A Chat with John Economaki, Founder and President, Bridge City Tool Works
For the past 25 years, our school systems have methodically eliminated most non-college prep offerings. This exposure typically bodes well for those who enter their 40s with discretionary funds and avocational needs. We now have a generation of young people who are work adverse and really do not know how things work — or care. This correlates with the decline in specialty interest publications and subscriptions which currently plague our industry. I don't see this niche market regaining the momentum of the 1980s, which means we have to be smart and conservative in how we allocate our marketing dollars.
As a niche company, I don't have many concerns with competitive pressures within this industry, but the economic pressures created by the perceived "need" for cell phones, cable television, computers and related peripherals, high-speed internet access, digital music and photography, HDTV, and other entertainment costs — most of which did not exist when we began — creates a big dent in the discretionary budget.
Woodworkers as a group are wonderful people. They're honest, they're just great people. I think they might just be the last group of honest people on the planet. One character trait that they have, though, is this pragmatism. They're overly pragmatic. And here we are with these tools that are so nice, that some people initially at first are afraid to use them. So in that regard, we're an anachronism. That's a marketing barrier that has to be brought down. For younger people, too, they say, "Well I can get a tri-square at a flea market for $3, and you're charging $80." I say, "I know. Our tools aren't for everybody. You either recognize the quality that we provide or you don't." I'm not going to have that argument.
Our philosophy here from a marketing standpoint is that to address those concerns, what I have to do a better job of — and this has always been the case — is relaying to people the idea that tools, by definition, aren't being used the majority of the time. So my theory is, is there not a function that can take place while they're not being used? Could they not sit there, and due to their form and their manufacture and appearance, couldn't they be part of the process of getting someone to do their very best work. Couldn't you gain something from a tool that's not being used? I believe you can. But then there's this group that just says you don't need to spend $80. I say,"Yeah, I know, but I don't have to spend $250,000 on a Lamborghini to know it looks cool." I wouldn't say it's not needed. But it's this pragmatic mindset that tends to reject things that aren't as dumbed down as you can get. For my core group, that's not a problem, but for the bulk of my potential customers, that's a stumbling block.