while working at PCI, as she often helped out in the office and quality lab. “The manufacturing experience was interesting to me because it was different than my perception growing up,” she said. “The fact that highly skilled technicians were operating high-end machines, robots and quality systems proved that manufacturing was not like the three D's of my grandfather's generation — dumb, dirty and dangerous.”
Her experience in marketing has convinced Schell that the plastics industry is a refreshing place to work — a large network, but at the same time, a small and intimate group of professionals willing to share best practices and benchmarking data.
She attends, and speaks at, industry events such as NPE, and conferences by the Manufacturers Association for Plastic Processors (MAPP) and Plastics News.That helps her get the word out about Vive, but she said client referrals are important.
“I've been fortunate to not have to a do a lot of my own marketing. Word of mouth has helped really grow my business on my own,” Schell said. “There are a lot of companies in the plastics industry that don't brand themselves.”
It's no surprise that Schell has plenty of advice on marketing. A big one: Separate the sales department from marketing efforts. “You can't have both. You'll always focus on sales because that's what people always focus on,” she said.
She advocates a well-rounded approach to marketing, to build a company's identity and highlight strong points. Companies need well-designed websites, she said, and social media is important to reach young people.
“I would say, be open to new trends. Our demographic is very comfortable and safe with the old-school mechanisms, but if we remain open to new technology and trends that we use to communicate, that will help us attract younger people,” she said.