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Johnson: Manufacturers must be nimble

Cadet has been at leading edge of evolving with customer preferences

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Published: January 21, 2016, 5:00am
3 Photos
Patrick Wizniewski works the assembly line at Cadet Manufacturing in Vancouver. The 58-year-old company is adapting to rapid changes in product lines, production, and consumer buying habits.
Patrick Wizniewski works the assembly line at Cadet Manufacturing in Vancouver. The 58-year-old company is adapting to rapid changes in product lines, production, and consumer buying habits. Photo Gallery

When Cadet began making electric heaters 58 years ago, all our sales were to electrical distributors. Those distributors sold to contractors who usually were working for a builder or developer. Our sales guys did the coffee and doughnut sales routine with the same trade partners. All our product literature was printed in engineering lingo and shipped in plain brown boxes. We had no consumer marketing because the people who actually used our heaters on a daily basis weren’t a part of the buying process; they simply got what the professionals offered.

Well, guess what? The world and the customers changed.

The first shift occurred when big-box retail began offering electrical products on the shelf direct to end users.

Anyone could now easily buy our heaters. Home remodel and improvement TV shows started to rise in popularity, which created the DIY’er who did his or her own home improvement projects. The people in the orange aprons became their advisers.

Cadet needed to quickly develop a consumer marketing strategy, rethink our literature and create new point of purchase information and consumer packaging, all focused on selling to the person actually using our heaters on a daily basis.

But looking back, that was all child’s play compared to what is happening now.

A huge consumer shift has come and it is being driven by e-commerce sales and the new customer of the future, the millennial.

This new, young and nimble customer base — who will, by the way, make up 50 percent of our potential buying population in the near future — wants their entire buying journey to happen on their smartphone, tablet or computer from the comfort of their home or truck.

It means that now, instead of orange aprons and contractors, consumers depend on online reviews, product imaging, YouTube videos and blog posts to guide them to the right product. Our customer service and technical support personnel are now available through email, online chat and even social media. The Cadet online experience needs to be seamless and frustration-free, and we need all our e-marketplace partners to duplicate that Cadet experience on their sites.

Our reach is now national, growing our traditional Northwest business, and bringing us new customers and markets.

This new focus on millennials and e-commerce doesn’t mean that our other sales channels have dried up. It’s quite the opposite. The retail and electrical distributor channels are still our core business and continue to evolve and grow with Cadet’s innovative sales and product strategies.

2016 Economic Forecast

Find more information from the speakers at the annual event, along with videos of the keynote speakers and each of the breakout sessions at www.columbian.com/economicforecast. (Videos will be available Friday morning)

Today, Cadet receives orders 24 hours a day direct from our multiple channels. Our LEAN Enterprise/JIT manufacturing process produces the products, which move directly from the end of our production line to a truck and ship to customers’ doorstep on time and 100 percent complete. I assume drones will be delivering the last mile soon.

I think many manufacturers are in more trouble than they realize. This customer sea change is happening much faster than anyone expected. Being successful requires a considerable investment in time, people and new strategies. You need to reboot your established traditional culture to function more like a young startup, where new digital marketing and service innovation are the prime directives and there is no one traditional way to market. The future requires that manufacturers either adapt quickly to what the customer and market wants, or to go the way of the movie rental store.


 

Hutch Johnson is president of Cadet Manufacturing Co.

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