Dave Erickson, president and CEO of Haven Manufacturing, says the metal tube processing machines that his company makes is ubiquitous to manufacturers in a number of industries – automotive, furniture, construction and exercise equipment, to name a few. However, the widespread need for Haven’s products put the Brunswick, Ga. manufacturer’s customers squarely in the bull’s eye for foreign competitors.
“If you start thinking about everything you’ve seen with tubes in it – automotive airbags and seat frames, indoor and outdoor furniture, construction equipment and scaffolding, bicycles and scooters – you realize how expansive it is,” Erickson explained. “There’s really quite a variety to our customer base. And even though we were not directly affected by foreign trade, many of our customers were and still are.”
Haven manufactures tube processing machines, including the dual-blade shear cutoff, supported shear cutoff, secondary finishing machines and a new flying shear tube cutting machine that delivers high-quality, dimple-free cuts for tube forming mills. The company was founded in 1956 in New Haven, Mich., and moved to coastal Georgia in 1971, where it currently employs 29 people.
To address the issue of foreign competition, Erickson applied for support from the Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC), a program based at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute that helps manufacturers develop and implement turn-around strategies to better compete with imports. SETAAC director Marla Gorges conducted an initial review of Haven and helped the company prepare an application for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Once the company was approved for funding, she developed an adjustment plan that detailed projects to receive funding support, including assistance in marketing and sales, web site development and customer relationship management.
“Our number one challenge was figuring out what to do and what would be the biggest bang for our buck,” recalled Erickson. “One of the first things we thought of was building up our brand. We used a creative team in Atlanta to develop a new eye-catching, yet simple, logo. That started the whole brand imaging concept, from logo to web site to search engine optimization.”
Haven has also increased the effectiveness of its web site, taking into account the company’s sales and conversion rates, lead generation, landing page effectiveness and the amount of time customers spend on the site. According to Erickson, this is a major improvement over Haven’s prior web site, which was not designed to be optimized for searching.
“Being in a global market – and Haven is very involved in international trade – it is very important to have exposure. If you don’t have the exposure, you don’t get the inquiries,” he said. “Our international inquiries and even our domestic opportunities have increased substantially over the last couple of years.”
Last year Haven formed a strategic alliance with SOCO Machinery Co., Ltd. of Taiwan to sell and service each company’s respective lines of tube cutting equipment. Erickson said the partnership provides Haven an outstanding opportunity to grow within the Asian markets, while SOCO’s growth in the U.S. market is enhanced through Haven’s broad market knowledge and reputation. Haven will have exclusive U.S. rights to sell SOCO’s line of automated tube saws, solid bar saws and tube and bar machining centers, while SOCO will represent Haven in China and Southeast Asia for its line of dual-blade and supported shear tube cutting machines.
To increase sales, the SETAAC plan also focused on launching a new prototype, updating factory sales support communications and designing a new product process for end-finishing equipment.
“In general, this has opened us up to new companies and industries that we had not worked with before. That alone says that our customer base is expanding,” Erickson said.
Firms that are accepted into the SETAAC program pay for 25 percent of the initial diagnostic visit and adjustment plan. The Department of Commerce generally pays half of the cost of project implementation for activities to benefit the company. Private sector consultants submit quotes for implementing the identified projects and the company chooses which consultant to hire to execute the outlined changes.
“With Marla’s guidance and input, we were approved for the SETAAC funding, something we wouldn’t have been able to do without her,” Erickson said. “This has been a great experience and I would recommend Georgia Tech to anyone.”
About the Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center:
The Southeastern Trade Adjustment Assistance Center (SETAAC), based at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute in Atlanta, helps manufacturers develop and implement turn-around strategies to compete better with imports. Last year, SETAAC helped more than 30 companies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. On average, these companies received $42,000 in matching funds. In the last three years, SETAAC’s clients have increased sales by 26 percent and improved productivity by 28 percent. Over the past five years, 49 SETAAC clients reported sales increases of more than $39 million and productivity improvements of more than 43 percent.
About the Enterprise Innovation Institute:
The Georgia Tech Enterprise Innovation Institute helps companies, entrepreneurs, economic developers and communities improve their competitiveness through the application of science, technology and innovation. It is one of the most comprehensive university-based programs of business and industry assistance, technology commercialization and economic development in the nation.
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Writer: Nancy Fullbright