Machine shop Keats Manufacturing and industrial distributor KD Fasteners show how new online strategies are changing the marketing process in ways that can expand manufacturers into new business opportunities, accelerate their growth, and become more profitable.

These two industrial case studies show how new online strategies are changing the marketing process in ways that can expand manufacturers into new business opportunities, accelerate their growth, and become more profitable.

When you turn the key in the ignition of your vehicle, set the timer on your oven, or click the remote to open your garage door, you experience the benefit of small custom-built metal components and wiring assemblies. These are the types of parts that Keats Manufacturing Co. (Wheeling, IL) designs and builds, all essential to making those systems perform properly.

Family-owned and operated since 1958, Keats is a custom manufacturer of small metal stampings, wire forms and assemblies for major industries such as automotive, medical, electronics, aerospace, military and construction. This job shop combines technological innovation – pairing CAD/CAM, eight EDM and CNC machine tools with 25 of the industry’s most experienced die makers – to manufacture parts of the highest level of precision and quality. They will satisfy any order, from small-scale prototypes to production runs of over 500 million pieces.

The company has grown to 170 employees and operates additional plants in El Paso, TX and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Their job shops are equipped with more than 150 metal stamping and wire forming machines. Each location is ISO 9001:2000 compliant, with the Illinois and Texas facilities carrying the certification for ISO/TS 16949 compliance as well, giving their typical engineering customers and prospects the confidence that the parts they purchase adhere to the strictest quality standards.

When the economic downturn hit the industrial market, Keats was not immune. Fifty years of word-of-mouth references from satisfied and repeat customers was still not enough to carry the company, especially when many long-time customers were forced to cut back or worse, went out of business.

As revenues began to shrink, the company looked to make changes – quickly – to recapture lost revenue. They needed to widen the net of prospects, and delve into other industries to find new business. They also needed to refresh their sales approach. At the time, outbound lead generation hinged on mailers, advertising, tradeshows and cold calling. Although these tools complemented the manufacturer’s growth for nearly half a century, they had become expensive, inefficient and ineffective, especially in a turbulent sales environment.

Management recognized that a growing number of their customers, primarily design engineers working at OEMs, were routinely turning to the Internet as a starting point to research and evaluate custom manufacturers. “Investing money into tradeshows and other alternatives just wasn’t helping us grow anymore. It was getting more difficult to justify the cost when we were realizing small results,” said Matt Eggemeyer, vice president and chief operating officer at Keats. “Our potential buyers are going online. We needed a strategy to reach those customers through the Web.”

Although Keats had a website, it functioned more like an online brochure than the high-performing sales channel it would need to be for the company to get its “mojo” back. “We realized that automotive engineers don’t care as much about the details of our history, such as when we started in Chicago as a one-man shop on Cicero Avenue,” noted Eggemeyer. “Instead, they want to know whether you can make a small terminal that’s tin-plated and can hold a plus or minus .003 spec. Our site was woefully inadequate at giving engineers the information they were looking for.”

To emerge stronger from the recession, Keats devised a plan to diversify the industries it serviced. It needed an online strategy to pull all of it off. Eggemeyer was selective in choosing the partner to make this happen. “I didn’t want to deal with just anyone,” he recalled. “I wanted a company that is 100 percent focused on serving the industrial market, so they can understand my custom business and the type of people I want to reach. This is why we chose ThomasNet.”

Step One involved building a new website. The team collected, organized and uploaded text and images that show the full range of Keats’ capabilities, including examples of prior custom work so prospects can find a job similar to their own project and feel comfortable proceeding. This information includes detail-rich descriptions that Eggemeyer knows engineers are looking for, such as alloys, thickness, width, plating specs, etc., all of which help drive Keats to the top of the search engine rankings. A high ranking is especially important to Eggemeyer, who estimates that an engineer starting a job looks at five or six different machine shops during the research phase.

Step Two was developing an intuitive user experience. Keats culled its product and services information into six main product categories. Clicking on any one of these takes the user directly to the information they need to complete a job, including material types, shapes and machining capabilities. All this data combines to give engineers the confidence that Keats can create the precise custom part they’ve specified for their products.

Once a customer is ready to request more information or even a quote, the process is simple. At any point they can click to submit detailed RFQ’s online, and attach their custom design and requirements to ensure precision and accuracy back from Keats. The new site went live in April 2009 and the results since defied the down economy, with sales up 30 percent and the number of quotes growing from 600 to 1,400 in one year. Now, as the economy recovers, the company is returning to its growth cycle.

“Keeping our pipeline full like this is critical because our sales cycle can be long – anywhere from six months to two years,” explained Eggemeyer. Many of these new quotes have converted into significant accounts. Eggemeyer credits the new website for delivering a million dollar project to develop a lightweight metal clip for a plastic bullet for soldiers to carry machine gun ammunition in the field. “It was the depth of information and ease-of-use of our new website that assured the client that we were a company he could depend on to produce the part he needed, on time and at a fair price. Without our strong online presence, we would never have been considered.”

The online strategy also helped surface former Keats customers for quick sales. For example, one cell phone manufacturer lost track of how to manufacture one of its long dormant parts due to its growth in other areas. Through searching, they found Keats again and placed a $25,000 order. “I’m getting almost 2,000 qualified buyers to my site every month now,” said Eggemeyer. “This far surpasses the results of our former sales activities. That’s what I need to grow my business.”

KD Fasteners, Inc. (Addison, IL) is a small family owned-and-operated distributor of standard and specialty fasteners of all types, sizes and weights. Their customers are primarily design engineers and purchasing agents across many industries. These sorts of fasteners are rarely noticed by end users, yet they are used to secure mission-critical components for countless products, ranging from door hardware that attach armor to military Humvees, to custom screws that attach cameras onto sky diving helmets, to simple woodscrews used to secure legs to tabletops and chair seats.

This distributor is known for sourcing hard-to-find items, too, such as the time when the structural engineers refurbishing Ralph Wilson Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills, called upon KD Fasteners to supply bolts that would not only withstand extreme weather, but still allow for a deep recline of 20,000 luxury seats.

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