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Who Has Your Duct Tape?

Recently, I was on a regional jet flying to a meeting and seated in the exit row. Throughout the flight, the cover over the exit door handle repeatedly flipped open, revealing the mechanism to open the door. It previously had been affixed with duct tape and Velcro that was no longer adhering. The woman sitting next to me was very disturbed that it kept opening, so during the flight I continued to close the cover, hoping it would stick. I actually thought about using a piece of chewing gum to keep it from opening but thought that might be frowned upon! As I disembarked, I told the flight attendant about the problem and suggested that someone get duct tape to provide a quick fix.

Surprisingly, on my return flight, I was seated on the same plane in the same seat. What are the chances?! Guess what? The latch had not been fixed. This made me pause—the attendant seemed caring and empathetic when I told him about the problem. Was he just pretending? Was this an airline thing—bringing attention to a mechanical, safety-related problem such as this would create more headaches than it’s worth so it’s better to ignore it? Did he call attention to it, but no one followed through?

Whatever the case, it made me wonder about this airline’s organizational structure. (But then again, who doesn’t wonder about the organizational structure of airlines these days?) Obviously, there was a breakdown that prohibited them from completing a very simple task.

Can you fix “simple” in your organization, or is it something that people need to jump through hoops to change? Do your employees have ownership enough to make the changes and quick decisions necessary to satisfy a customer request? Who has the duct tape?

Now more than ever, the processes in our organizations have to be streamlined and easy. In this competitive industry, there is no room for error and not a lot of time for decision-making. Companies are working leaner and tighter and scrutinizing the value they are receiving, and if you don’t provide them with the solutions they need and request, they’ll find them elsewhere. Unlike the airline industry, there are a lot of options available in the material handing industry, and there is a lot of overcapacity in the marketplace. If not you, someone else will step up.

During the summer, MHEDA’s Executive Committee conducts its strategic planning meeting, which results in defining critical impact factors to consider while developing programs for the upcoming year. During this meeting, we decide upon a theme for the year based on where we see the market and industry going. The original theme going into the meeting was “The 2010 Turnaround.” While we all believe that the market will turn around, it will be a long and slow recovery. We changed our focus, and our theme for next year is “2010 – The Rules Have Changed.” Competition will continue to be tough. Customers will continue to demand more. You will need to keep doing more with less. When someone asks you for the duct tape, you better respond.


1. Economic recovery will be slow and fragile, and the association and industry will lag behind with no predictability as to the pace of recovery.

2. There will be heavier scrutiny of all dollars spent, emphasizing the importance of the value proposition and the requirement for a return on investment for members and the association.

3. Economic conditions have created overcapacity and excess inventory, resulting in margin pressure, price wars and potential risk, safety and liability issues.

4. With customer profiles changing and new business opportunities emerging, members must structure their organizations to adapt to these changes.

5. While credit availability is improving, there is still volatility in the market. Be mindful of the creditworthiness of the customer.

6. Members must be prepared to deal with more governmental intervention in their organizations.

7. During the turnaround, members and the association need to streamline their processes, embrace metrics such as benchmarking tools and key performance indicators, use technology accelerators, evaluate their partners, target their marketing and continue to do more with less.

8. Because of emerging online technologies and social networking sites, members and the association need to become educated and understand the implications and opportunities.

9. Employees must provide more value to an organization than ever before.

10. The association and its members need to continue to define the role and the value of the material handling distributor to all stakeholders.

11. The association and its members need to continue to monitor the impact, opportunities and challenges of green in our industry.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Associtation

Liz Richards
Liz Richards
  Executive Vice President MHEDA

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