Laird Daubenspeck opened his plastics manufacturing company during a tough time. Innovation and a thirst for learning steered it in the right direction.

Innovation is so fundamental to Laird Daubenspeck’s mindset that he has a reminder tattooed on his body to never stop evolving.

“Its message: ‘Continuous Improvement’,” said Daubenspeck, owner of Progressive Molding Technologies. “It’s how I live my life and run my business.”

It’s this type of mentality that helped him through turbulent times in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when outsourcing began to put a dent in the U.S. plastics industry. Progressive Molding, based out of Medina, Ohio, specializes in precision injection molding, producing plastic parts for the products of other companies.

This sophisticated process, which requires both accuracy and precision, produces net-shape manufactured plastic products. The plastic parts can be used in electronics, optical instruments, and medical devices, among other industries.

After graduating from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, multiple internships, and a few stops at large companies, Daubenspeck felt there was a better way to serve the industry.

Starting his business in 2002, Daubenspeck used a PNC legacy bank to help begin and grow his business, leveraging PNC’s own innovative mindset over the course of a 20-year banking relationship. Recently, the bank helped him secure a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan for a new factory.

That growth hasn’t stopped Daubenspeck from continuing to find ways to improve his company that boasts nine employees, 53 customers and a highly automated – and innovative – operation.

Recently, Daubenspeck spoke more about his entrepreneurial approach, his leadership style and how his company survived a rough patch that closed many competitors:

Can You Dive More into Progressive Molding and What Separates You from Competitors?

We don’t look at ourselves as a manufacturing company.  We look at ourselves as a customer service company. We serve our customers through manufacturing products. In the 21 years we’ve been in operation, we’ve never lost a customer to a competitor.

What initially differentiated us when we started out in 2002 was our ability to evolve. The early 2000s was a difficult time in our industry when offshoring became the norm for this type of manufacturing. A lot of people in our industry aren’t here anymore because they failed to evolve through that rough time. Those competitors continued to do things the old way while we innovated through various ways, including automation.

For example, our machines run 24/7. We have a first and second shift throughout the week. During third shift and on the weekends, the machines run lights-out when no one is in the building. That is a competitive advantage for our business.

How Do You Think Your Customers Would Describe Your Operation and Your Services?

I think they view us as a trusted partner. When they have a challenge or a product they want to launch, one that requires a precise form of plastic, they pick up the phone and talk to us first. That’s what we focus on. We don’t try to compete on price. What we compete on is providing unique solutions for our customers. Whether they’re looking for a solution on how to launch a new product, or overcoming an existing challenge with a current product, we’re their solution provider. Good solutions translate into lower cost of manufacturing.

What Would You Say Your Leadership Style Is like, Especially with Everything You Have on Your Plate?

From a leadership standpoint, I take a servant leadership approach. I want to always elevate and empower the people who work for me and help them become the best versions of themselves. What also helps in this concept is quality of people. We made a commitment a few years ago that we’re only going to hire for culture. If we don’t have a cultural fit, we don’t make the hire. Once we find that hire, they rarely leave. It’s easier to lead people who want to be here and are committed to our mission.

What Have You Done to Continuously Improve as a Business Owner and What Advice Would You Give to Other Business Owners?

Ten years ago, I joined the Entrepreneur’s Organization with members from 75 different countries and has 17,000 members worldwide. During the first 10 years as a business owner, I was so caught up in my business that I didn’t understand how amazing the entrepreneurial world was.

 With this organization, I get the benefit of peer-to-peer learning and interacting and working with other entrepreneurs both in the area and around the world. There’s no substitute for it. That membership has also given me opportunities to go to regional and global leadership academies and Entrepreneurial Master’s Program. It’s allowed me to develop both as a person and an entrepreneur.

That’s my advice for other small business owners. That’s why I have a continuous improvement mindset. If you’re not continually improving, your business is dying.  It’s just so fundamental and part of my business’ DNA and part of its core values that I don’t know any other way to do it.