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Working Together To Make The Sale

Thomas Edison once said, “The three great essentials to achieving anything worthwhile are: first, hard work; second, stick-to-it-iveness; and third, common sense.” It is doubtful that Mr. Edison was referring to material handling sales when he made that statement, but he may as well have been. Successful salespeople in this industry must work hard to locate prospects and seek out projects. They must be persistent to close the sale, and they must have enough resources and good sense to solve the customer’s problems.

The distributors below exemplify these traits, along with another: communication. Successful distributors and manufacturers must communicate and work in concert with each other to make sure they meet the customers’ needs. We salute our industry salespeople, the men and women who make the sales that keep cash flowing and profits rising.


Forklift Accountability Has United Appeal

Summary: Operator ID unit tracks driving habits to reduce machine downtime.
Distributor: Lift, Inc.
Manufacturer: Shockwatch

United Natural Foods, one of the largest wholesale distributors to the natural and organic foods industry, operates 10 regional distribution centers strategically located across the United States. The Mid-Atlantic region is served from a 270,000-square-foot distribution center located in New Oxford, Pennsylvania, that handles 18,000 different items in a three-shift operation with 340 employees, 135 of whom are trained and certified to operate 25 forklifts (9 order pickers, 13 reach type and 3 pacers).

Facility Equipment Technician Bill Travis was concerned with the driving habits of some lift truck operators. While working at a prior employer, Travis learned about truck accessories that measure and record impact events, sound alarms and warn management. Travis investigated and found the Shockswitch ID system, a product of Dallas, Texas-based Shockwatch.

(l-r) Bill Travis, Wojtek Patynowski, Scott Merrick

(from left) United Natural Foods Facility Equipment Technician Manager Bill Travis and Facility Manager Wojtek Patynowski demonstrate the Shockwatch's key ID system with Lift, Inc. salesperson Scott Merrick.

Shockwatch Regional Manager Ron Pignatello joined local dealer sales rep Scott Merrick of Lift, Inc., on a personal visit to the New Oxford facility. Pignatello and Merrick demonstrated the Shockswitch system, which controls forklift access by requiring a prospective driver to “log on” with a simple key device, personally assigned to each authorized driver. Supervisors use a similar key to download stored information from the truck-mounted ID units and transfer the data to the Shockmate management software package on their office computer. Each driver’s key contains a unique number by which a licensed lift truck driver can be identified. Each unit on board a particular truck senses, records and reports such data as abnormal impacts, exact time of abnormal impact, operator identity, truck operating history, truck maintenance history, and the date when required operator retraining is due.

After the initial sales presentation, Merrick arranged and hosted a visit to an existing Shockswitch ID end-user location where United Natural Foods delegates were able to witness a real system at work and query some actual users. Merrick then helped Travis and his staff install two sample units and the companion operating software. The test units underwent a three-month trial, after which the units were installed on the remainder of the fleet.

Merrick followed up closely during the installation and training period. United Natural Foods’ management followed the full Shockwatch program recommendations concerning operator adjustment and gradual behavior modification. Three months were dedicated to operator training and familiarity with the new system. Initially, units were programmed simply to sound an alarm for “operator awareness” of rough driving practices. On January 1, the full program was implemented with operator record retention and incident logging.

“I like the Shockswitch units because they build awareness of the cost of accidents,” Travis says. “Our actual results so far indicate we will more than realize our goals. We already are showing that a starting level of 50 hits per week has dropped to 20 hits per week. A hit is defined as an impact exceeding company operating standards, which often leads to damage, repair costs and downtime.”

Based on the success of the trial, United Natural Foods plans to expand the program to all company locations.


Trails Of Trust, Reliability Steer This Sale

Summary: Hybrid trailers reduce forklift traffic in customer plant.
Distributor: Bastian Material Handling LLC
Manufacturer: Faultless-Nutting

Dave Leverson, a field sales engineer at Bastian Material Handling LLC (Indianapolis, IN), has built a relationship of trust with a large automotive electronics manufacturer in Kokomo, Indiana. The manufacturer purchased a number of trailers from Bastian over the years and keeps coming back for more. “That’s a good indicator that they’ve been happy with what they’ve been getting,” Leverson says. So when the manufacturer wanted to reduce forklift traffic in its plant—to address safety issues for workers—they approached Leverson to help solve the problem.

