A Chat with John Economaki, Founder and President, Bridge City Tool Works
The other two issues is that we now have the first generation of Americans who probably were exposed to any kind of manual training in high school. If you study human behavior, most of the things you're passionate about happen before you're 21. The seeds are planted before you're 21. So if you're not exposed to wood shop or metal shop or home ec[onomics] or print shop — or any of those hands-on things —you're statistically not going to be interested in them when you turn 40 and have some discretionary funds. So, we're dealing with that. And the other thing is, when I started out 24 years ago, cable television had just gotten started, but there were no cell phones, Internet — in fact, the PC had just come out. You didn't have any of that electronic stuff. And today when you add all that stuff up, it's a couple-thousand bucks per year. And when you're falling into the $40,000 per year income range, that's a chunk of change. Basically, 10 percent of your take home pay goes to those things if you have a cell phone and Internet and cable. The thing that boggles my mind is that iPods have only been out a few years, and they're on generation six. The electronics industry is doing a marvelous job of fishing money out of our pockets, and I don't think anyone realizes what it all adds up to until they realize they can't do anything else.
CS: What are you doing now to maintain that stability of the business and retaining those essential customers?
JE: I looked at essential business here. Our essential business is developing and producing proprietary products. If there is a single element to why we last, it's that we don't have any competition for what we do. We wanted to be the best. We are the best. I really have a great sense of pride that history will look back and say, "Look what these people made. It's still here 200 years later." We're fairly certain we've reached that level. I say that because I know a few people who are making full-time livings buying and selling our used products on the Internet. It's finite, there's not a lot of it. I looked at our shipping and fulfillment, which we had done in house, and got out of that part of the business. I found a company to do that. I looked at manufacturing, because that's what we did. We designed it and made it. I looked at that and said, But do we really need to make it? Isn't it possible to find another way to get this stuff produced and not go to China? And we don't have the volume to do that, anyway. So I found some shops that were willing to contract and make our things. And actually, the quality, which we had been known for previously, is better. And I don't have to deal with the manufacturing guys. I don't know if you know anyone who knows how to program a CNC machine, but those guys will leave without warning for a $.05 an hour raise. Those things get kind of wacky. They're not long-range thinkers. And that's not always a negative thing, but it is a difficult thing for me to manage. What we've also been known for is our marketing and how we market. So, I said let's focus on those core things we do best. Let's conserve our assets where we can.