NPR's story on how three American brush manufacturers are successfully competing with Chinese competition was a dose of reality for those who complain that they can't win against low-cost, low-wage countries. These three companies adopted the following strategies to thrive:

  1. Compete on quality, not price. Professional painters don't want brushes whose bristles come off in the paint, which is what you get with low-cost Chinese brushes.
  2. Adapt to customer's needs and serve niche markets. One company makes a $40,000 brush used to keep pigeons out of the top of the Freedom Tower in NY, and a tiny brush for NASA's Mars Rover.
  3. Nurture strong, personal, relationships with customers. The owners of these companies have been in business for over 40 years, and they're always available by phone to their long-time customers.

But here's my favorite part of the story: the plant manager at one of the companies, Adam Czarnowski, who has been with the company for 63 years (sixty-three years!), says:

We are not ordinary brush makers. We are problem solvers.

Think about the pride, sense of ownership, and engagement for that kind of attitude to exist. Do your employees see themselves as cogs in the corporate machine, or as problem solvers?

(You can read a longer version of this story in the NYTimes magazine.)




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