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2010 Prepared For Recovery

The worst is behind us. Suppliers share 10 strategies to move forward.

The phones stopped ringing. Monies earmarked for specific projects were no longer available. Companies previously enjoying record-high top and bottom lines now keep a vigilant eye on cash flow. Reductions in head count have become standard operating procedure. And as we approach the end of this most miserable year, we attempt to forecast the future.

This magazine does not make a practice of publishing science fiction or fairy tales. We are in the practice of talking real information and real data. Virtually no one is certain about what 2010 will bring. Recovery? While we know for certain that it will happen, no one is sure of when. So all of us do what we do best. We institute best practices and procedures that we know will create the best outcome. We think. We plan. We monitor. And we prepare for continued depressed sales, while also preparing for a spike in increased demand.

In the pages that follow, we talk about the best practices which are tried and true. We’ve talked with suppliers about what they are focusing their energies on and how they will navigate the year ahead. No one company is limiting itself to one sure way to grow sales. No one company is putting all of their eggs in one practice. Industry suppliers are introducing new products, pursuing niche markets, following government money, getting closer to their customers, emphasizing increased productivity tools and working harder. And as we see gradual improvements in our numbers, everyone will remain cautious, monitoring those numbers and watching to see if we have finally weathered what has been the most challenging recession in our lifetime.

Practicing Sound Business Principles

The past year has forced all executives to rely on the strategies that are just pure and simple. It will be increasingly important in 2010 to rely on those sound business principles that will see us through the challenges which remain.

Our ability to share information and our listening skills may be our most important business asset. Mike Sibulkin, vice president, Continental Lift Truck (Jordan, MN), says, “It’s vital to keep all lines of communications open.” He points out that in the past year, some of his largest competitors have become valuable customers, vendors and close friends. He adds, “The smart people and companies are working together, not against each other.”

In the face of increasing raw materials costs, it can be a battle to maintain current pricing. To offset raw materials price increases, Tri-Boro Shelving & Partition (Farmville, VA) is adding a 7,500 sq. ft. addition to its existing structure and will utilize the extra space to store bulk purchases of raw materials. Construction is to be completed by February. Expecting sales to remain level, Fred DeMaio, president, is also watching his freight costs. DeMaio is exploring the possibility of opening a new warehouse in Dallas, Texas, this summer. He says, “We are running a tighter ship.”

The Komatsu Forklift USA (Covington, GA) team will benefit from increased efficiencies in 2010. Manufacturing operations are scheduled to begin at a new facility in Newbury, South Carolina, in April. All corporate offices will relocate to Chicago, Illinois, this month and will benefit by sharing back office operations like human resources administration, legal and accounting with its sibling company, Komatsu America Corporation. Fully expecting sales to improve, Akira Yamakawa, president, says, “A stronger dealer inventory in 2010 will mean increased sales.” New product introductions for 2010 include two to be launched this month: a new AC-powered truck and a new narrow aisle lift truck.

A 2010 economic recovery is likely to include several stumbling blocks along the way. Tom O’Brien, vice president, Ralphs-Pugh Company (Benecia, CA), expects the second half of the year to be much more positive than the first. Still, he expects an overall sales growth of 5-7%. O’Brien believes more companies, bearing sharper pencils in order to more aggressively cut pricing, are competing for smaller sales, He says, “We are focusing on being more responsive. As a smaller company, we are more agile than a larger company would be.”

Jim Mierke, vice president of sales, Western Pacific Storage Solutions (San Dimas, CA), believes that his growth in sales will come more from larger systems type of work, than products that can be purchased from catalogs. To that end, the company will expand its systems capabilities. Mierke is investing in personnel. New people hired in 2010 to do sales, customer service and engineering will contribute to a sales growth of 10%. Mierke says, “The new salespeople will target the Midwest and Southeast.”

Anticipating a sales increase of 10-15%, Don Chance, president, NACCO Materials Handling Group Sales (Greenville, NC), will begin phasing in an expanded electric product line in 2010 and complete that line’s introduction during the first part of 2011. While Hyster Company and Yale Materials Handling Corporation will both maintain separate sales organizations, the individual dealer may elect to market both brands. Chance says, “We think that we are creating a business opportunity for business people, and smart people will come up with a way to make that work. We are creating a process that allows the dealer the funding to reinvest in the front end of his business, to grow his revenue and have a first-class, world-class back end of the business which can generate additional profits.” Chance believes that the strategic initiatives put forth by his team will strengthen their distribution even farther and create the kind of financial strength within their network that will withstand the next wave of competitors that will be coming our way over the next five years. He adds, “I think there will be a much stronger wave of product coming out of China in the not-too-distant future that will be competitive. Our ability to dominate markets will be the key barrier to these people getting a foothold.”

