Winning Business – and Building Relationships – with Fabrication
by Deborah Ragsdale
IAPD President

ost salespeople work hard to find the one idea that can give them the edge for a customer’s business … that one insight that will save their customers time and money. In many cases, the solution is to add value by selling them fabricated parts. Fabrication is a quick way to convert performance plastics from the sheet or rod form it has been produced in and supplying the customer with parts that have been converted to the end use. Depending on the fabrication needed, it could be as simple as cut-to-size, or as sophisticated as near net parts. From the customers’ point of view, even the simplest fabrication could make a huge difference. Some of us get creative to pull this off and, in the end, relationships and trust between the manufacturer, the distributor, the fabricator and the OEM are exactly what is needed to make it a success for all involved.

Creative thinking
Many years ago, my employer Polymer Industries was approached by the manager of a local plastics distributor. He had an idea for a way to convince a great OEM to switch business to his branch and he asked his home office for help. Unfortunately, at that time the idea was beyond the realm of what they were willing to do.

Around that time, we were attending a large industry trade show and invited key members of his company for dinner. The owners of our company and I were joined by the manager, one of his outside team, the regional manager and the president of his company. At dinner the idea was mentioned by the manager, the reasons for doing it and not doing it were discussed, and my company proposed an idea that went above and beyond anything we had ever done in the past. As a manufacturer, we all felt like it was a leap of faith that solidified the relationship we had worked on for quite a while.

By the end of the dinner, my company had agreed to buy a CNC router, send it to the distributor, have one of our programmers help with the set up and lease it to the location that had the relationship with the OEM. We knew from the start that this was something that came with no absolute commitments, no promises and no guarantees. The owners of our business believed in the idea and the manager that was working with us who was including us in his plans. The ground work would then be laid and the branch manager could work his magic on the customer.

Opportunity knocks
Several weeks passed, the CNC router was delivered and set up. Some material was processed on the machine and the outside salesperson and the branch manager were diligently working on the purchasing manager and others at the OEM. Finally, the call came. The chance dropped into our laps to serve this customer. The customer’s current parts supplier could not give him what he needed. If he did not get the parts, the plant would experience a complete shutdown. This sounds like the perfect opportunity to be the hero, right?

As is often the case with golden opportunities like this, the timing was not ideal. The call came at 2:00 p.m. on the Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend and required material the distributor did not have in stock. Polymer Industries happened to be producing a different thickness of the same material on our lines and could have the material by the morning. At 8:00 a.m. the next day, a 50-something-year old woman (spoiler alert, that was me) worked with the maintenance department to hook a 20-foot trailer to our company truck, load it with the material that had run the night before and drove several hours to deliver the material to the distributor. The distributor, who was anxiously waiting for me, unloaded the trailer, took the material to his new CNC router and started machining parts for the customer. The parts were delivered to the customer, saving the day, and the production process. A great relationship was formed with all the companies involved.

Lessons learned
Every salesperson or branch manager in the world dreams of opportunities such as the one I just described. I was thankfully one of the many people involved in this process and one of many who was willing to go out of the way to supply the customer with what was needed to fill a critical need exactly when he needed it. It was the answer to a prayer.

We celebrate this win every time we are together. The delivery driver that fateful day — who is now 60-something — will not, unless absolutely necessary, pull a 20-foot trailer with material again! The point is, sometimes we must go out of our way to do something above-and-beyond to land a job with a customer.

The distributor, in the end, bought the router and eventually added several more routers and managed what is still a successful plastics distribution branch. A lot of people have come and gone at that location, but the ones who are still around remember the trust and relationships that were formed that day. The team effort brought manufacturer, distributor and OEM together as one with one common goal. It was an incredible experience and created a bond of loyalty among us all.

Those opportunities await every salesperson in the country. We must keep our eyes and our minds open to find creative ways to help win business. When those opportunities do come along, seize them, trust the people you need to get the job done and work together as a team. Do not let blurred lines that separate companies stand in the way. It is all about relationships and being there for a potential customer, which can lead you to a long-term successful business relationship.