Leverson contacted Kevin LeMieux, a sales engineer at Faultless-Nutting, because he knew the vendor had a history of customizing designs for this customer on previous orders. Leverson says the customer never seems to order out of the catalog, and this order—their largest—was no exception. The customer needed 25-pound hybrid steering trailers that could handle a half-pallet load and move easily by hand within the manufacturing cells in the plant. The hybrid design allows the customer flexibility—when the towing tongue is down, the vehicle acts as a four-wheel steering trailer, and when it is up, it works as a manually moved cart.

25-pound steering trailers custom-designed by Faultless-Nutting

The 25-pound steering trailers custom-designed by Faultless-Nutting can handle loads up to half a pallet, ensuring flexibility in the customer's manufacturing plant.

Ergonomics was a key selling point, as the customer was concerned about the bending involved with hitching and unhitching the tow tongue. But Faultless-Nutting engineered a D-handle, which eliminated the need to reach down when adjusting the tongue.

LeMieux used Faultless-Nutting’s eDrawings software, which was especially helpful for concept and design because approval was needed from both technical and non-technical people. Leverson then could open a computer file and view a 3-D model of Faultless-Nutting’s design, which he then could rotate in all directions, and send it off to the customers. Leverson says showing the customer the sketches early in the process was a very powerful sales tool.

The customer purchased 24 hybrid steering trailers that were 24 inches wide, 15 inches long and 9 inches high and used 6-inch hard rubber wheels. The $20,000 order was shipped in August 2005.


Heubel Fills Customer Need With Custom Solution

Summary: Heavy-duty, custom-designed pallet inverters delivered despite short production schedule.
Distributor: Heubel Material Handling Inc.
Manufacturer: Cherry’s Industrial Equipment

With 32 locations in North America, Omaha, Nebraska-based Millard Refrigerated Services is one of the continent’s largest third-party cold storage companies. Heubel Material Handling Inc. (Kansas City, MO) has been a supplier to Millard for several years, providing them with Raymond lift equipment, carton clamps and pallet inverters, which are integral to Millard’s cold-storage operations.

When Millard receives product on pallets, each layer must sit on a thin plastic spacer to ensure proper freezing. Once the product is frozen, the spacers must be removed for shipping. In the past, removing those spacers was a time-consuming task. A worker spent 10 to 15 minutes per pallet to take apart each layer by hand, box by box, to get to the separator between each level.

Heubel Vice President Chris Cella worked with Cherry’s Industrial Equipment General Manager John Costello to provide custom-manufactured PSM Freezer Spacer Removal Machines. These hydraulic machines tilt pallets on their sides for easy spacer removal, shortening the process to about 90 seconds.

Pallet inverter from Cherry's Industrial Equipment

Pallet inverters from Cherry's Industrial Equipment make spacer removal easy for cold storage company.

Millard is a big customer for Heubel, and they are very precise in their requirements. They also demand quality equipment, sometimes running it 24/7. They wanted the standard product to be built to a much heavier-duty specification, so Cherry’s developed more durable components with a bigger power pack.

“We took a standard product and made it application-specific,” Cella says. While the equipment’s normal standards are 3,500 pounds and 72 inches, the Millard machines have a larger jaw opening and capacity of 4,000 pounds and hold pallets up to 96 inches tall.

While preparing its new warehouse in Mobile, Alabama, Millard required a very short lead time on four new pallet inverters. “Typically, these take about four to six weeks to manufacture,” Costello says. “But as the building came along, they called us and gave us a delivery date of August 15, only three weeks away.”

Cherry’s rearranged its production schedule to accommodate the order. Four pieces were shipped on August 12 and arrived on August 15, right on schedule. “It was the result of all three of us working together to solve the problem in a way that met their requirement exactly,” says Cella.