A company-wide reorganization from both the top-down and the bottom-up has been accompanied by substantial investments in engineering and new product development for Wesley International (Scottdale, GA). Improved sales and marketing efforts and new product development lead Bob Fisher, CEO, to project a 30% increase in sales. Plans call for the 1st Quarter introduction of a new heavy-duty tow vehicle and the introduction of an industrial battery option for its entire line of tuggers. Several different Wesley-manufactured trailer products will be launched during the 2nd Quarter. Fisher says, “We are making dramatic changes in the way we manufacture to achieve greater consistent quality and speed of production as we manufacture custom products.”

Show Us the Money

There is no question that as monies are released by lending institutions, capital investments will improve. As we begin to see a general loosening of the purse strings, projects which were placed on the back burner will come to the forefront. Requests for proposals, dormant for the better part of a year, may come alive.

Regardless of the size of the end-user’s company, the end-user must be in a position to access capital financing for true recovery to happen. Gary Warner, general manager, Apex Bulk Handlers (Bedford, OH), says, “We provided as many quotes in 2009 as we did in other years, but fewer companies are pulling the trigger on making purchases until there is more liquidity in the marketplace.” Warner’s team will focus on staying in front of his customer base and reestablishing relationships with new faces within that established customer base as they appear.

As he awaits an improved economic climate, Dennis Rober, president, Tilt-Or-Lift (Maumee, OH), is investing his capital in an improved Web site, making it more user-friendly. Expecting sales to remain even with 2009 numbers, Rober notes, “Smaller end-users are relying on their larger customers to set the pace for recovery, as they release money. The larger end-users need to feel comfortable spending the dollars that are being stored in their war chests.”

Rather than a slow climb upward, many think that 2010 will be a series of up and down spikes in sales. Terry Eutsler, president, Softbase Development (Conroe, TX), is one of them. He is expecting an overall sales growth of 10% or less. As funding becomes more available, dealers will invest in software updates, believes Eutsler.

There is no question that investments in IT will enhance a dealer’s ability to compete. It is also likely that, after an ugly 2009, capital investments will take place first in operational enhancements that will generate cash. A new Software as a Service (SaaS) program, offered by Bob Walters, president and CEO, Edgerton Corporation (Strongsville, OH), will offer dealers an opportunity to rent a multiple number of ERP products. He says, “If the ERP system is rented, it can be expensed.” With the introduction of multiple ERP products and an increasingly important partnership with Microsoft, Walters expects sales growth of 30-40%. The next three years will be consumed with helping Walters’ customers transition from the older Minitrac software to Microsoft Dynamics or to his Irium product.

Stronger Distribution Channels

There is no time like the present to invest in a stronger distribution channel. As suppliers look to fill in under-served markets, new partnerships will form. By reaching out to new partners in areas where their product is not currently represented, the supplier will benefit with more feet on the street. As suppliers invest in the partnership, the marriage between distributor and supplier (even those longstanding partnerships) will continue to bear more fruit.

Unlike the automotive industry, only a handful of material handling dealers has F&I departments. As a dealer’s sales department is trained to sell service warranties, they find new money that previously was left on the table. Under new ownership, Calco Lift Guard (Orange, CA) will benefit from new mechanisms, new procedures and greater resources, all to achieve a substantial increase in sales. George Schmid, CEO, anticipates that his goal of entering the Canadian market will be realized in 2010. Schmid is also planning to launch extended warranty plans for additional material handling manufacturers.

A supplier must be more accessible and communicate more with the dealer channel to succeed in 2010. Warren Cornil, president, Narrow Aisle (Dallas, TX), is bending over backwards to accommodate the dealer in an environment in which others, he says, are operating with tunnel vision, as they treat a dealer as a captive audience. After pursuing several key accounts for years, his team has earned their business and will see a substantial sales increase in 2010.

If new truck sales are to remain flat, it stands to reason that suppliers place increased attention on supporting their dealer network’s ability to sell parts and service work. Expecting a slight second-half-of-the-year pick up, Kim Parkinson, COO, Doosan Infracore America (Warrensville Heights, OH), is shooting for a sales increase of 3-4%. He says, “Dealers need to make more money. We are providing additional programs that will allow the dealer to make more money on the back end of the business.” Plans call for two additional field regional business managers to focus on new truck sales and parts sales, targeting the western and southern regions of the U.S.

Believing that the market will remain flat until consumer spending increases, Evan Wescoe, senior vice president, East Penn Manufacturing Company (Lyon Station, PA), is supporting a plan for a 3-5% growth in sales with plans to motivate his independent dealer network, helping them to remain profitable and grow their business in their assigned territories. Plans for new products in 2011 mean that 2010 will be a year of exploring how new technologies can impact customers.

Brian Faust, vice president of sales, Douglas Battery (Winston-Salem, NC), is also spending his time developing and maintaining his existing dealer base and supporting the personal relationships that have developed over time, as he seeks new ones. New dealer business and national account sales will help to either maintain current numbers or even grow them by 4-5%. Faust explains, “The key is to provide quality product in a timely manner and then support those products after the sale.”

