MEMBER PROFILE: Tusco Display, CEO Mike Lauber

MEMBER PROFILE: Tusco Display, CEO Mike Lauber

According to our member database, Tusco Display has been a POPAI member since 1979, one year after Mike Lauber joined their team. They are a custom manufacturing company for point-of-purchase displays and store fixtures located in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. 

"At Tusco, we make it R.A.I.N. We work hard to provide Reliability, Authenticity, Ingenuity and Nimbleness in all that we do," says Mike. "With broad capabilities in sheet metal, wire, tubing, extrusion, wood and plastic fabrication, plus powdercoating, screenprinting, assembly and logistics, we have greater control over projects than most manufacturers." 

If you can't tell from that response, Mike has a great personality and has been in the POP industry for almost 34 years. He started at Tusco in 1978 as Purchasing Manager, he then graduated to become a marketing manager in 1983 and became their CEO in 1986, which he has inhibited ever since. He's a POPAI Hall of Fame Inductee and former Chairman of the POPAI Board of Directors (1995-1996). 

It was a pleasure to interview him and get to know what Tusco Display has to offer. Take a look! 

Why did you want to join Tusco in 1980?  
My family bought the business so it was all hands on deck.  I was graduating from college and loved the challenge of learning the business. 

As the CEO, what are most of your tasks at Tusco like?  
My principal job is to establish the strategic course for the business and make sure that we have the right leaders in place to execute. 

I love how you have your own blog linked to the Tusco website as well. What’s your goal for this blog? What’s your favorite thing to write about?  
I both write and speak often on the often-overlooked power of in-store marketing.  With the fragmentation of TV advertising, in-store is the last great mass medium.  Though online retailing is growing by leaps and bounds, it still accounts for less than 8% of all purchases in the US today.  Stores still matter – a lot!

You were the CEO when you were the Chairman of POPAI in 1995, how was that experience? How did both responsibilities help each other?  
Candidly, my involvement in POPAI was both extremely fulfilling and heavily taxing on my family and business.  Global travel, daily phone calls & emails, almost weekly meetings – it took a great deal of attention.  But I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world.  Where else could a guy in his mid-30’s lead a board representing the best of N. American consumer packaged goods and retailing?  It was a tremendous honor and privilege. 

As a producer, what in your opinion are the biggest obstacles for the in-store marketing industry?  
Online and in-store are truly converging.  Within a few years, we won’t even draw a distinction between the two.  Mobile and Moore’s Law (computing power doubles and cost declines by half every two years) make connectivity the coin of the realm. 

How is Tusco Displays tackling these obstacles?  
Tusco brings technology to bear in design, engineering and production as well as employing it at the store level. 

On Tusco’s website it says, “you get a high level of expertise in shopper psychology, as it relates to P.O.P. displays and retail fixtures.” How do you deliver this? Is there a psychologist on staff?  
Ha!  No, we have to psychologist on staff but we are active learners, reading the literature and finding ways to apply it for our clients – and shoppers - benefit.  Frankly, I’m surprised that more players in our space don’t do more with the rich information available to us all. 

If you don't mind sharing, what are some of the resources you use for finding rich information? 
The first thing that immediately comes to mind is there are terrific trade associations. POPAI being the first among them. They have ample stores of information, case studies, and research that gets assimilated through the association and then gets promoted through the industry in general. But I don't think people have picked up on that, and use it as the tools they can be. 

Anyone can sell you a car and say this is the greatest car ever. You have to have this car. with an opinion, but that's not really salesmanship. That's just an opinion. Give me the data. Well, this car goes this far on this amount of gas. People want the data. We're a data-driven world, so the more data we have, the more they will buy. So accessing that data is important. 

Accessing POPAI, National Retail Foundation, and even the National Association for Manufacturers have really good information that's available to us. So why in the world, are we not all using this? 

Second. There are a lot of good books out there. One of the books that comes to mind is from Paco Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. It's a terrific book. He has the facts and figures to support the idea of what happens in stores,  what impacts what moves into the shoppers' baskets, into their trunks, and into their homes. It all really matters. 

The academic journals that are available, like the one POPAI continually develops. There are universities across the country that support specific retail marketing institutes...The people in academia are hungry to work with people in the industry. I'd love to see that even more so. They have a well of information available. Sometimes you have to dig for it and see how it actually applies to what you're doing. And that's how an association can really help. 

