Manufacturer's View: How Do You Compete?

In this unbelievably competitive industry, how do you stack up? What are you doing to keep a competitive edge? Are there products that you are missing?

In this unbelievably competitive industry, how do you stack up? What are you doing to keep a competitive edge? Are there products that you are missing? Are you focusing on the right products or product lines?

I was in the fly fishing industry for 15 years as a sales rep/consultant. As a sales rep, we tended to focus so much energy on the big ticket items, like rods, reels, waders, etc. One day, I went into a fly shop in a destination area in Oregon and had dinner with the owner. He started to explain what his real profit makers were. “Derek,” he explained, “the real money is in the flies, tippets, and leaders. They lose them, they wear out, or they break — the consumables!”

So, I went back to my manufacturers of flies and simply said, “We need to customize our flies so they fit the needs of individual fly shops and the fisheries they service.” We started catering to the specific fly shops and made flies that fit those needs. The result?  They were able to charge more for custom flies and made even more money. They also didn’t have to compete with surrounding fly shops because they carried flies that no one else did. They sold custom consumables.

Now here I sit in a very similar situation. The fly fishing industry is certainly different than industrial distribution, but the principles are the same — custom consumables!

Here at Western Abrasives, we are focused on manufacturing abrasives to meet the needs of the end user and distributor. I am sure you are asking, custom abrasives? Yes! Most distributors, and even end users, don’t have the vast understanding of the metals they are using and that there are specific abrasives that work best for their applications. There is an array of different bonds, blends, grits, and types of grit that they may not know exists. Here is where you come in: 

1. Look for supplier companies that cater to the needs of your customers. 

2. Build relationships with current or new manufacturers that can customize and support you and don’t open up to every distributor that calls. Trust me, they still exist. 

3. Don’t sell your customers what every other distributor sells them. Later, when they come knocking, asking for something specific from the manufacturer, you will be protected because the old adage still applies: “stick with the one who brought you to the dance.” 

The advantage is developing a true cost savings plan that your manufacturers can see. The faster the product cuts, the faster the piece being manufactured will get out the door. In the abrasive world (at least in mounted points), the cost really is irrelevant when the labor and throughput are put to the test. Always look for the fastest way to get the job done. Time is the real cost savings, and custom abrasives are the key.   

Derek Furgus is director of sales and marketing for Western Abrasives. For more information, visit

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