An expanded distributor base, by as much as 25%, will generate increased sales. Ray Chase, executive vice president, Konstant Products (Rolling Meadows, IL), notes that sales could increase by up to 6%. Chase points to stronger niche markets like the food and food service sectors that are continuing to invest in structural products. In fact, Chase indicates that orders for structural products as an alternative to roll forms were at a record high during the 4th Quarter of 2009. A pushback system that is adaptable to other manufacturers’ rack systems will be launched during the 2nd Quarter.

Most in our industry do not expect sales growth to kick in until the second half of the year. Steve Johnson, vice president of sales, is expecting a single-digit increase in sales for Nashville Wire Products (Nashville, TN), but not until late in 2010. He is investing more in distributor training with an emphasis on sales of value-added benefits and solution-based selling strategies. Johnson explains, “In this climate, we must illustrate the need for our product by providing the end-user with solutions. The days of just providing quotes are over.”

As individual dealers disappear, either as casualties of the difficult 2009 or as a result of a merger or acquisition, Mel Griffin, president, Lift-Rite (Brampton, ON, Canada), will offer territorial expansions to dealers in adjacent territories. Targeting a 10% growth in sales, he is working more closely with his dealers. He says, “We avoid selling national accounts. Those national accounts belong to our dealers.” The company will rely more on Internet-based technologies to provide direct sales support to its distribution network.

For Hyundai Construction Equipment USA (Elk Grove Village, IL), a projected sales increase of 10% hinges on an expanded dealer base. Kirk Gillette, vice president, is hoping to introduce an enhanced leasing program. A new North American sales manager and an additional sales support person will provide more firepower to support the dealer network. Gillette says, “My job is to provide the dealer with the best product, with the best price and the best support. Most of my time will be spent on strengthening dealer relationships. We will make that dealer more competitive with a better parts program, more training, and subsidized financing.”

In tandem with his distribution channel, Clark Smith, president, Bluff Manufacturing (Fort Worth, TX), is driving a sales increase of up to 10% by spending more time focused on providing more solutions to loading dock dilemmas. The company is also re-tasking its outside sales group to make greater use of technology to provide more dealer training. He says, “We need to look through the mist this recession has caused and still look out five years ahead to manage our future.”

Over and over we hear about a back-to-basics approach to business. Scott Elliott, president, Battery Filling Systems of the Americas (Clemmons, NC), expects sales to increase by up to 10%. He says, “We can’t wait for the customer to call us. We need to communicate to them how we can save them money.” Elliott will spend more time on distributor training and teaching that even if battery sales are down, maintenance of the batteries that are in the field has never been more important.

To better support his distributor partners, Kevin Risch, president, Mallard Manufacturing (Sterling, IL), is investing more in utilization of Internet technologies and participating in more trade shows, both to generate more leads for those distribution partners. Expecting sales growth of 10-15%, the company is planning on the introduction of new carton flow products during the 2nd or 3rd Quarter. Risch says, “We will do more lunch-and-learn meetings and will travel to see more distributors to further that support of the channel.”

By solidifying dealer relationships and introducing a new product portfolio, Dan Rosskamm, president, Big Lift LLC (Lombard, IL), expects to increase sales by 25%. New products are scheduled for introduction every quarter, beginning this summer. He says, “While still an open line, we will be more important to fewer dealers.” The company will provide deeper discounts and will provide more Internet-generated leads for parts business and new truck sales.”

Follow the Money

Whether we are following the potential of stimulus money or just astutely targeting niche markets likely to be productive, suppliers are not wasting time in targeting specific niche markets that will support future growth. Whether earmarked dollars will support new growth or the completion of projects which were backlogged in 2009, suppliers are expecting niche markets to support us in 2010.

Jeff McNeil, marketing manager, Gorbel (Fishers, NY), is examining sales trends across his distributor network and combining that data with his own research or interpretation on market potential and then coming up with programs that point distributors at individual companies within those markets in their territories. An all-year-long schedule of new product introductions will further support sales to those niche markets. Planning to maintain 2009 sales numbers, McNeil says, “Product introductions will range from some relatively minor enhancements to fairly major launches as we develop new markets, including aerospace, defense and the sectors that are driven by alternative energy.”

Sometimes senior management needs more firepower to execute their plans for sales growth. With the recent hire of Chip Merritt as general manager, Bob Martin, president, InCord (Colchester, CT), is freed up to increase his focus on growing sales. Martin says, “New product development in 2010 will be very important.” The company expects to launch products during the second half of the year that will target new product applications, in pursuit of serving additional markets.

By targeting specific niche markets, including health care, food service and hospitality, with a medium-duty caster, Mike Thorne, vice president of sales and marketing, Albion Industries (Albion, MI), believes his sales will grow by 2-3%. The new caster will be launched during the 1st Quarter. Training is high on Thorne’s priority list for the year. The company will provide more on-site training classes at distributor locations throughout the year, in addition to hosting a program for distributors at the Albion, Michigan, facility scheduled for spring.

