A plane goes about 300 mph. Why doesn’t the pilot just turn off the engines and let the plane fly on its own momentum?-William Wrigley when asked why he continued to advertise so heavily when his product was already well known.

I recently ran across this quote from Wrigley and, while I have shared it with colleagues and customers in the marketing profession, Wrigley’s words also have relevance to those in manufacturing.

During the current economic times we hear about in the mainstream media, it might be tempting to become fearful. A company might, in the wake of two consecutive months of overall manufacturing contraction (October 38.9 and November 36.2), decide to put its production of new and existing products on hold. Companies that have leading positions in their markets might be tempted to coast on existing product lines, processes and technology until the current “recession” ends. Wrigley would disagree with such a strategy and, with 60% of worldwide market share, his advice bears serious consideration.

Implementing actions that allow one to continually improve products and processes, invest in new technology and roll out new products in the current economic climate is not a minor undertaking, nor something for the faint of heart. It may take much courage and convincing of senior management to undertake the risk of investing in quality and manufacturing amid the onslaught of negative media coverage regarding the economy.

As an example of what such investment might yield, it helps to look at the results of companies who actively invest, promote or actively market their services or manufactured goods during slow economic times. For example, a recent article from Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/) explains how Gold’s Gym (Irving, TX, www.goldsgym.com) is aware that in a down economy people will spend less, but they will spend something. The company is emphasizing methods for its patrons to feel they are in control-you can’t control the economy, but you can control how many pushups you do. Manufacturers can use a similar strategy.

A manufacturer can’t control how many parts might be purchased, but he can control its quality and processes so that the parts are more likely to be purchased by customers looking for an edge in their products. You can’t control how your customer might feel about whether consumers will purchase his goods, but you can control his confidence about his products being purchased by investing in your products. Customers may spend less, but they’ll spend on something and if yours is the best possible in terms of cost, quality, flexibility, etc., you are more in control than if you let those characteristics slip.

David Sable, chief operating officer at Wundermann (New York, www.wunderman.com), told Wharton he advises companies to invest in their brands and not “go cheap” on otherwise well thought-of products. “Recessions come and go, but a brand is for life,” he says.

Likewise, manufacturers should not be tempted to start reducing the quality of their products as a means of saving money. This recession will end. Will your customers remember you as one who looked long-term and kept investing, thereby benefitting the customer? Or will he remember you as someone who took the short-term view and compromised on quality and manufacturing during tough times, thereby looking out only for yourself?

Matt Williams of The Martin Agency (Richmond, VA, www.martinagency.com) takes it a step further in the Wharton report. According to Williams, you can position yourself so that you are an ally to the customer during tough times. “I can see by its actions that this company is on my side. That pays dividends not only during a recession but beyond,” he says.

Certainly, manufacturing can be more complex in the investments that are made in software, equipment and people. The dollar amounts can be larger than some of the examples the Wharton article highlights. However, the underlying principles are the same.

One can choose to fall in with the naysayers and retreat, ceasing all investment in quality and manufacturing during these times, with the guarantee of not only losing current but future market share. Or, one can simply choose not to participate in the “recession.” Instead of seeing obstacles, a manufacturer can look at this as a time of opportunity to fine tune his processes and products and thereby gain market share, new customers and a leadership position. What will you do?

This is not the time, as William Wrigley states, to shut down the “engines” you have spent so much time and money on bringing up to speed.

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