Finally. Certainly online is a great way to access information...You have to be smart on how you search, but it's out there. 

Tusco offers a lot of capabilities like custom metal fabrication, CNC routing, Prototyping, Global Sourcing, Packaging, Screen printing and more, but what would say be your number one specialty?  
We are expert metal fabricators.  We do work beyond displays and store fixtures, including truck parts, fire engine doors, massive tool boxes, cabinets for scientific apparatus, consoles for gaming and more.  Our display clients get the benefit of our manufacturing  expertise. 

What type of clients do you work with?  
For displays and store fixtures, our clients include consumer packaged goods companies, retailers and other display producers who want help in manufacturing.

What’s been your favorite project in the recent years?  
That’s a tough one.  We’ve done some stellar work for Victoria’s Secret that their SVP called “the best display we’ve ever done.”  We’ve collaborated on an Apple iPod/iPad security cabinet for Meijer stores that has proven impervious to theft, a problem that cost Meijer a great deal of money.  Since moving to our solution, they have had ZERO successful thefts.  But, honestly, I’m proud of SO many projects that we’ve done, it’s hard to choose. 

What has been your biggest achievement at Tusco? List a couple if you’d like since you’ve been there for whole career?  
We’ve grown from being a small, regional operator to serving clients throughout N America, all the while competing with manufacturers around the world!  Not bad, eh? 

Let’s talk about the hot topics: 
How does the mobile shopper most affect your company?  
Mobile helps shoppers become better, more confident buyers.  We love working with clients who “get” that.  Mobile can be a marketer’s worst enemy or best friend.  We prefer clients who see it as the latter. 

What’s your opinion on showrooming?  
Showrooming is a boon for our industry because our CPG and retailer clients must get better at what they do.  And we’re here to help make that happen.  Amazon has made Best Buy a better company. 

What’s your favorite kind of interactive display?  
ALL displays are inherently interactive.  Simplicity sells more than sophisticated gadgetry.  When we capture the attention and engage the sense of a shopper, we’re making things happen in-store.  Everybody – shopper, retailer, CPG and display producer – wins. 

What about big data?  
We aren’t seeing Big Data impacting us on a day-to-day basis but I do believe that it will help our CPG and retailer clients strengthen their ability to target consumers, recognize patterns, refine offerings and improve their marketing ROI.  And because in-store is SO effective, our industry will benefit from that improved knowledge. 

With more than 34 years of experience, where do you think in-store displays are going in the future?  
We see clients with an insatiable need for speed.  They want clever, cost-effective solutions NOW.  Things aren’t slowing down so those who learn how to ride the P-O-P bullet train stand to win.  Stores aren’t going away but they must be more engaging, responsive and innovative in attracting consumers.  Our industry makes that happen. 

How do you deal with the clients who want it now? 
It depends on a case-by-case basis. We have that proverbial client and if somebody says "I don't want to mess with this. Here's the purchase order." Then hey, thank you very much. I'll go produce your stuff for ya. We're always trying to press for that follow-up. "So did it work?" The way we have, for more than 15 years, invested in QRM (Quick Response Manufacturing) has helped. When a client says "Go. This is what I want." We want to be able to produce and as quickly as possible. With as little cue time, as little potential time for delay. It's very challenging and you have to continually look for ways to squeeze out your processes. The actually manufacturing time doesn't take as long as the time to prep for the engineering and approvals. 

What's the future for how people are going to buy? 
1. Technology is an increasingly large part. They're always going to be more connected and have more access than ever. But you're still going to want social interaction. Social interaction is important. People still love the social aspect of shopping, something you don't get with online shopping. 

2. We want to be engaged in our senses. In the store you can feel the quality of a product, online you cannot. 

3. We want a personalized store experiences and service. Online does a good job with it, like suggestive selling, but in-store shopping can do the same. Stores are still going to matter. 

What’s the future look like at Tusco?  
We’ve been on a rapid growth trajectory that we intend to continue riding.  It’ll take thoughtful insight, continued investments in our people, processes and capabilities and an ongoing commitment to learning.  From where I sit in exurban Ohio, the future looks bright.                     


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