Humans are curious creatures. We like to see how things work, and we want to know what makes things tick — we have a deep-seated desire to make a connection with our environment by understanding the process of creation. That, in part, is what is so appealing about facility tours. However, for most manufacturers, conducting a plant or facility tour is more than sating the curiosity of fellow humans — conducting a tour is about the bottom line. After all, when done right, a behind-the-scenes guided tour is one of the greatest marketing tools at a company’s disposal.
I’ve been on a lot of facility tours. Some have been interesting, while others have been scattered, unorganized and uninspiring. And some have been so informative and engaging that after walking out of the building, I have found that I am not only a life-long customer and advocate of the company’s products, but my confidence has been so validated, that I have sought out and purchased stock in the company.
What makes a tour great doesn’t necessarily come down to the product or process on display or the facility itself, but rather allegiance to the purpose of the tour and the experience the participants walk away with. A guided tour should be an engaging and informative event. Tours are a chance for companies to show off and stand out at the same time.
The list of what can go into making a facility tours stink is too long to go into here, but on the other hand, all really outstanding tours share a few common elements that make them great.
In order for them to be an unforgettably positive event, each tour should to be planned, coordinated and executed in a way that each participant can see and hear everything the company has to offer.
I recently went on a tour of a manufacturing and testing facility of a heating and air conditioning company. On the drive over, the sales rep was telling me how great this company was. We pulled into the parking lot of a very industrial park outside of Houston. In the lot was a nondescript building. In the nondescript building was a bland reception area. I walked into the facility tour quite uninspired, questioning the sales rep’s sanity, but came out an enlightened, transformed admirer of the company.
The first element they did was to assign a knowledgeable, likeable tour guide to our group. Some parts of his presentation were funny, some were serious, but everything was interesting and intended to highlight innovation and quality in every component they produced. The tour guide was well versed on every aspect of the facility and the workings of the equipment, which is particularly important to this company because many tour participants are distributors and vendors who also sell the competition’s products.
Second, they took steps to ensure that everyone could hear every word from the tour guide. Sometimes the groups include three or four VIPs, but usually the tours include up to 80 people. Factories can be a noisy environment and if the participants can’t hear, they will walk away with little more than a headache. This company employed a wireless microphone that transmitted the speaker's voice to the audience. People on the tour were given headphones and a personal receiver with a volume control to suit their own needs. The guide was able to speak in his regular voice even over the churn of the equipment—not one word of his scintillating commentary was lost.
Third, the route was designed to take participants on a journey. This particular company set up the tour route with various stops to discuss how they design a proper system and the technology they use to test the systems to ensure proper performance levels and deliver products at an affordable cost. (I was sold on the product after seeing the salt water testing chamber.)
Fourth, they took the opportunity to impress guests with a “behind the scenes” look at the company. This included not only the manufacturing and testing processes, but also a peek into the company culture and other non-tangible assets that go into making a successful business. For instance, they had a large wall banner that exclaimed pride in their American facility.
Fifth, this tour sold the past, present and future of the company. A tour is a great opportunity to discuss the history of the company, how it got to its current state and the innovations it is continuing to employ to take it into the future.
This company doesn’t spend a lot of marketing dollars; instead, they bring people in to go through their tour. Because the stakes are high on every tour, they put in the effort to cover all the details to get it right every time.
Many manufacturers conduct tours to show people what makes up their products. What they end up doing is actually showing what their company is made of.
Cory Schaeffer is a founder of Listen Technologies Corporation. Established in 1998, Listen manufacturers wireless audio products used in venues for auditory assistance, soundfield, tour group, language interpretation and conferencing. For more information, please visit www.listentech.com/manufacturers.