Metalcaster’s Fourth Generation Brings Fresh Ideas

In May 2012, Megan Kirsh joined the family business, an iron job shop in Beaver Dam, Wis, making her the fourth generation to punch the clock at Kirsh Foundry Inc. since it was opened by her great grandfather in 1937. To the outsider, joining the company, led by her father, Jim, and uncle, Steve, might have seemed like an obvious destination.

Megan, however, took a bit of a circuitous path to Beaver Dam. After receiving a master’s in marriage and family therapy from Northern Illinois Univ., Dekalb, Ill., she took her first steps in pursuit of a career—only to grow disenchanted with her field. The prospect of switching gears and joining the family business grew more appealing, until she finally seized the opportunity.

“For me, it was a huge opportunity to be a part of something that’s really cool,” Megan Kirsh said. “I pulled a 180 [to] see how I liked it. I stayed tentative for about a year. I always thought I could go back and do what I was doing. But so far, I’m still here. I’m still really excited.”

The director of marketing and sales, Kirsh has been focused primarily on the company’s value proposition. To this end, she has overseen an overhaul of the company’s website to be more client-oriented and distinguish Kirsh Foundry from other metalcasting facilities that offer similar products and services. Kirsh also has developed Foundry 101, a customer education program to build knowledge about metalcasting and the company’s specific capabilities that debut earlier this year.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been working hand in hand with Jim Kirsh, my father, on where he wants the company to go,” she said. “What are the priorities that are important to us? Where do we see ourselves in five or 10 years?”

Asking those questions, which some companies may avoid doing, can allow a metalcaster to better position themselves in the market. If price is similar among a few potential suppliers, a properly crafted message about value and additional benefits can lead to new customers.

“Asking yourself, ‘What makes our foundry different? What makes our company better than one very similar to us?’ opens an entire conversation,” she said. “It allows you to develop a script on what you can offer and why you’re different. Once you get that set, you can more easily develop a roadmap for a marketing plan.”

Bringing an outsider’s perspective to a business with generations of experience and knowledge, Kirsh hopes to help guide Kirsh Foundry along a path of sustainable growth and continued stability. As for her training in family systems therapy?

“It comes in handy every now and again,” she said. 

Click here for the full interview between Megan Kirsh and marketing expert Mark Mehling.

Watch the Pendulum Swing

The Annual Modern Casting Census of World Casting Production is one of our favorite projects each year.  Published in December, this feature (p. 21) provides a snapshot of the state of metalcasting globally. It is a one-of-a-kind feature that is much-relied upon throughout the industry.

This year, while reviewing the data, I was struck by the different perspective with which the North American metalcasting industry approaches the global market compared to five years ago.  A significant shift has occurred that few, if any, saw coming. This has brought a renewed energy to North American metalcasting.

“Manufacturing cost competitiveness around the world has changed dramatically over the past decade…so dramatically that many old perceptions of low-cost and high-cost nations no longer hold…Mexico now has lower average manufacturing costs than China…China’s manufacturing-cost advantage over the U.S. has shrunk to less than 5%. Costs in Eastern European nations are at parity or above costs in the U.S.”

This quote is from the report, Global Manufacturing Cost Competiveness Index, released by the Boston Consulting Group in April of this year. While it is about general manufacturing, these ideas resonate within our niche of casting manufacturing.

GE announced in November plans to invest $60 million into its recently acquired Lufkin, Texas, casting facility to expand and modernize the ductile and gray iron plant to create a simplified production flow, improve employee working conditions and provide customers with improved quality and delivery.  The plan is to add 72,000 sq. ft. of new casting space while refurbishing the remaining plant space. According to GE, “The goal is to make the facility as efficient as possible and help strengthen the competitive position of our business around the world.”

In the last 30 years, GE has been one of the leaders of the global sourcing movement, shipping many of its castings to suppliers across the globe. The shift across many of the GE manufacturing divisions to re-invest in North American manufacturing says that the pendulum has swung back to some extent.

The reasons cited in the report for the shift include:

  • Energy costs.
  • Currency value.
  • Productivity.
  • Wage rates.

While this information is positive as you look to the future, the success of your casting facility still depends as much on the decisions you and your management team make as on macroeconomic factors. Your casting facility must focus on what it can control—marketing, HR, production efficiencies, environmental and worker safety initiatives, to name a few—to be successful, because if those departments function at a world-class level, your casting facility can as well.

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