I started my career in the electric motor industry in 1990 as a young sales engineer with a company called GS Electric. At the time, this company was at the top of its game competing head to head with a hand full of American competitors. All of us were proudly manufacturing our products in places like Carlisle, PA; Hudson, WI; Kent, OH and Watertown, NY. We were competing for business at places like Royal Appliance in Cleveland, OH, Regina Floorcare in Long Beach, MS and DP Fitness in Opelika, AL. The decade of the nineties was a great time to be an American manufacturer and we were all having a blast. Then a funny thing happened...the Chinese showed up.
The first wave was the influx of very cheap and poorly made motors sold into the more high volume accounts. The general rule was any customer who was buying at least 100,000 motors per year was at risk. Chinese manufacturers didn't care if the quality was bad. They simply offered a percentage of free motors to offset the bad ones. I knew of one arrangement down in Shreveport where they were getting 10 free motors for every 100 they purchased. It's hard to beat a deal like that right?
Fast forward to 2001. By now, I am the National Sales Manager at GS and life is still pretty darn good. We had observed a good portion of our customer base not only purchase Chinese motors but actually pack up and move to China. Lock, stock and barrel...got up and left. But I had a plan and a strategy that we had begun implementing several years earlier. It was simple. Let the big guys go.
Don't follow them to China, don't fight a war on price that you can't win. Instead we aggressively pursued smaller companies here in the USA that were not yet showing up on the Chinese radar and there were plenty to choose from. These guys were up and comers that had a niche market and an appetite to make a stand in this great country. We stood right there with them and I'm happy to say that we were wildly successful. In fact we were so successful that a competitor bought us and systematically dismantled the business to get rid of us. But that's another story for another time.
No. This story is about those of us who chose to stay here in the USA and make great products. So in 2010, I got a call from an old friend who told me that Scott Fetzer had put together a new company called SFEG and that part of this group was Northland Motors. He said that he wanted me to come down to Nashville and do what I did at GS ten years earlier. He told me that while everybody else had moved to Mexico and China, Northland had stayed here. He told me that we could make a go of this diamond in the rough. Well my old friend was right. It turns out that a lot of those "smaller" customers that became my friends 10 years ago are still around. Only not so small anymore. On top of this, all of those folks that moved away are starting to think in terms of reshoring which is a cute way of saying that they are coming home.
Well, we never left and I'm proud of this fact. I'm also excited about the future of US manufacturing. It's making me feel like a kid back in the nineties again. Well, in my mind anyway... I don't have as much hair and my 10k times aren't as good as they were back then but what a ride.