By introducing new products and enhancements to new market segments and to established customers, David Hahn, vice president of sales and marketing, Lift Technologies (Westminster, SC), will grow sales by up to 5%. New business partners who work with more non-traditional segments of the marketplace will benefit from two new product launches. A quad mast with improved visibility and hose routings was launched in December 2009. A single stack five-stage mast is scheduled to go into production during the 1st Quarter. Other new products targeting new market segments will be launched during the 2nd and 3rd Quarters.

The real emphasis is on the food and pharmaceutical markets, according to John Costello, president, Cherry’s Industrial Equipment (Elk Grove Village, IL). To generate more sales, he will rely on Web sites targeting specific niche markets and product applications. He expects a sales increase of up to 10% and is spending more time on making sure that all members of his sales team are on the same page with updated processes and procedures.

Rob Alling, president, Design Storage & Handling (Fredericksburg, VA), expects sales in 2010 to be inconsistent, with ups and downs in sales numbers throughout the year. Alling says the inconsistencies will challenge his ability to keep employees and salespeople motivated and positive. He says, “We will reinforce our existing relationships with ‘face time’ in order to protect our current business and to better read future needs.” To support his sales numbers, Alling is targeting energy-related markets as a growth area. He expects to realize overall sales growth of 15%. The 2nd Quarter will support those plans for growth with new models of existing products that are best suited for single and partial shift applications. Also planned for the 2nd Quarter is a heavier capacity product supporting energy-related niche markets.

By providing alternative solutions to specific vertical markets, Bill Deaver, general sales manager, Rapid Rack Industries (City of Industry, CA), expects sales to rise by 15%. The company will introduce the Rapid Rack Z-Beam line, which provides greater capacity and more versatility, during the 1st Quarter. He says, “We will try to convey the message of greater value with a boltless shelving product.” The company is planning to add as many as five additional salespeople to target areas east of the Mississippi. With inventory housed in four different locations, Deaver is planning to shorten lead times, as the company pre-builds products for the unsold order.

New Products Create New Dollars

New product introductions provide the distribution channel with new turf to compete on, talking points when communicating with customers and, most important, an opportunity to provide needed solutions. The downward slide of the past year has not stopped suppliers from firing up their R&D efforts. The end result of accelerated product development efforts is an opportunity for increased sales, supported by enhancements or new products which will deliver the solutions that are most in demand.

Of five different product groups, Frank Lauyans, president, Lauyans & Company (Louisville, KY), sees the greatest potential for growth in a more economically priced, vertical lift module for small parts storage. Lauyans says, “We are spending most of our time developing distributor relationships.” A new Web site in support of the vertical lift module was launched January 1.

As end-users hold on to their equipment longer, that equipment is breaking down more. With an expanded remanufactured AC product offering, Barry Bowman, president, Flight Systems Industrial Products (Carlisle, PA), expects sales to increase by 4-6%. The company also will be entering the sweeper/scrubber and mobility markets. An expanded team of high-level employees will help Bowman to continually forge and strengthen existing and new OEM alliances. Bowman says, “We are offering the dealers an alternative to new, in order for them to be more competitive.”

New products added to its roster of offerings means a new catalog with three times the number of pages for Products For Industry (Milwaukee, WI). Still, Mike Smith, general manager, remains very cautious and is targeting a sales increase of 5% in 2010. The new catalog will provide more discounts to distributors in an effort to help more distributors act as single-source suppliers to their customers. The consolidation of two warehouses and establishment of a new state-of-the-art warehouse near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the promise of 48- to 72-hour delivery cycles will be announced during the 1st Quarter.

As end-users look for ways to reduce operational costs, they are storing materials in less space, which means that Ed Campbell, sales manager, Landoll Corporation (Marysville, KS), is more optimistic when considering demand for his narrow aisle Bendi trucks. He anticipates his sales will increase by 5-7%, supported by the 2nd Quarter introduction of a new Drexel swing-mast forklift and a new Bendi model. Beginning with the start of 2010, Landoll introduced new incentive programs which incentivize dealers to demo product more frequently, and a long-term financing program rewarding dealers who stock new product as it is introduced. Campbell says, “As dealers’ sales departments grow leaner, we are participating in the sales process longer, relying more on regional sales management to sell our products and incorporating the local dealer’s salespeople later in the sales process.”

Morse Mfg. Company (East Syracuse, NY) is looking forward to the launch of its first patented product in ten years. Nate Andrews, vice president, cites the new patented product, as well as other new products to be released, as contributing to a bounce back to a double-digit sales growth. Other products scheduled for introduction include the 1st Quarter launch of a remote-control forklift attachment and an automated drum rotator operated by a single push button.

