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Plant Tour Best Practices
On Sunday, May 22 and Monday, May 23, the GM metal stamping plant in Parma, Ohio opened its doors to the local community.  From beginning to end, this...   Read More

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Forced to relocate due to highway construction, Stripmatic Products Inc. not only moved its entire operation within three weeks, but maintained delive...   Read More

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Home > Case Studies

The GM Parma Metal Center Is a Cut Above

Holly Fitzgerald and Lori Snetsinger,

On Sunday, May 22 and Monday, May 23, the GM metal stamping plant in Parma, Ohio opened its doors to the local community. The guests got up close and personal with the stamping presses and saw how stamping dies craft parts for well-known GM vehicles. From beginning to end, this GM plant tour was exceptionally well-planned and executed. This case study outlines what the Parma GM plant did to make this a successful event and includes a checklist of best practices. Dates of future events are provided for those who wish to experience a GM plant tour for themselves. 

Like all good marketing, local plant tours have a message and a call to action; that is, what you want the participants to remember and what you want the participant to do after the tour. The GM Parma Metal Center delivered a clear message to the participants: GM plants are safe, responsibly-managed facilities that leverage modern technology to create a safe, efficient place to work; and GM plants and people make a positive contribution to the community. This message was complimented by a subtle, but solid call to action: If you are impressed by what you see here today, our cars will impress you too. Support this plant, support your community. Buy GM cars.

Before a plant tour begins, it must be promoted to the community and requires a process to register guests and provide attendees with the information they need to participate. In the case of the Parma GM plant, an extensive article about the plant and the tour was published in the Sunday newspaper. You can read the article by clicking here. Localized advertising is also an option. The GM plant ran an ad in the local newspaper to raise awareness about the event. Guests registered at local dealerships for specific dates and times to prevent overcrowding and to simplify the plant visitor check-in process. Not only did this provide the plant with information on who would attend, but it tied the activities of the plant to the retail activities of the dealerships. The dealerships were well prepared to welcome guests and collect registration information. Receptionists and sales people comfortably answered questions. It was clear that a number of the sales representatives had already taken a plant tour. This lent depth and excitement to their conversations with registrants.Article-22_arrival-tent_250x160 

On the day of the tour, the first order of business is to make sure guests are able to find the tour parking and entrance. The Parma plant made sure this was very easy by constructing a large white tent in the parking lot of the plant. The plant also had police officers directing traffic on the street in order to avoid confusion. Inside the tent, guests were directed to the registration table. While waiting, guests were able to look at table top displays about the facility and GM itself. 

From the tent, tour groups were directed to the plant, which took them through a walkway above the road. In the walkway were several pictures of the plant from yesteryear and large signs sharing information on the plant’s history as well as its operations. The plant was able to gain the interest of the guests before the tour began by providing relevant plant information to the participants through this self-guided introduction. At the end of the walkway, a holding area enabled guests to view displays set up by the Union and other organizations, including employee groups and local charities supported by the GM stamping plant. Next came a waiting room with seating where old and new Chevy commercials were played on a large screen. This is a perfect example of engaging guests as they wait to begin the tour. Using a number of small holding areas that are fun and educational extends the tour while keeping guests interested and patient. These holding areas are great opportunities to provide information that supports the event message and sets the stage for the physical plant tour.

The last stop before beginning the tour was the plant auditorium where guests were thanked for coming, reassured that they would be safe in the facility, and shown a brief plant safety video. In addition, the tour guide explained what to expect during the tour of the plant floor. From here, guests were escorted to a tram loading station and given safety goggles and ear plugs for their protection. There were plenty of employees on hand to pass out the safety equipment at this stage. By showing the safety video and discussing the tour process, participant concerns and confusion were averted. It also demonstrated how deeply GM cares about visitor safety and, by association, employee safety.Article-22_tour-tram_250x160 

During the plant tour, guests were driven through the facility on small trams equipped with speakers that allowed guests to hear the tour guide over the forming equipment noise. Employees were available at the tram loading area to ensure that guests were loaded in an orderly fashion. The employees also ensured that guests who came in groups were seated together. The entire tour process: welcome, safety, loading and exit mirrored the best practices in crowd management, queuing and ride on-boarding used by amusement parks.

Though the plant is a noisy place, guests were able to hear their tour guide over the tram speakers as they rode through the plant. Points of interest throughout the tour were clearly labeled, and guests were able to see the metal forming process in real time. This was a powerful experience, as running stamping presses towered at heights of two stories and impressive robotic welders worked in harmony with people.Article-22_plant-tour_250x160 

The Parma plant did two things to make the tour truly unique. First, it parked new cars, such as the Chevy Cruze, in the plant to show the tour participants which cars included parts made at the location. This made it easy for participants to relate the large presses to parts of cars being produced in that plant.   

