In today’s manufacturing world, women play a much larger role than they have in the past. From leadership in the front office to machine operators on the shop floor, women of all ages are changing the stereotypes and face of manufacturing. Women-led firms, like all U.S. manufacturers, have dealt with many challenges during the pandemic. Manufacturing Day 2021 events across the country, which are happening throughout the month of October, are celebrating America’s manufacturing resilience during this difficult time. Events, including in-person or virtual tours of modern, high-tech manufacturing facilities, help community members see for themselves the importance of manufacturing and its many opportunities for well-paying jobs. Each manufacturer has a unique pandemic story — some took advantage of the slowdown to their business during the pandemic to reassess and plan for future growth. Here’s one woman-led manufacturer’s pandemic story.
Woofables uses the COVID-19 slump to reassess
In April 2004, Kathleen Potts and Lara Moore began baking and selling Woofables gourmet dog biscuits. Laura Taylor and her husband, Alex, took over in 2010 and run the family business in Coralville, Iowa. They and their 35 employees maintain high standards for quality dog treats and great service. Their made-from-scratch biscuits are sold in novelty and boutique pet shops throughout the United States.
The company divides its efforts — giving extremely personalized service to boutique clients while also providing standardized products for retail markets. Serving both markets limited the company’s growth. The boutique work took time away from the large-volume, more generalized products bought by big stores. Serving both markets required conflicting skills and was becoming unwieldy. Laura decided to take advantage of a deep, pandemic-driven lull in business to launch a substantial review of the company.
Finding assistance from the local Manufacturing Extension Partnership center
Laura contacted the Iowa State University Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) for help with a new strategic plan and a reevaluation of where Woofables belongs in its industry. CIRAS is one of 51 centers in the U.S. and Puerto Rico funded by the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) and part of the MEP National Network™. MEP centers are located within a couple hours’ drive of every U.S. manufacturer and offer an array of consulting services and resources. With emergency funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, MEP centers like CIRAS helped manufacturers across the country move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total reboot … leads to business expansion
CIRAS worked with an outside consultant to analyze the $4 billion pet treats industry. It was soon apparent that growth potential justified a major Woofables expansion. In late 2020, the company began assembling the people and equipment needed to expand both its pet store and grocery businesses.
A number of CIRAS business experts helped Woofables through the expansion. CIRAS strategic adviser Joy Donald assisted with recruiting new executives. CIRAS strategic adviser Steve Wilson and project manager Troy Crowe worked on value-stream mapping to help make both production lines as efficient as possible. Finally, CIRAS project manager Paul Gormley advised the company on improving its e-commerce platform so Woofables can grow its online business.
The reboot led Woofables to invest $72,000 in plant equipment, information systems and workforce. They’re already seeing great results. They’ve added seven new jobs and seen $3 million in increased sales.
“The market is there. If we hadn’t gone through this process with CIRAS, we probably would have continued on the same path, showing nice decent growth every year. But it wouldn’t have been focused, and it wouldn’t be with a plan. Now, we’re developing a plan, and we have a specific target in mind. I would recommend CIRAS to other companies. This has been a very positive experience for Woofables. We have a much better understanding of our market and how we can expand successfully. This gives us the direction and confidence to make the necessary investments for greater growth.”
— Laura Taylor, Woofables Owner and Top Dog
Celebrate MFG Day 2021 throughout October!
Manufacturing Day 2021 (MFG Day) is a celebration of U.S. know-how and resilience. Manufacturers need a diverse workforce, and women offer some of the most brilliant minds in manufacturing today. Whether you are creative, analytical or process-oriented, there is a place for you. MFG Day helps the public learn about exciting manufacturing careers in modern, innovative facilities. Join MEP and manufacturers across the country — click here to find a MFG Day event near you and celebrate diversity and resilience in modern U.S. manufacturing!
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