Where is the “Wow” in Your Castings?

As long as I’ve been in the industry foundry people have been complaining about castings being treated like commodities. We know they aren’t. We realize that some foundries make castings that machine better. We’re sure that some foundries don’t ship as many defective castings as others. And, we are aware some foundries give their customers more help with engineering. Those considerations and many more take castings out of the commodity class.

 Unfortunately, we don’t get a vote. There’s only one vote about whether something is a commodity - the customer. If the customer decides that the castings they buy are commodities, the castings are commodities until that customer finds out they aren’t.

 You do the same thing. At least, I do. Is there anything that is more of a commodity than corn? Corn is corn, right? Yet when we lived in Wisconsin , I can remember driving past a number of farm stands to get to the one that had the best tasting corn. I’d decided in that case corn wasn’t a commodity.

If the customer gets to decide if castings are commodities, how do we convince them they aren’t? Let’s face it; everyone selling castings tells the buyer that the foundry they represent has impeccable quality and delivers every order in full and on time. Every casting buyer has experienced something else from foundries telling them that. How are you going to get buyers’ attention?

I was recently at a lecture about the process Brookfield Zoo here in the Chicago goes through when planning a new exhibit. It was interesting, and I started thinking about castings when the speaker mentioned that one of the things they kept in mind when designing was the “Wow Factor.”

 For those of you who don’t remember the term, it is one that Tom Peters used in one of his books. The concept is very simple; if you want a good customer, you have to impress them enough to get them to say “Wow!” about your product and/or service.

My immediate thought when being reminded of this at the lecture was that is what a foundry needs to take their castings away from commodity status. If a foundry could “Wow!” their customers or potential customers that would certainly differentiate them from other foundries.

Right after that, it came to me that it is far easier to build a “Wow!” into a zoo exhibit than castings. In small foundries, the customer pretty much tells the foundry what they want and when they want it.

What could a foundry do to impress me if I were a casting buyer? I think one of the things that made foundries successful years ago was that the owners of the foundries spent a lot of time visiting customers. While some of those working at the foundry thought the boss was just off having a good time, he was building a relationship with the customer that made the customer know that they had the ear right to the top. If they ever needed anything special, they knew they would get it from their friend. It was sort of a “Wow!”

I don’t believe that’s as easy to accomplish as it once was. The foundry owner usually is no longer the sales force like he once was and the customer that does the buying of the castings is no longer the owner of that business. How can that old feeling be gained again? How about the owner visiting the casting buyers and giving them a card with his direct line in case there are any problems?

What else would impress me if I were a casting buyer? How about foundries offering guarantees instead of my having to try to fight to get them? A foundry offering a penalty clause for late shipments would impress me. A voluntary guarantee of the castings that would more than cover my costs if a defective casting was found might catch my attention.

What’s wrong with all these things? I can picture foundry owners saying that these things are all too expensive. They may be, but that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that I’m not a casting buyer.

The zoo had a way addressing this big problem to make sure they got the “Wow!” into their exhibits. While the staff came up with the ideas of how to impress the public, before implementing any of them, the zoo talked to their customers to see whether the things the staff thought would impress them really would.

It sounds to me that might work for foundries too. The staff could come with ideas of how to impress the customers and then a sampling of the customers could be asked about the ideas.

I do know a foundry has to do find some kind of “Wow!” to offer their customers if their castings aren’t to be considered commodities.


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