Lights, camera, action! Television cameras and a reporter from Channel 4 KMOV (St. Louis, MO) showed up at Wilco Molding in Maryland Heights, MO, near St. Louis, to film a “Good News 4 A Change” feature on how the company has managed to bring molding business back from China. Gary Guetterman, director of operations for Wilco, explained that the customer had molded the parts in the St. Louis area for a number of years, but then sent the work to China because of price. “China built the mold and gave them a real cheap price on the parts,” says Guetterman.
Wilco has been in business for 50-plus years with four generations of the Williams family. In fact, Wilco’s founder, 87-year-old Stanley Williams, still presides over the company. His son, Kim Williams, serves as general manager of Wilco Molding. Over the years, the company, which started out in 1951 as Wilco Die, Tool & Machine Co., a moldmaking company, implemented various strategies to grow the business. Today, two other divisions operate under the Wilco name: Wilco Molding, which has 17 Toyo presses ranging from 55-500 tons—five of them all-electric machines in a cleanroom molding area—and Wilco Automation LLC, which was formed in 2008 to provide greater value-added capabilities for customers needing customized automation equipment for specialized manufacturing operations.
“We were working with this customer on an additional piece of automation equipment, and they knew we did molding work,” explains Guetterman. “They’d been having quite a few shipping problems, and long shipping time that led them to ask us if we’d quote the work.”
Wilco quoted the work at a fairly low price because it wanted to bring this work back to the U.S. from China. “We’re efficient enough and have the equipment to automate the job, so we knew we could make money on it. Taking into account all of their hard costs to mold and ship these parts, we came in at 1/100th of a penny cheaper.”
Guetterman notes that there are a lot of “inherent costs” in having products molded in China and shipped to the U.S., such as the high inventory quantities required to avoid shortages, communications, and long shipping times. “When you take all that into account, it’s really much more cost effective to mold them here. They were having some shipping issues—long shipping times that led them to try to find a new molder." (You can read more here about China's manufacturing cost advantage.)
This wasn’t the first instance of Wilco getting work from China. In another case, Wilco was working with a novelty manufacturing company in St. Louis. While it was a Chinese-owned company, and they always received their parts from China, on one particular project they wanted to maintain control over the product.
“They knew that sometimes when you sent a product to China to be made, the product could appear on store shelves from a Chinese company faster than the original company could get the product out,” explains Guetterman. “They wanted to keep these products just for themselves. We started looking at it and they liked the fact that we built molds in-house and that we were 10 minutes away from their facility. We could work together and make changes on the fly and be flexible for them.”
Guetterman offers some advice for molders looking to keep work in the U.S. or to recapture molding work that has gone to China. “In my opinion, they need to concentrate on automation—take the labor out,” he says. “China will do that or they’ll have someone manning the press for a dollar a day. Use your labor to build automation or for machine maintenance. Touching each part won’t help you reduce the price. Get outside your comfort zone, look hard at your costs. Can you give a little back to get the work? Also, educate your customers and make a case for why it’s better to manufacture here than going offshore." —Clare Goldsberry