Some suppliers are seeing increased RFP activity for automated order picking technology, especially during the most recent quarter. Gordon Hellberg, vice president of business partner sales, TGW-ERMANCO (Spring Lake, MI), makes it a point to refer to his distribution channel as business partners and says that they are seeing more activity on the RFP front for higher-end systems. He anticipates a double-digit sales improvement in 2010. He points to new advanced automatic storage and retrieval technology and the launch of a next generation AS/RS machine, both in the 1st Quarter, as key to 2010 growth. A new product demonstration lab will open during the 2nd Quarter.

As many downsized personnel requirements in 2009, Martin Burdorf, director of industrial tire sales and marketing, Continental Industrial Tire (Fort Mill, SC), points to two new key account managers in 2009 and a plan to hire a minimum of two and a maximum of five additional key account managers in 2010. His expanded sales force will support double-digit sales growth. The company plans to launch a new non-marking resilient tire during the 1st Quarter and a new radial product line during the 2nd Quarter. Burdorf says, “A third distribution facility and an expanded sales team is helping us to hit the ground running.”

Focused on building a better mousetrap, Hi-Torque IMI Performance Products (Whittier, CA) will introduce a new product which Jack Isom, president, refers to as one that offers state-of-the-art quality and reliability. The launch is scheduled for the 2nd Quarter. Describing himself as the proverbial optimist, Isom is planning on a sales growth of 10%. He says, “When the spigot turns off, entrepreneurial spirit is put to the test. The real challenge is to consistently think outside of the box.”

DIS (Bellingham, WA) has beefed up its team of developers in order to launch the products that dealers will need to operate more efficiently. Randy McIntyre, president, believes that dealers who delayed updating their IT capabilities will, out of necessity, invest in software upgrades, resulting in sales growth of 8-14%. With more developers on hand, he will launch new products throughout the year. Software which incorporates a parts catalog that enhances parts sales online will be launched during the 1st Quarter. The company plans to complete its efforts to be its own ASP provider by the 2nd Quarter. McIntyre says, “We are developing for our customer’s customer. Our biggest effort will be in providing more training, so that our customers are in a position to better serve their customers.” A mobile service totally integrated with the business system and allowing technicians to enter parts sales from the field will provide more analytical information for various departments to better project future financials will be introduced during the 3rd Quarter.

Benefiting from tire manufacturer consolidations and liquidations, Ydo Doornbos, managing director, Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas (Hartville, OH), expects his new product introductions to support sales growth of over 10%. He will expand and optimize his product line in every segment throughout the year. He says, “As our industry becomes more commoditized, we must be unique in this market by clearly differentiating our efforts, the way our products look, the way we brand, and the way we market.”

To support the manufacturing of a new cantilever rack line, Cogan Wire & Metal Products (Terrebonne, PQ, Canada) will construct a 19,000 sq. ft. addition to its current facility. Completion is scheduled for this month. John Lambert, vice president of sales, is forecasting a 15% sales increase. The company expects to complete construction of its new Web site during the 1st Quarter. Lambert says, “My first priority is distributor training. Our distributors must know what our products can accomplish out in the field.”

The challenges of the past year have contributed to the partnership between Jungheinrich Lift Truck Corp. and Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America (Houston, TX). Kent Eudy, vice president of sales, is planning on that team effort to create a sales increase of 15%. Eudy is upbeat about the introduction during the 1st Quarter of a new order picker and a redesigned IC pneumatic truck. Also slated for the 1st Quarter is the opening of a Houston, Texas, design center to house the Jungheinrich line. Eudy questions if there is enough volume within the industry to support existing truck manufacturers. He says, “The independent dealer must decide where his team should expend sales efforts and time. Our challenge is to retain that dealer’s attention. A stronger line of electric trucks will further support a strong distribution network and command more of that dealer’s attention.”

“A new product offering which reduces ware- house collisions between lift trucks and pedestrians, introduced during the 4th Quarter of 2009, will support a 15-20% growth in sales,” says Dan Gentile, president, Save-Ty Yellow Products (West Chicago, IL). Just in time for the company’s new catalog, to be published in the 2nd Quarter, are an end-of-aisle rack protector, an all-welded handrail offering and a new base plate designed for seismic applications.

Keith Pignolet, president, Wildeck (Waukesha, WI), expects sales to increase by 15-20% and says, “I will spend most of my time putting together a long-term strategic plan, projecting where we want to be and how we will get there. To put together our plan, I’ll be listening to distribution partners, because we do not change our distribution philosophy with each shift in the economy. New products are to be introduced each quarter: a vertical reciprocating conveyor to be launched during the 1st Quarter, safety products to be introduced each quarter and new mezzanine features that will be launched during the 2nd and 4th Quarters.

Not expecting substantial improvements during the first half of the year, Powered Aire (Greenville, PA) will maintain close contact, communicating more in face-to-face meetings, in order to provide distributors with needed sales support. As the end-user becomes more conscious of energy savings opportunities, Ken Lapinski, vice president, projects a sales increase of 20%. The company will introduce an economical air curtain during the 1st Quarter.

