People & Skills  

Harnessing the power of collaboration for niche SMEs

Director of the Industrial Perforators Association, Mike Gilboy highlights growth by collaboration, how associations of small-to-mid-sized niche manufacturers are stronger than the sum of their parts
 What could you gain from a mutually beneficial network?

Written by Mike Gilboy, IPA Director, Marketing Committee Chair

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Competing in the global marketplace can be tough for any company on its own. That’s especially true for small- to mid-sized manufacturers in highly specialized industries.

However, some such companies – including those in the niche market of metal perforation – have found that forming a strong industry alliance is a way to overcome many of their challenges.

The example of the Industrial Perforators Association (IPA) may be one for companies in other industries to follow.

Over 50 years ago, a group of small and mid-market metal perforation companies formed the IPA with a main mission to perpetuate and increase the market for perforated materials. Since then, IPA members have invested combined resources toward raising public awareness of their specialized capabilities and improving business across the board.

The association’s initiatives have included:

  • Commissioning research to validate claims about the benefits of perforated metals in certain applications
  • Developing promotional and informational materials to educate target audiences
  • Building a website rich in perforation knowledge

“By giving us access to shared resources and expertise that would be too much to maintain in house, the IPA definitely makes us a stronger company,” said Keith Zinn, President of the IPA.

A Wealth of Technical Resources

Being part of the IPA means participating in a mutually beneficial network that accommodates individual needs while allowing for open forums to discuss industry-wide issues. The IPA also provides distinct advantages for all members through knowledge sharing on operational efficiencies, processing techniques and more.

Additional testing and research can be challenging for one company to do, particularly the smaller companies within the IPA. Even though all companies have technical employees, not all companies have the budget to go into the market place for a professionally prepared technical study.

The IPA, by spreading this cost over many companies, allows smaller companies to enjoy the benefits of professional studies. Research conducted by one member, which is often underwritten by the organization, ultimately benefits all members, as the results are shared and published to promote the perforating industry as a whole.

The IPA’s vast resources of technical data contained in the Designer’s Handbook– including studies of acoustics, elastic properties, strength, pressure loss and other topics – are among the results of this kind of cooperative effort.

Perhaps as important as technical know-how is the quality standards that the organization oversees. The IPA quality seal serves as a proof point for potential customers and a training benchmark for internal operations. Members use the IPA voluntary standards for training new employees, as well as ongoing quality evaluation and improvements. 

Collective Marketing Might

In addition to technical resources, the IPA also provides vital marketing support.

Member companies can use test results and reports for their own marketing campaigns and promotions. For example, members can print the handbook with their own contact information on the cover and distribute directly to their customers.

Other marketing activities include:

  • Trade inquiries. The IPA is active in facilitating inquiries from potential customers, collecting leads and sharing them with members for follow-up
  • Promotional initiatives. The IPA develops a variety of promotional materials, such as the recent “Add some punch to your design” campaign highlighting the advantages of perforated materials

The IPA marketing program for some companies provides the majority of their marketing program. Since this is a group effort and the cost is spread over many companies, it’s an affordable way for small companies to become better known in the marketplace.

“The IPA is a great way to reach more prospective customers with powerful information, without spending too much money on our own,” said Zinn. “Collectively, we’re gaining ground in a way we couldn’t achieve alone.”

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