ThomasNet’s IMB is a semi-annual survey of the buyers (engineers and purchasing agents) and sellers (owners, managers, sales and marketing executives) in the manufacturers, distributors and service companies that comprise the industrial sector. It measures company growth, decline, strategies used to succeed, and the segment outlook. This is the third consecutive IMB, tracking industrial companies since January 2009. Its data is unique as the majority of respondents are from small and midsized companies, mirroring the makeup of the industrial/manufacturing sector. More than 3,243 industry professionals participated in the latest IMB.
Quickening Growth; Fewer Declines
One key indicator is the dramatic increase in companies reporting growth over the past 18 months: For the period January through June 2009, during the heart of the national recession, only 17 percent of respondents reported growth.
The figures began to steadily improve, with 27 percent reporting growth for July through December 2009, building to the latest figures, where 45 percent of respondents say their business grew during the first half of 2010. Those reporting a decline in business performance is just as telling. Only 19 percent of respondents report decline over the first half of 2010, down significantly from 41 percent six months ago and 54 percent when the IMB was first fielded.
The respondents also report a sense of optimism. Indeed, 60 percent of respondents forecast growth for the remainder of 2010, and 83 percent of those that are already growing expect that expansion to continue.
New Job Creation; Layoffs Nearly Over
The growth of industrial companies is leading to the creation of new jobs, with 34 percent of respondents saying they plan to hire again this year. The kinds of jobs companies are adding also indicate more growth ahead. For example, 25 percent of firms with new openings are adding line workers, an indication of increased product demand. Twenty-three percent are adding sales and marketing staff, showing confidence in customer buying power. Nineteen percent are recruiting engineers, supporting stepped up product development.
While many companies are adding new jobs, the IMB also shows layoffs winding down. Nearly 60 percent of respondents plan to keep headcount level this year, and only eight percent plan to downsize.
In previous Industry Market Barometers, ThomasNet found that companies were investing in areas such as product development in order to seed growth. Putting the recession behind them, they are ramping up for new growth, with investments in technology (40%), facilities/renovations (37%) and capital equipment (36%) for the second half of 2010. And, in the first half of 2011, technology is projected to be the dominant area of investment.
Strategies for Continued Success
Respondents also share their top four strategies for continued success: developing business in new US geographies, developing innovative products and services, pursuing business in new industries, and increasing online marketing.
“Our sales are up 37 percent over the same period last year, and we’ve set four successive months of sales records,” said Richard Rubin, President of Maxi Container, Detroit, a distributor of eco-friendly containers for industrial and commercial use.
“More attention to online marketing and sales has allowed us to penetrate new markets and seed demand for new products. I am optimistic that this approach will lead to our best year ever.”
Small Businesses Ignite Industry Growth
In addition to examining the industrial sector, the IMB also paints a picture of a growing small and midsize business (SMB) sector. The largest increase in business comes from these smaller companies.
“The success of smaller suppliers is revving up the industrial supply chain, and igniting industry as a whole,” said Eileen Markowitz. “Their growth is fueling the expansion of the companies that buy from them—leading to increased innovation, decreased time to market, and additional hiring.”
Much of that hiring will continue to remain in North America, where respondents’ operations are located. Only 27 percent report that they have manufacturing operations overseas—and of those, 47 percent plan to make no changes, and 18 percent are making a concerted effort to move manufacturing back to the US.