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The Digital Distributor

MHEDA members increase sales, one byte at a time.

Remember the days in material handling when people imagined technology would ease everybody’s workload and allow for unprecedented leisure time? It was a nice dream. The reality, though, is that technology in the workplace has ramped up the speed of business and elevated competition to never before seen heights. Material handling distributors understand how vital it is to invest in technology that increases workplace efficiency and allows salespeople faster, easier communication with customers, because that’s what today’s customers demand. The proliferation of laptop computers, PDAs, software tools, RFID, wireless Internet and the like has changed the business playing field forever. Discover how MHEDA distributors are using innovative digital tools to increase sales and reap the profits.

Babush Identifies a Sales Strategy with RFID
Fourteen months ago, Babush Material Handling Systems (Sussex, WI) adopted a different perspective on technology to improve sales. “We started working in the RFID world,” says President Chris Shult. “The customer’s need for automation has caused us to continually look for ways to add more value through technology, and RFID is a technological value-added resource we can provide.”

Babush Material Handling Systems

Babush Material Handling Systems' 3,200-square-foot Star Alliance Center offers live demonstrations of RFID technology, including end-to-end product processing from package RFID tagging to material handling via an automated conveyor/palletization system.

Two years ago, one of Babush’s larger customers made a comment about Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and Shult began looking into the possibilities. Ten months later, Babush was in the RFID business. Today, only a small percentage of Babush’s customers have incorporated RFID, but interest continues to rise at a rapid rate, and the company has hosted people from all over North America who’ve flown in to see what Babush has to offer.

The jewel in Babush Material Handling Systems’ crown is its Star Alliance Center for RFID, which serves as an equipment showroom and working test lab to demonstrate RFID to customers. “RFID is a buzzword right now,” Shult says. “We developed the Star Alliance Center to provide a turnkey solution to satisfy our customers so they can meet their customers’ mandate.”

The equipment showroom was set up in 2001 when Babush built its current facility, and then was modified last year to accommodate RFID. The Star Alliance Center contains $400,000 to $500,000 worth of equipment, and it never fails to impress. “From what we understand, there’s maybe one other setup like this in the country,” says Shult. “It really helps demonstrate our capabilities.”

The Star Alliance Center serves as the ultimate technological sales tool. Babush offers prospective RFID customers a demonstration showing how the system reads the RFID tag and the tag’s serial number follows the box around on the conveyor. “It’s hard to measure and say that because somebody came here to see the Star Alliance Center, they bought from us,” notes Shult. “But if they come to our facility and see the investment we’ve made, it lends credibility to the type of company we are.”

It’s been a learning curve for Babush’s employees as well. Salespeople had to learn what an RFID tag is, what it’s capable of, what the equipment is capable of, and what Wal-Mart and other big box stores are mandating from their suppliers, Babush’s customers. Both salespeople and engineers had to learn new product technology from top to bottom. But through the equipment showroom and Star Alliance Center, employees get hands-on training that wouldn’t be available elsewhere.

Shult believes that the Star Alliance Center and its RFID capabilities provide Babush Material Handling Systems with a clear technological advantage, and it’s an advantage he intends to press. “RFID is still relatively immature, so the technology is changing pretty constantly. We continue to develop our RFID capabilities, and that’s where we will focus our investment.”

Tech Tip: Combating E-Mail Overload

mailboxIn a recent National Public Radio segment, business consultant Marilyn Paul offered ways to manage e-mail overload:

  1. Meet as a team to review e-mail use. Identify what works, what doesn’t and why. Create a trial period for improvement and meet to discuss after a week.
  2. Use subject-line protocols to speed communication. Examples are: No reply needed — NRN; Thank you — TY; Need response by date and time — NRB 10/30 3:00 pm; and Use subject line for whole message — Meet 10:00 10/30 Okay? END
  3. Determine who needs to be copied on what, what needs to be read, and what needs to be filed.
  4. Keep e-mails short. Most should be no more than one to ten sentences. Communicate your main point in the first sentence or two. Don’t make readers work because you don’t have time to focus.
  5. Don’t deliver bad news in an e-mail message. If it’s urgent, pick up the phone. Use tone of voice to indicate concern, but not anger.
  6. 6 After two rounds of problem-solving on e-mail, pick up the phone.
  7. Don’t hide behind e-mail. Any sensitive communications should be done in person.
  8. If you can’t answer a request immediately, let the other party know when you can respond, or if you can’t.
  9. No emotional e-mails. To resolve a conflict, schedule a meeting or use the phone. E-mail arguments tend to be huge time-wasters. Never send a hasty, irritated response to an annoying e-mail—jobs have been lost that way.

A Can-Do Attitude at Maybury Material Handling
Technology is changing the culture at Maybury Material Handling (East Longmeadow, MA), but President John Maybury notes, “It changes only as quickly as we can change.” The most important technology investment the company has made in the last several years is the development of a single database that contains all relevant customer contacts and data. “This way, we don’t have customer contacts in one database, delivery contacts in another and prospecting contacts somewhere else,” says Maybury. “It all resides in one single database, and we continue to develop that platform.”

