The material handling industry can be a scary place for those standing at its edge, peering in for the first time. Unfamiliar terms and unique equipment seem to tower over those new to the industry, and it can be easy to feel lost in the maze. Everyone is new to the industry at some point; we asked Edgers what challenges they faced and how they found their way “out of the woods.”
It’s Scary for Everyone at First
Everybody has to start somewhere, and the unknown can be scary. “I’d seen a forklift before,” says Jason Morisse, shop foreman at the Atlanta, Georgia, branch of Briggs Equipment (Dallas, TX), “but beyond that, I didn’t know much about the truck in general.”
In agreement is James Otis, sales representative for E.D. Farrell Company (West Seneca, NY), who started out on the service side of the company’s operations, and felt scared by the prospect of controlling huge machinery that was capable of doing real damage if not handled properly.
Dan Zinn, vice president of sales and marketing at OKI Systems Limited (Cincinnati, OH), says, “It was my first management job in a new industry, selling products and services I knew almost nothing about. It was a leap of faith on all fronts.” Amid the fear, though, he trusted in the company and the people around him. “I took comfort in the fact that the company had been in business for 30 years at that point,” he says, “and I was counting on its good reputation.”
No matter how much you prepare or how long you’re in the industry, mistakes will still happen. “It’s no fun going to your boss and saying, ‘Well, we just sold this forklift, and by the way- we have to bring it back because it doesn’t work!’” says Chris Beckman, sales manager for Gregory Poole Equipment (Raleigh, NC). Just remember that a mistake isn’t the end of the world. “You do that one time and it opens your eyes,” Beckman notes. “You do it a second time, and you realize you need to change what you’re doing.”
There Are No Stupid Questions
The biggest piece of advice from Edgers on overcoming the initial fear is, ask. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions and sound stupid,” Brigg’s Jason Morisse says, and James Otis from E.D. Farrell encourages Edgers to pick the brains of those with more experience. “I took it upon myself to ask as many questions as they could tolerate,” he says.
Seek help wherever you can find it. “I swallowed my pride and asked for help from everyone,” OKI Systems’ Dan Zinn says, “including the people that reported to me.” Edgers urge those new to the industry to rely heavily on the voices of experience within a company. “Among the biggest assets we have in this industry are our service techs,” says Jason Morrisse. “There’s a vast amount of knowledge and experience there.”
Edgers are quick to point out that you can be your own woest enemy if you’re too focused on your own words. “Sit back and listen instead of talking,” urges Jason Eitreim, Houston market manager for Cisco-Eagle (Dallas, TX).
While asking questions may be uncomfortable for some, Edgers cannot stress that tactic’s importance enough. “Seeking to learn more provides me with the ammunition that I need to be able to confidently walk into any situation.” E.D. Farrell’s James Otis says.
Asking questions can help instill knowledge, but there is no substitute for getting your feet wet, Edgers say. There are some things you can’t learn from books or asking others. For instance, the only way to learn how equipment works is to climb on and start it up. “I forced myself to hop on every different truck and test it out,” says James Otis.
Often the best way to learn your job is simply by doing it. “The best way to work through it for me was just trial and error,” Jason Eitreim says, while Dan Zinn agrees, “I threw myself into the job, working crazy hours.”
Educate Customers and Yourself
No two situations are exactly the same, so there will always be something new to learn on the job. Part of learning experience is discovering you can’t do everything yourself. “I had a tendency to get frustrated easily by focusing on things I couldn’t control,” admits OKI’s Dan Zinn. Jason Morisse concurs, saying, “Grab all your different resources. The good guys will work with you and you can talk back and forth through a problem to get the solution.”
Edgers can also gain valuable education by educating their customers. James Otis says that perhaps the most unsettling thing he encounters on a daily basis at E.D. Farrell is the lack of safety knowledge among customers. “When you see a customer ignoring safety rules or doing something because they don’t know any better, that scares me,” he says. As a result, he regularly conducts training for his customers.
Gregory Poole’s Chris Beckman echoes the need to act as an educated partner to a customer. “Become a consulting salesperson, as opposed to somebody just throwing quotes around out there,” he urges. “Become a solutions provider.”
That educational partnership extends both ways- the customer can be a valuable link in expanding your own knowledge. “We’ve been really fortunate to have customers who really enjoy sharing their expertise,” Cisco-Eagle’s Jason Eitreim notes. By absorbing what the customer has to teach, not only does he benefit, but also potentially other customers. “We can understand what they’re trying to do, but that other industry professionals say it just doesn’t work.”