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Bringing Buzz To The Biz

Dave Bratton

 

Dave Bratton
Briggs Equipment
“Now more than ever we need to find the technical guy who can also do the dirty work.”
 

Walter Albasi

 

Walter Albasi
Accurate Lift Truck
“People don’t differentiate between construction equipment and material handling equipment.”
 

Greg Blackwood

 

Greg Blackwood
GB Sales & Service
“Conversations with customers are getting more technical as equipment becomes more computerized.”
 

Jeff Conger

 

Jeff Conger
Bernie’s Equipment Co.
“Most of our promotion is done face to face.”
 

Bob Weeks

 

Bob Weeks
FloStor Engineering
“There is excitement in our industry and exposing young people to it could have a positive impact.”
 
Julie Duvall
Julie Duvall
Atlas Handling Systems
“We need to find people who are very good with technical speak and know the nitty-gritty of the materials, how they work and how to handle them; we also need that person to be good at selling them.”
 

George Malacos

 

George Malacos
Miami Industrial Trucks
“An attractive attribute of our industry is that there are always opportunities.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

How do you describe the material handling industry to someone who doesn’t know anything about it? “Well, I say that we sell forklifts,” explains Dave Bratton, vice president and chief operating officer of Briggs Equipment (Dallas, TX). “And then I take my two fingers, stick them out and move them up and down. I’ve been answering that question the same way for 30 years.”

Bratton’s fingers could well be the mascot of the material handling industry, since most people have at least seen a forklift in action even if they didn’t realize they were witnessing but a small part of the material handling industry. This is a surprising fact since the industry is all around us. With the growing trend of warehouse stores like Home Depot and Sam’s Club, material handling sometimes occurs right out in the open. People know more about the industry than they might think they do. Could it be that they are simply unaware of being aware?

“Forklift Guys”
Distributors know that their industry is largely mysterious to the rest of the world and spend more time promoting their business within the industry rather than outside of it, though they recognize the need to promote the industry as well. Walter Albasi, president and chief executive officer of Accurate Lift Truck (West Berlin, NJ), uses radio advertising to promote his services. “We like to emphasize in the advertisement that we’re forklift guys,” he says. “If you’re working in a trucking terminal or a warehouse, you need a forklift guy.” Greg Blackwood, president of GB Sales & Service (Plymouth, MI), relies more on direct mail and his Web site to promote business. Still other distributors, like Jeff Conger, president of Bernie’s Equipment Co. (Holmen, WI), prefer to use face to face contact when promoting their services.

Got Rack?
Not many distributors have thought about creating more awareness of material handling aside from their own businesses, though if they were given endless resources to do so, they agree that using mass media would be the easiest way to get the world’s attention. Albasi says, “If you want to create awareness, I think you have to use mass media. Like those ‘Got Milk?’ and ‘Beef, It’s What’s for Dinner’ commercials. Those are huge trade groups promoting big, generic items. I believe that kind of advertisement would do well for our industry.”

Some distributors disagree with the idea of spending a lot of money on industry awareness. Bob Weeks, president of FloStor Engineering (Hayward, CA), looks for a good return on the investment. He does think, though, that exposing young people to a career in this industry is a good idea. Especially in areas like automation. “Automation is exciting. As an example, we do a lot of work in the automotive industry and watching a car get built is unbelievable. Parts come together to build a car and you’re building 900 cars a day, it’s almost mind-boggling and the fact that we are involved with that process is amazing. Exposing college students to that excitement might just have a positive impact on our industry,” he says. Like a lot of distributors, he points to his Web site to promote his business and the industry in general because it’s a good place to highlight his company’s capabilities and product descriptions.

Though material handling is still waiting for its leading role in pop culture, it is no stranger to the spotlight – having been in a number of scenes from popular sitcoms and movies over the years (see previous story). GB’s Greg Blackwood has even seen manufacturers like Toyota sneak a forklift into the background of an automobile commercial in an effort to carry the successful branding of the Toyota automobile over to the manufacturer’s industrial vehicles. More prominently, DHL has made an appearance on television with prime-time advertisements during the 2004 Summer Olympics showing all the ways they can get things from one place to another—a fundamental principle of the material handling industry.

May the Force Be with You
While the mass media could festoon celebrity and fame onto almost anything—including the material handling industry—the real prize in creating industry awareness would be the people who come to the industry looking for a career. Distributors agree that it takes a special kind of person to work in our industry and that finding that kind of person is becoming more difficult as technology changes the way we do business. Things are getting more computerized and it’s becoming a situation where brains and brawn are equally important. Dave Bratton says, “It’s very difficult for us as an industry to attract and hold technicians. We need people who are good at working with diagnostics systems and computers, but while they’re doing that, don’t forget they’ve got to change the oil too. So you have to ask yourself, this person is good with the technical aspects of service, with computer systems and such, but is he also the person who wants to get his hands dirty down underneath the truck?” Equally important is the person’s ability to sell and cultivate strong relationships. Greg Blackwood says, “The relationships you have will make or break you in this business. The street salesman is still the most effective tool to get the job,” GB Sales & Services’ Blackwood says. Julie Duvall, senior member of Atlas Handling Systems (Kansas City, MO), adds, “It takes patience to make a long-term sale and be good at it. You need a very capable person to work in this industry. You need a force.”

Get the Grads
So how do you find this person, who can configure software, service a truck engine, close the deal and build lasting relationships with customers? Distributors have been recruiting from colleges and universities with some success but agree that increased awareness of material handling would help to excite and encourage more young grads to choose a career path within the material handling industry. Accurate Lift Truck’s Albasi thinks that distributors should create a case study of their business highlighting the successes and failures of the work they do, and present it to MBA level students. “It would be a great way to get potential executives and show them what our industry can be like,” he says.

George Malacos, president and chairman of Miami Industrial Trucks (Dayton, OH), stresses that an attractive attribute of the material handling business is that it is a cost-saving industry where there are always opportunities—not necessarily the case with other industries in the economy we live in today. He adds, “When people get in this business, they love it. It just gets in your blood. There’s always something to learn, you never get bored. There are challenges every day.”

For all that we lift, push, pull, move, set, hang and store, how can we open the world’s eyes to the excitement of an industry that is all around us? For a business that almost nobody can define, it is ironic that it actually touches everybody in some way. As Albasi says in his definition of material handling, “Everything that you use in your life will be picked up by a forklift at some time, if not multiple times.” Dave Bratton has the fingers to prove it.

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