Maybury Material HandlingThe database serves as the foundation for Maybury Material Handling’s entire back office system. The company has its own internally developed CRM software, as well as an intranet site that provides employees with access to vital data, extranet sites for its customers and an Internet site. All Maybury salespeople use notebook computers that allow them to access the company’s intranet from their desks, their homes or on the road through Virtual Private Networking (VPN). Today, the company offers electronic ordering, acknowledgments, invoicing and payments, all of which help Maybury move information between it and its customers and suppliers faster and more accurately than ever.

Maybury began its technological overhaul six years ago, but it’s within the last two years that the company truly has begun to reap the benefits. Processes that used to take employees hours or even days now can be accomplished in minutes. In the past, the company used to maintain physical folders for each of its projects. Those folders were stored in the building, and if an employee needed information from a project folder, he or she needed to ask someone to locate the folder and either fax the information or read it over the phone. In some cases, multiple files existed, because different data were relevant to different departments. Today, the company scans all the documentation and files electronic documents in electronic folders, which are available to any employee with the requisite permission. “We are taking a tremendous amount of waste, in the form of duplicate records and unnecessary paper, and eliminating it from the process,” says Maybury. “We can see the improvement measurably in terms of productivity and a reduction in the physical space the files take up.”

PDAs Make Cultural Impact

A recent story on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition outlined what it called a “PDA Culture War,” specifically BlackBerries. A BlackBerry is a wireless, handheld computer with Internet, e-mail and phone call capabilities. The BlackBerry and its ilk have developed an almost cult-like devotion from its users, who have developed their own language about the machines. Heavy users call themselves “Crackberry Addicts” and the name “BlackBerry Prayer” has been given to the act of glancing down during a meeting to check messages.

Some researchers claim the wireless devices are a distraction to the user and an annoyance to others. However, users disregard these claims and say the main problem results from an over-abundance of information available at their fingertips. For material handling distributors, BlackBerries are both good and bad—especially during a meeting!

A system this extensive requires constant reinvestment, and John Maybury acknowledges that the company spends “on the plus side of six figures” each year on technology. Besides hardware and software investments, Maybury Material Handling takes extensive care to make sure all its employees are armed with the necessary technological know-how, and this year Maybury applied for and received a grant from the state of Massachusetts for workforce training and development. The company sends employees to off-site training for specific software programs, and also houses two on-site computer stations for online training.

Currently, Maybury Material Handling is looking at BlackBerry PDA technology for its salespeople, and some Maybury employees are experimenting with the use of instant messenger (IM) technology. “I don’t think IM is too far away from becoming a common business tool, so we need to be prepared for that next generation of workers who commonly use instant messenger for communication,” says John Maybury.

Maybury is passionate about the importance of technology in the modern workplace, and has demonstrated his company’s technology investments to other material handling distributors, as well as hosting teleconferences. “We need to look at technology as a tool to operate our businesses better,” he says. “Those who do the best with it will have a competitive advantage and reap the profits.”

Hy-Tek Adopts a High-Tech Approach to Marketing
“Our objective is to be the best marketing organization we can be,” says Hy-Tek Material Handling (Columbus, OH) President Sam Grooms. Hy-Tek is in the process of implementing a new operating system throughout the company and integrating new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. Before instituting a quality CRM, Hy-Tek “shotgun marketed” everything to its entire client list: conveyor information was sent to customers who don’t buy conveyor, lift truck information was sent to customers who don’t use lift trucks, and so on. There was no easy way to target particular clientele. “With the CRM,” says Grooms, “we can go right to the market we want to approach, and it’s all done electronically.” It’s also helped the company react quickly to the market—a full marketing program, from printing to mailing, can be accomplished within 48 hours.

Hy-Tek Material Handling

Hy-Tek sales staff rely on the latest in computer software technology to keep information about their clients available at their fingertips.

Hy-Tek’s technology investments are designed to help employees communicate more easily with clients and offer customers faster turnaround for their requests. Salespeople carry laptop computers and PDAs, and the company maintains a Web-based quoting program that salespeople can access through Hy-Tek’s network. “We can produce proposals right on the spot that before might have taken two or three days, and the salesperson can hook the laptop up to a printer on site and print it right there,” says Grooms. “Drawings used to take two to three weeks to produce, then a week to turn around. Now, what used to take a week can be done in an hour, and we can communicate back and forth via the Internet and show the client what we’re looking at online in real time.”