Even when Joe Robillard, president, Autoquip Corporation (Guthrie, OK), excludes his company’s recent acquisition of American Lifts, he insists that the economy is slowly improving. Organic growth alone, he says, will contribute to a sales growth of 10-20%. With the acquisition, growth is more likely to be 30-50%. American Lifts had unique products that Autoquip did not have in its holster. Robillard’s team plans to introduce those products during the 2nd Quarter. He says, “It’s important to remember that if we do not satisfy our customers, they will find someone else who will. We need to focus on what our customer base wants and needs and then figure out how to best meet those needs.”

Increased Productivity Is the Ticket
to Increased Sales

Material handling suppliers and distributors have always peppered conversations with the phrase “increased productivity.” Today, after the right-sizing of businesses in every industry, doing more with less has become standard operating procedure. Promising your customer the ability to do more with less is similar to providing that customer with the keys to the Magic Kingdom. Whether the emphasis is on increasing our own productivity or someone else’s, if we can promise an ability to do more with less, we can be assured of increased sales numbers.

As companies determine how to continually meet their objectives with fewer people, there are more opportunities for material handling suppliers. Steve Albert, general manager, Presto Lifts (Attleboro, MA), says, “It is a matter of being patient and then being available to our customers when opportunities do arise.” Expecting the 1st Quarter to be slow as end-users sort out their budgets and needs, Albert expects sales to move forward as the year progresses.

The Internet will provide many distributors with an opportunity to sell more product, supplementing the efforts of a leaner sales department. A new, years-in-the-making, feature-rich Web site, to be launched during the first half of the year, will drive a sales increase, says Art Arellano, president, eliftruck.com (Tinley Park, IL). Arellano says, “Dealers benefit by reducing the cost of the sale online.” In order to assure dealers with optimum visibility, Arellano will spend still more time focused on improving search engine optimization and enhancing his Web presence, which is a constant effort.

Conservative in his projections for 2010, Dan Dwyer, vice president and general manager, Sackett Systems (Bensenville, IL), is putting more emphasis on the need for increased operational efficiencies on the part of the end-user, which will drive a single-digit growth in sales. Dwyer will spend time focused on making sure that his team has the right information, tools and the right access to people to make his company’s value proposition heard. He says, “The end-user did not necessarily make the capital investments required to update tired equipment in 2009. We can support that customer by providing him with the value-added services and products that impact safety and automation, while still increasing efficiencies.”

Agreeing with others that the year will begin slowly, Steve Spaar, director of marketing, EnerSys (Reading, PA), anticipates a 10% growth in sales. The company plans to introduce new product which targets the walk-behind floor cleaning machine market in the 1st Quarter. An additional new system is scheduled to launch during the 3rd Quarter. Spaar says, “We are continually innovating and providing products that help customers save money or add value to their operation. We’ve just got to add value by allowing the customer to reap the benefits of that value by either improving their processes, improving their productivity, or decreasing their operating costs.”

Technology-driven increased demand for more efficient chargers will support a sales boost of 10-12%, says Jim Keyser, business unit director, AMETEK Prestolite Power (Troy, OH). He says, “End-users are replacing perfectly good chargers to drive energy savings.” To better prepare for increased competition in 2010, Keyser streamlined operations to enhance his own efficiencies and will focus on making sure that his company is prepared for the anticipated recovery in 2010. He adds, “We have to manage our inventory and know in advance what is coming.”

Some suppliers are increasing their internal operational efficiencies by digging deeper when examining their error rates. Kevin Minkhorst, president, 3D Storage Systems (Newmarket, ON, Canada), says that even with an error rate of less than 1%, there is always room to further reduce errors and associated manufacturing costs. To that end, Minkhorst will focus much of his time on further enhancing the quality of his products as he stresses error reduction in design and fabrication. He is also anticipating adding to sales department. Additional salespeople targeting the northeastern U.S. will come on board during the 1st Quarter and will potentially boost sales by 10-20%.

Citing new product introductions throughout the year, Ron Rogers, president, EBS Inc. (Houston, TX), says that with increased stabilization, sales will grow by 15%. Rogers says, “The new technologies are helping our customers to do more with reduced manpower.” Rogers is spending more time listening to his customers who continue to look for increased efficiencies.

A more aggressive sales approach will place Phil Miller, president, Ambaflex (Grand Prairie, TX), face-to-face with more customers and help to drive a 20% jump in sales. He says, “As spending limits tightened, it has become more competitive. We must constantly prove ROI while pursuing new applications.” The company is also focusing on its own internal efficiencies. Miller is making investments in making better use of estimating programs and other Web-based software that will simplify the sales process.

