DECATUR – Some business strategies are simple: If you want to increase sales, you need to sell more to existing customers, add new customers to the mix – or both.
But some strategies are easier said than done.
Five years ago, Goldshield Fiberglass was cranking out exterior shells for recreational vehicles as a division of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. Then the bottom dropped out of the economy. Fleetwood, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, was in no position to order more fiberglass.
A private equity group saw potential in the Fleetwood brand and its fiberglass operation but decided each business needed to stand on its own. With that move, Goldshield was freed to woo new clients.
Now, Fleetwood RV Inc. is Goldshields sister company – and customer. And Goldshield is flourishing. The Decatur factory has doubled its workforce in the past three years as sales have grown by 80 percent.
Jeff Newport, Goldshields general manager, forecasts growth of 15 percent a year each of the next three years. The company doesnt release revenue figures.
We were two very different businesses, he said of Goldshield and Fleetwood. By separating ourselves from Fleetwood, were hoping to open ourselves to other RV markets.
But the manufacturer isnt limiting itself to supplying the RV industry. Goldshield has established relationships with the large truck makers, including Navistar International Corp., and bus manufacturers. And the company has branched into some less obvious directions.
Fiberglass is used to make the tubes patients slide into when they have an MRI test. The sturdy substance is used to create the pools that aquaculture farms raise fish in and the fast-moving cars on theme-park rides. Fiberglass is also molded into the underwater apparatus that shoots water upward in decorative fountains.
Goldshield now sells to all four industries.
Bell Aquaculture is the largest yellow perch aquaculture operation in the U.S. The Albany, Ind., company is also a Goldshield customer.
Newport estimated that 10 percent of Goldshields sales are to these newly won markets. His sales staff is trying to expand the number of customers in each of the industries.
But, the general manager said, its not practical to think each industry will generate an equal amount of revenue for the company.
About 75 percent of the factorys production is devoted to daily, high-volume orders. The rest is devoted to one-time projects that last six or eight weeks.
Newport is satisfied with the companys diversified customer base, which will prompt creation of an estimated five new positions in the engineering/quality department over the next six months. The manufacturer already has hired 30 workers this year, most in production.
Goldshields rebirth wasnt quick or easy, however.
Our first year and a half was absolutely survival, Newport said.
The company was forced to watch costs closely and develop good habits that continue, he said.
Goldshield has a lean culture, which means the company actively eliminates waste and inefficiency while stressing continuous improvement. The idea is that a company shouldnt spend time or money on anything a customer wouldnt willingly pay for.
Almost half of the companys workforce has earned a bronze-level certification in lean manufacturing issued by ASQ, a professional development organization in Milwaukee that offers 17 quality-related certifications.
Its our core belief, Newport said. Its part of everything we do.
The general manager described his workforce as engaged in improving processes. Over the past 1 1/2 years, 97 percent of workers have proposed at least six minor changes that could streamline production.
Brenda Jackson, a material handler, has been with the company for 27 years. She has seen the factory floor evolve tremendously over that time.
Its much cleaner, more organized, she said. Lean manufacturing had a lot to do with that.
Communication between departments has also improved, Jackson said.
Although the workforce includes numerous employees with 20 or more years with the company, the group doesnt resist change, Newport said.
When youre constantly changing and constantly improving, he said, theres no fear.
Tami Fraker, one of the companys lean administrators, said the factory continues to eliminate wasted efforts.
The Berne woman enjoys the challenges she has faced in seven years at Goldshield.
Theres never really a day that I go home thinking that I need to find another job, she said.
Newport is buoyed by his workers spirits. When hes having a bad day, the general manager leaves his air-conditioned office and walks the production floor.
It never fails, he said, to improve his mood.