The company also archives files and quotes from past years for easy reference on its servers. The need for physical filing space is greatly reduced, and the electronic files allow employees to look up every last detail pertaining to a particular record. The company maintains seven servers in its Columbus headquarters and two to three remote servers in each of its three branches. Last fall, Hy-Tek spent $150,000 to update its servers in order to communicate more quickly among its various branches and between the company and its clients. In fact, each year, Hy-Tek invests between one-half and one percent of sales in new technology. “There’s always going to be a continuous upgrade, and as long as we continue to grow, we’ve got to be able to support the various offices in an efficient manner,” notes Grooms. “But it’s like any other investment—we have to get a return on our investment.”

As Hy-Tek Material Handling moves forward in its technology investments, Grooms hopes to establish a paperless system that no longer will require technicians to bring paperwork into the office, but instead allow them to communicate with the office via wireless laptops. The company also is upgrading all its AutoCAD systems, which is another substantial investment. “We’ll continue to make investments as technology improves,” says Grooms, “and we’ll continue to improve with it and become a better company as a result.”

Wireless Web Access for Wisconsin Lift Truck
The Internet has revolutionized every aspect of how Wisconsin Lift Truck (Brookfield, WI) does business. Communication with customers increasingly is done via e-mail. The ability of customers to research Wisconsin Lift Truck via its Web site has changed the competitive playing field. An internal CRM allows the company to examine patterns of activity and the results of that activity, which further enables communication between sales representatives and management.

Wisconsin Lift Truck

Wisconsin Lift Truck's salespeople are able to utilize wireless technology, including cellular phones and laptop computers, to do business anywhere, anytime.

“There’s a whole array of information surrounding our sales representatives and their relationship with our company that we now accomplish through electronic transmissions,” says COO Jerry Weidmann. “Our technology investments are market-driven in the sense that we pay attention to where our customers are going, and internally driven because we’re focused on continuous improvement of the business.”

Most of Wisconsin Lift Truck’s customers are very comfortable with e-mail and electronic attachments. A few years ago, that wasn’t the case. It’s an evolutionary process for both customers and employees, Weidmann notes. The company dedicates resources for training employees to use computers and the Web. “I think in ten years, most people coming into our system will have familiarity with computers and the Internet and wouldn’t even think of doing business any other way,” says Weidmann. “But for now, we continue to offer training for people who weren’t raised on PCs.”

Today, all Wisconsin Lift Truck salespeople are provided with PCs or laptops for use at home, and most have high-speed cable Internet connections. The company also has implemented a major push toward wireless network access so sales representatives can maintain constant electronic communication with the office and their customers. Currently, just over 10 percent of Wisconsin Lift Truck salespeople have computers enabled for wireless access. By the end of the year, the company expects to raise that figure to 60 percent.

The company also relies on the Internet to research prospective customers. Wisconsin Lift Truck generates leads through telesales, and those leads are sent through the company’s internal CRM, which will produce an e-mail for the salesperson with the customer’s name and contact number. The system provides a convenient interface for tracking itineraries and reporting call histories.

Hundreds of electronic forms are available to employees through the company’s intranet site so that salespeople can coordinate demos, request quotes on custom work, and perform a host of other customer-related and internal processes. The company intranet also provides access to human resources information, birthdays, anniversaries, company events, phone directories and training tools.

The company is moving toward providing extranet sites for its customers to provide them with information they need about their business with Wisconsin Lift Truck, and hopes to accomplish that in the near future. “We use a broad spectrum of technological applications,” says Weidmann. “It’s all designed to help us streamline our process and provide a better, faster response to our customers.”

Tech Tip: Brighten Up Your Voice Mail

Phone receiverIn a recent National Public Radio segment, business consultant Marilyn Paul offered ways to manage e-mail overload:

Voice mail remains a large frustration in this busy business world. To reduce its annoyance, here are the five most frustrating phrases that your callers do not want to hear, courtesy of Nancy Friedman, president of Telephone Doctor, a customer service training company.

  1. “I’m not at my desk right now.” What a boring statement. Live a little. Let your callers know where you ARE—not where you’re not. Tell them, “I am in the office all this week” OR “I’m in a sales meeting till 3 p.m.” Let them know if you do or don’t check messages.
  2. “Your call is very important to me.” A big time waster. The caller is thinking, “Well, if I’m so darn important, where the heck are you?” And then again, maybe the call isn’t so important to you. You just don’t need this phrase.
  3. “I’m sorry I missed your call.” How dull. Of course you are. (Although, there are probably some that you’re not sorry to have missed.) Leave this phrase out! Use the time for something more valuable, like where you are, when you will return or who they can call for help.
  4. “I’ll call you back as soon as possible.” Not interesting and not fun, and based on surveys, probably not true. Most people don’t return phone calls in a timely fashion. If you’re telling your callers you’ll call them back, make sure you do. Unreturned phone calls rank high on the frustration list. “As soon as possible” is not an effective phrase. All you need is to say, “I will call you back.” Then do it! Or have it returned on your behalf.
  5. No escape. Remember to tell callers to hit zero for the operator if they need more information, or better yet, give them another name and extension.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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