Growth from Market Share

With few exceptions, most suppliers remain less than enthusiastic about the possibility of a rapid economic turnaround. Few suppliers anticipate a sharp upward spike to their sales numbers. Given the anticipated slow growth of sales, competition will continue at a heightened pitch. Most believe that real sales growth will come at the expense of a competitor. While growth will be minimal for most in our industry, the eye will be focused on share protection and even by stealing a little bit from Brand X.

Peter Kruse, president, Nissan Forklift Corporation (Marengo, IL), anticipates continuation of the company’s already growing market share well into 2010. Nissan plans to launch a new AC low-level walkie pallet truck, as well as a line of order selectors in the 1st Quarter. By mid-year, a new 80-Volt Class I sit-down rider will be added to Nissan’s product offering. Kruse says, “We will utilize new go-to-market tools, online training and more regional business development manager involvement to strengthen the dealer partnership.” A partnership with an affiliated Nissan finance organization will provide more expertise, improve rates and enhance the company’s value proposition. A combination of improved market share and offshore sales will generate a 3-6% increase in sales, says Brian Neuwirth, president, UNEX Manufacturing (Jackson, NJ). He says, “Our real challenge is to rebuild. In 2009 our strategy was based on survival. We did whatever we could to profitably meet our customers’ needs. We are more strategic than tactical, as we look externally to our customer base.”

Pointing to continued market share improvements, Dennis Lawrence, president, Clark Material Handling (Lexington, KY), is more positive about his potential for a 10-12% sales growth in 2010. A more user-friendly Web site is to be launched during the 1st Quarter. A new order selector to be launched during the 2nd Quarter will also help to further support sales growth. Lawrence says, “As OEMs change their business models, doing acquisitions and changing where product is being manufactured, we are coining the phrase, 1B1C—we’re one brand, one company.”

It’s all about expanding market share with new customers and new products, says Mike Chapman, director of sales, Tennsco (Dickson, TN). Expecting growth of 31%, Chapman indicates that an expanded sales force during the second half of the year is a possibility. He says, “Growing market share can be based on price considerations, but it can be the result of an increased emphasis on customer service.”

Market Harder / Work Harder

Can we possibly work harder or work smarter than we have in the past year? Most in our industry say that we can. (After all, there are always new strategies to uncover and new approaches to gain ground.) We’ll spend more time traveling, more time at trade shows and conventions (who is NOT going to be in attendance at MHEDA’s Annual Convention in Marco Island, Florida?), and we’ll just sleep less.

The Internet is making it easier to collect more data and to collect valuable marketing information that we need to sell our products. Tim True, director of sales, Borroughs Corporation (Kalamazoo, MI), is making use of this valuable marketing data to uncover more of what his customer base wants and to deliver those solutions more quickly. Anticipating that his sales numbers will be level, True says, “We have adjusted to being good at what we do with fewer people.”

To maintain 2009 numbers, Twinlode (South Bend, IN) will invest more in e-mail blasts and trade show participation. Gary Zimmer, president, says, “We are refocusing our marketing efforts to better respond to an environment which will continue to be impacted by tight spending limits on the part of the end-user. Many of our prospects do not understand our double-wide pallet racking system, and we are trying to overcome that challenge.”

With more trade shows scheduled for 2010, Charles Alexander, vice president of sales and marketing, Rousseau Metal (St-Jean-Port-Joli, QC, Canada) will market harder in order to maintain 2009 numbers. The company will utilize smaller booths in order to do more. An expanded sales force will provide more distributor training. Alexander says, “No one seeks out a pure salesperson anymore. Our customers want a product specialist who can solve his problems. If someone is seeking a price list, that price list can be located online.” To make a sale, one needs to provide a solution. To uncover the need, one must be able to have dialog. To have meaningful dialog, we need meaningful relationships. Alexander believes that his efforts will lead to more meaningful relationships.

Hamilton Caster & Mfg. Co. (Hamilton, OH) is focused on data mining and providing those resulting leads to distributor partners. With the challenges of the past year behind us and the possibility of loosened budgets, Steve Lippert, executive vice president, sees pent-up demand for product best uncovered by increased marketing efforts. Lippert is expecting a sales growth of 4-8%. He adds, “Most of our initiatives will leverage Internet technology to better market our products. As an example, we will make greater use of the Internet to best illustrate product capabilities.”

More aggressive marketing is the ticket to a sales growth of up to 10%, according to Stewart Burton, president, Beyond Products (Milford, CT). He says, “We are being more responsive to the customer’s specific need and then generating general-purpose products from that effort.” The company is targeting safety and ergonomic issues impacting the packaging industry, as well as others who are moving small, repetitive items.

Joe Tost, president, WC Cardinal (Cadiz, OH), will market harder to an expanded geographical region to achieve a 10-15% growth in sales. The company will be focusing on eastern Atlantic states, the Midwest and more of the South. Tost says, “A new structural cantilever system has opened new markets for us.”

