One World Now

My Saturday morning routine now includes watching a bit of “futball” from the English Premier League. The next day an American football game was broadcast from London as well. It is a great reminder that it is all one big worldwide market now.

There was a time when the gear trade was very local; almost every city had one or more “hometown” gear companies. A few national competitors existed for high-volume products like couplings and gear motors, but most of a firm’s orders came from within a 150 mile radius of the shop. In larger cities that radius might drop to 50 miles.

The thought of “foreign” competition in say, 1964, was probably limited to Chicago-area gear shops trying to get orders from Pittsburgh-area equipment builders. This “local” base was a carryover from the blacksmith days and the high-maintenance requirements of the steam age. Shops were not unfamiliar with a broken part arriving in a truck with no notice and “having” to figure out a way to fix it or re-make it to be better and stronger.

The sudden appearance of competition from overseas caught many gear people flat-footed. We had enough trouble doing metric-to-imperial conversions, and did not anticipate entire markets being dominated by imported goods. The agricultural gearboxes used in irrigation rigs are a prime example. Last I checked, the selling price — including delivery — was less than you would expect to pay for the raw housing casting.

Since the “genie” isn’t going back in the bottle, what is a besieged local gear maker to do? The successful ones are doubling down on that inventive, problem-solving ability that originally fueled company growth. Get to know the needs in your market area and don’t give the customers a reason to go elsewhere for equipment that works. It was a strategy that transformed blacksmith shops into industrial powerhouses.

It can still work today.

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.