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Custom Projects Create Profit

When a customer asks you to quote a product that is not straight out of the book, do you run away or dive in to provide a quotation? If you run away, you are obviously not meeting the customer’s specific needs. You are also leaving money on the table and missing a great opportunity to differentiate yourself, your company and the manufacturer you represent.

So how do you know when to sell the customer the special as opposed to the standard? If you can’t find the products in any standard catalog, start thinking about a custom job. It may cost more time and effort, but in the end you will have a better relationship with a satisfied customer who will probably return to do business with you. Also, there are increased profits in specials. The more customized a product is, fewer competitors will produce it, and it differentiates you as a salesperson. By doing a custom job and working with your manufacturer, you come out looking knowledgeable and important to the customer.

Many manufacturers are returning to the old Henry Ford days when he reportedly said, “They can have any color as long as it is black.” It seems that many manufacturers have determined the “one size fits all” mentality brings more profit to their bottom line. But not all manufacturers have this mentality. You need to find those manufacturers who will work with you and your customer to find the custom product that meets the customer’s specific need. By doing so, you earn more money and your company gains a relationship with that customer for future orders.

You can have any color as long as it is black….NOT!

Specials and customs don’t have to be scary and fraught with risk. There are many horror stories of dealer salespeople getting burned from providing an incorrect product, but there are many more stories of great success and happy customers.

But to be successful, there does need to be a change in the relationship between the manufacturer and dealer salesperson. Simply put, there must be more trust and partnership in this type of project. You can’t go it alone.

To ensure that the product completely meets the customer’s requirements, it is critical that the salesperson bring the manufacturer to the table with the customer. Get comfortable with the fact that “they know my customer’s name.”

Any reputable manufacturer will protect your position. To ensure that the right equipment is provided, the experts need to be at the table listening with expert ears. Not that you aren’t talented, but product experts may pick up on requirements you simply don’t hear.

For 99.9 percent of custom projects, custom products start with standard products and add specialized features to minimize the cost for the customer. The extra time the product spends in engineering will vary. Typically, custom projects take eight to twelve weeks from start to purchase order.

The difference in cost between custom versus standard products varies depending on the extent of the changes. A standard lift might cost $10,000 and a custom lift could go up to $200,000 or $300,000. There have been situations in which a custom product has become the standard. This is a result of understanding what your customer’s needs are. A customer might tell you what they need, or come in with something already designed.

The salesperson needs to realize that if they have this need for a certain product, then other customers may as well.

Bottom-line, there is money to be made in special products. To offset the risk of failure, make the manufacturer you choose a partner in the project and trust them to ensure everyone’s needs are met. Avoid specials until you are confident in the partnership with and ability of your manufacturer.

Louis Coleman’s Favorite Specials
  • A drawbridge lift in a zoo allows people to cross the giraffe enclosure, then rises to ease giraffe movement.
  • Surgical horse lifts for the veterinary hospital at Kentucky University. Derby winner Barbaro was suspended in one after his accident.
  • A long, slender lift encloses Red Sox owner John Henry’s box with glass for cold weather games at Fenway Park.
  • A lift for seals at Sea World assists trainers to move heavy mammals.
  • Lifts at Super Bowl venues brought entertainers Madonna, Reba McIntyre and Michael Jackson to the stage and higher during half-time extravaganzas.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Meet the Author
Louis Coleman is the Sales and Marketing Manager at Autoquip Corporation, a manufacturer of scissor lifts, turntables, dock lifts, truck levelers and vertical reciprocating conveyors. A member of MHEDA since 1957, Autoquip is headquartered in Guthrie, Oklahoma, and on the Web at www.autoquip.com.

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