Value-added services will reduce the number of price wars that can impact Crown Battery Manufacturing Company‘s (Fremont, OH) channel partners. A combination of commodity price increases, new business and channel growth will contribute to a 15-18% sales increase, believes Mark Kelley, vice president of sales. His theme for 2010, back to basics, dictates more face-to-face contact and more sales calls. He says, “I will spend more time with our regional managers and our agents, just listening to our customers, in an effort to help them to pursue new opportunities. I want to know how I can help them.”

Bill LeMeur, executive vice president, Superior Tire & Rubber Corp. (Warren, PA), always targets a 20% stretch goal. He is targeting his aftermarket business by identifying more prospects and communicating with them more frequently. On his to-do-list for 2010 is an XL tire product extension for AC trucks to be launched during the 1st Quarter. He also is hoping to break ground on a significant plant expansion during the first half of the year.

Nothing is more important than that face-to-face contact or as Terry Wickman, president, Keytroller (Tampa, FL), says, eyeball-to-eyeball visits. To better familiarize the industry with his products, he will be calling on more dealers and manufacturers in 2010. A backlog of potential projects scattered across the globe, can result in an increase in sales of 40%. Wickman will launch the next generation of his LCD keypad device during the 1st Quarter.

Have the Product
Make the Sale

Inventory is cash. And in this environment, no one wants to leave cash on the shelf. In an environment in which inventories are stripped to the bone, replenishing those empty shelves will surely cause sales to increase. Those suppliers who can best meet that need for product will capture sales growth. The trick is to read the tea leaves and be able to gauge future demand.

As the economy improves and reduced inventories are replenished, Dirk von Holt, vice president of sales and marketing, Systems Material Handling (Olathe, KS), expects a 10% sales boost. An industrial equipment line introduced in 2009 is generating sales of parts for various scrubbers, personnel and burden carriers. Von Holt says, “We want to improve the overall customer experience. There is much more for the customer to consider when doing business with us, over and beyond the hard values of price, quality or delivery time. There is also an emotional value in the relationship that drives the customer to be a repeat customer.”

Pointing to five consecutive months of daily average sales increases, John Shannon, president, Quick Cable (Franksville, WI), is anticipating sales growth in 2010 of 10-15%. He notes, “Inventories have been depleted.” Not believing that distributors will return to carrying 2008-level inventories anytime soon, Shannon’s team has begun same-day shipping. The company also is launching new re-engineered battery containment systems and battery storage racks and a whole program for renewable energy that will support new sales activity.

Roach Conveyors (Trumann, AR) is making continual investments in shortened delivery cycles. Products that are typically shipped within a two- or three-week time frame are now shipped within 72 hours. These shortened delivery cycles will support a 10-15% growth in sales, believes Charlie Parks, vice president of sales and marketing. He says, “We are aggressively putting more product into our 24-hour and Express 72-hour shipping programs, working around the clock to ship products more quickly. We look at ourselves as filling needs. Our engineers are better able to meet customer needs when all product is produced at one location.” New products are slated to be introduced by mid-year.

As more dealers are pushed to further cut their operational costs, Marcel VandenTop, general manager, Intella Liftparts (Holland, MI) expects his sales to increase. VandenTop anticipates the publication of a new catalog during the 1st Quarter. The company plans to expand its product offering by 15-20% by year-end. He says, “The challenge is in our ability to correctly inventory the right products, at the right price, at the right stock levels, six months ahead of time.”

Preparing for Recovery

If we cannot anticipate a robust (however we define robust) recovery until 2011, then it is wise to invest our efforts and capital to become stronger and better as the economy improves. Rest assured, no one is sitting on their laurels awaiting a return of 2008 sales numbers. Suppliers who invest in their companies, improving their operations today, are doing so to be better prepared for tomorrow.

As Ridg-U-Rak reconnects with more of its distribution channel, Pete Foley, vice president, Storage Masters (Binghamton, NY), expects his wholesale Ridg-U-Rak sales to double. He says, “Ridg-U-Rak executives approached each of their stocking distributors and said that they wanted to double our sales.” Foley indicates that he has taken advantage of slower sales cycles and uses his down time to smooth out processes while streamlining his operations in preparation of better days ahead.

Expecting the first half of the year to be level, Bonny DesJardin, president and CEO of Jesco (Litchfield, MI), would like to see an overall growth of 10%. DesJardin is focused on making sure that personnel requirements are met and that her current team is ready for a potential recovery. She says, “A considerable amount of time is required for training and preparing a new hire to provide estimates. We are spending more time in dialogue with our customers to better gauge our future needs.”

2010 can best be described as the last few legs of a marathon. Like any other long and arduous exercise, those that were the most fit at the onset of the race are now better equipped to finish. The race begun 12 months ago has taken its toll on the industry. The suppliers interviewed have all taken important steps within their companies in order to best meet the challenges of 2009. They survived 2009. And they are now stronger for it.

As we move forward, we are more than ready for the coming year. We can rely on what we have learned and face the future head-on, knowing that we are nearing the finish line and victory is most sweet indeed.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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