Internet Gamble Pays Off For Cass Hudson

Cass Hudson Company (Elkhart, IN) doesn’t normally deal with government contracts, but for the past few years, President Eric Larson has been registering on Central Contractors Registration (www.ccr.gov)—a government Web site—hoping for the opportunity to bid on a large project. Larson compares it to gambling because the odds of actually getting that chance are so low. Even if you get that rare opportunity and your company is selected out of the 373,101 active vendors in the database, your bid still has a slim probability of being selected.

Summary: Online bid leads to large caster order.
Distributor: Cass Hudson Company
Manufacturer: Albion Industries

Larson got lucky this summer when he received an e-mail asking if Cass Hudson wanted to bid on a government contract for casters that would be sent to Unicore, a company that fabricates products for penitentiaries. These casters were headed to prisons in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, where inmates put them on carts for the U.S. Postal Service.

Kathy DeWitt, Cass’s head of customer service, responded quickly to the e-mail and developed a rapport with Unicore personnel, who assisted her with the bidding process. Because DeWitt submitted the bid early, she had the opportunity to consult with Unicore about any errors in the paperwork, which they helped her rectify.

DeWitt also approached Kerry Eason, the regional sales manager at Albion Industries, to help develop the casters, which required a special-sized top plate for the 5-inch x 2-inch wheels and a 3/8-inch bolt instead of the normal 5/16-inch bolt. That also required special bolt hole patterns. Albion personnel already knew the specs for the project because its sister company, Colson Associates, had gotten the same contract in the past, which helped Cass Hudson come in low on cost on its bid. DeWitt was diligent in answering every question posed in the 80-page application, and then double-checked every question. That attention to detail is what landed the sale.

The project called for 80,000 casters for the mail carts. A large portion of the contract was awarded to an import caster manufacturer, but because the company had to ship the casters overseas, they wouldn’t arrive for 12 to 14 weeks. DeWitt, working closely with Eason, assured Unicore that she could put the first shipment in their hands in three weeks, which landed them the preliminary section of the project—a $250,000 contract for 19,000 casters. Cass Hudson shipped everything in four weeks and the project was completed on schedule in June 2005.


Bastian Helps Customer Spiral Into Control

Summary: Maximizing customer’s space efficiency makes the sale.
Distributor: Bastian Material Handling LLC
Manufacturer: AmbaFlex

When Navarre Distribution, a distributor of entertainment media based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, outgrew its old warehouse, it wanted to upgrade its cumbersome picking methodology. The company usually picked to pallets on forklifts and took the pallets to a packing station where they were prepared for shipping.

Navarre turned to Keogh Consulting, who developed an initial concept for Navarre’s new warehouse design. Keogh then suggested long-time partner Bastian Material Handling LLC (Indianapolis, IN) who was awarded the contract after making some small changes to the design. Bastian installed a system using two three-level pick modules, wave management software and voice-directed picking.

Bastian Regional Manager Bob Miller, PE says the project was challenging for a couple of reasons. “We had to handle a very wide range of products—CDs, DVDs, software, etc. Historically on pick-and-pass conveyor systems, there are totes. This system picked directly into the shipping container.”

AmbaFlex spiral conveyors

AmbaFlex spiral conveyors allowed the customer to maximize its warehouse space.

Two three-level pick modules, with expansion for a third, are the basis of the system, which in total required about 5,000 feet of linear conveyor. The design also called for spiral conveyors to re-circulate items both within and between pick modules. The amount of inclines and declines would have used too much space with conventional conveyor belts.

Miller and Systems Sales Consultant Mark Gaskill reviewed some suppliers for the spiral conveyor. “We decided that AmbaFlex used a very efficient design and was low-maintenance, long-lasting and good value for the customer,” Gaskill says. “The spirals are very compact, so it let us maximize the space efficiency in the warehouse.”

The two men worked with AmbaFlex President Phil Miller and Sales Rep Shane Gonzalez to secure the order. “The AmbaFlex spirals were noteworthy because they required no adjustment, troubleshooting, lubrication or maintenance,” Bob Miller says. “It’s neat because distribution companies traditionally had not been willing to pay for chain spirals like AmbaFlex. The best success is that there was no battle at all. We put them in and forgot about them.” The spirals performed so well that the customer is considering more.

All told, the project was about a $2.5 million project for Bastian.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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