Canadian Plastics

To lower risks, take risks

"Things are tough out there," said the person on the other end of the phone. "It's getting more and more cutthroat. Margins are so tight."As I listened to the businessman, an owner of a small, custom ...

February 1, 2000   Canadian Plastics



“Things are tough out there,” said the person on the other end of the phone. “It’s getting more and more cutthroat. Margins are so tight.”

As I listened to the businessman, an owner of a small, custom injection molding shop, the natural sympathies I have toward the individuals and entrepreneurs that make up this industry were tempered by hard questions I might ask him if I were hired to audit his operation. What is your core business or process? What are your strategic goals and growth plans? What have you done lately to market yourself or manage your sales? Apparently the answers to these questions, which he was inadvertently providing to me, were the following–everything, don’t know, nothing.

Certainly in the almost four years I have been editor of this magazine, he had never brought any news about his company to my attention. That didn’t make him the exception of course, it made him the rule. As everyone knows, the general mind-set that pervades our community of Canadian processors and moldmakers is a variation on a theme of discretion: Don’t rock the boat. Keep your head down. The best we can hope for is to survive. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. Out of sight, out of trouble.

In the universe of exceedingly narrow logic, all this makes sense of course. Keeping the low profile will keep you out of trouble. It will also keep you out of improved revenues, growth and success.

Many people, and I for a long time was one of them, have considered that this self-effacing approach to doing business was somehow tied up with the experience or personality of Canada: quiet, unassuming, unfalteringly polite. This may be a factor and indeed more Canadians may be, on average, less willing to toot their own horns than say, Americans. But I believe the bigger truth is that a keep-low approach is generally characteristic of all small business people, Canadian, American or Taiwanese.

In the high-risk, cash-flow stressed environment in which most small business owners operate, this attitude is somewhat understandable. With a second mortgage and business income that is often heavily cyclic, one tends to overestimate one’s weaknesses and vulnerability, and underestimate one’s strengths. The result is a wary, cautious outlook.

Yet, in my experience, many small business owners are frequently inclined to let shrewd caution become destructive paranoia. For example, the owner of a small industrial firm where I once did some consulting work had a vendor who supplied chemicals. Occasionally the owner would let a tech rep from the vendor use his laboratory to run quality and other tests on current and new products. This benefited the owner because he did not have the in-house technical capability to support such work. One day the owner learned that the vendor was also supplying a company that was a nominal competitor of his and, despite the vendor’s track record of superior service and high integrity, banned the tech rep from ever setting foot in his facility again.

Overkill? In my estimation it was. And so it goes in our industry where paranoia and fear often cloud the capacity to see the obvious: the best way to minimize risk is to exercise sound business judgment and commit to growth. Establish your company’s focus. Manage your sales cycle (see page 25). Promote yourself. Send me or associate editor Cindy Macdonald a press release about your company’s contract for new business, plans to expand or any other news. If you just want to chat, give us a call. But please don’t wait until things get tough.

Micheal LeGault, editor

e-mail: mlegault@southam.ca


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