 Article-22_tour-diagram_250x160Second, the plant placed diagrams next to the GM vehicles parked at the points of interest. The diagrams depicted car parts and showed which parts were stamped at the facility. The diagrams also showed that many of the parts made at the Parma center protect the driver in the event of a collision. By connecting the plant to parts of vehicles associated with driver safety, the tour created a tangible positive message and a lasting memory for participants. 

As the plant tour ended, guests arrived at a display area with information booths, a number of new GM vehicles, and employees ready to answer questions. Here, guests could enter to win a new car and other prizes by taking a short quiz. Quiz questions were phrased to reinforce the key selling points of the new GM models with parts manufactured at the Parma plant. Participants were not rushed out of the plant. They were encouraged to ask questions and talk with GM employees about the GM Metal Center and owning GM vehicles. The message and call to action delivered throughout the plant tour were reinforced in a fun and engaging way at the exit.

The duration of the tour from arrival to departure was approximately an hour, with twenty of those minutes spent inside the active manufacturing areas of the plant. This was the perfect amount of time for guests to experience first-hand a safe, responsibly-managed plant, and hear clear positives messages that were tangibly supported during the tour without being overwhelmed. Because participants were entertained from beginning to end, this hour flew by. The GM dealerships were able to gather contact information to support future sales of GM vehicles through the registration process and the end of tour activities.

This is an example of an extremely well-run metal stamping plant tour. If you want to see a GM plant tour for yourself, attend one of these upcoming events:

  • July 28th: Lordstown Complex; Warren, OH
  • August 18th: Wixom Performance Build Center; Wixom, MI
  • August 19th: Bedford Powertrain; Bedford, IN
  • August 26th: Romulus Engine; Romulus, MI
  • September 15th: Wentville Assembly, Wentville, MO
  • September 21st-23rd: Fairfax Assembly; Fairfax, KS
  • September 30th: Lansing Area Manufacturing Plants; Lansing, MI

Considering a plant tour for elected officials? American Composites Manufacturers Association has a guide that speaks to the challenges specific to that audience, which can be found here.

Things to think about for your community relations plant tour:

Before:

  • Message: What do you want participants to walk away knowing?  This must be determined before any other steps are completed!  Your plant tour must have a purpose.  Do you want participants to know that your plant is a safe place to work, that 
  • Registration: How will participants get registered for the event?  Keep in mind; it is useful to know who will be coming to your facility. 
  • Promotion: How will you promote your event?  Can you involve other members of your value chain (i.e. local dealerships) to help promote the event in your community?  How will you involve employees and their families in getting the word out about your plant tour? How will you involve and manage local press before, during and after the event?  Are private tours, press kits and background material needed to make it easy for the local press to support your event? 
  • Inclusion: Who else should be included in planning this event; local charities, unions, employees, local government officials and safety forces, etc.? What’s in it for them?  How can each of these groups make the tour special, more enjoyable or simpler for your tour participants?  
  • Crowd Management: How do you prevent too many people from arriving at the same time? How will guests know where they are supposed to go when they arrive?  Where do they park?  Which entrance are they supposed to use?  Where do they enter the building?  Can you enlist the help of local police officers to help direct traffic?  Make sure you clearly label the entrances so guests are not wandering aimlessly. 
  • Protect Trade Secrets: Do you have specialized die setups or other trade secrets that could be photographed or videotaped by cell phone-toting guests?  Consider posting “No Photography” signs at the entry point and plotting a path of the tour that avoids exposing trade secrets. 

During:

  • Managing Wait Times: How can you anticipate wait times?  How can you make these times a positive part of the experience?  Can you provide displays, videos, refreshments, games, etc. that reinforce your message? 
  • Safety: How will you keep participants safe?  What do they need to know (i.e. evacuation plans)?  How can you do so without making this a frightening experience? How will you cope with tour and health related accidents involving tour participants?  How will you know who is in your facility with tour guests moving in and out? 
  • Transportation: How will guests navigate your facility?  Will they be walking, or will you provide transportation (i.e. golf carts, trollies)?  If you will be using a vehicle to take guests through the plant, make sure they can hear the tour guide via speakers, FM headsets tuned into the tour guide’s headset, etc. 
  • Path: Plan the path through the facility carefully.  How can you make the tour make sense?  Can you relate it to something they will understand?  Should you create signage for key points of interest? 
  • Production Impact: Are you planning to continue producing during the tour?  If so, who will replace workers that are involved in the tour?  How will you manage the tour traffic so that it does not affect production and employees safety?  On the flipside, how will you manage production so that it doesn’t impact the safety of tour participants? 

After:

  • Rewards: How can you reward your employees for their involvement?  After all, they are the ones who set the tone for the tour- reward them for their hard work, dedication and smiles! 
  • Reinforcement and Call to Action: How can you reinforce the message you delivered to participants during the tour?  What can you do to help them remember what they learned?  How do you want tour participants to behave after the tour?  Can you implement a call to action in this reinforcement? 
  • Using the Information: How can you use the contact information you received as a result of this tour to reinforce messages and enable the call to action? 

Discussion Question:

What other best practices would you recommend when hosting a plant tour?

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