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More “How I Did It”

Dealers share their secrets to achieving manufacturer milestones.

“Our strategy was to keep all our salespeople and push service and in-stock units for sale. We maintained our inventory levels in both our parts department and rental fleet. Our parts purchases from the factory were very close to a very high goal, which helped us win a national unit sales contest among MCFA dealers. We also took on additional product offerings to try to make ourselves a one-stop shop for customers. It all added up to our fifth straight year of winning MCFA’s Dealer of Excellence award.”

— Robert Young, Vice President & General Manager, Adobe Equipment Houston (Houston, TX)

“I don’t know if we had any ‘secret’; we just tried to find customers who had problems that we could solve. We were lucky enough to find some who needed Lyon Workspace products. Our strategy going into 2009 wasn’t much different than it is for any other year—our goal is to retain and establish relationships with customers and to perform value-added transactions. We have a CAD system and do a lot of layouts and “What if” drawings. In other words, we tell the customer that we can give them X amount of storage doing it this way, but more by doing it a different way. We do turnkey jobs providing the design work and installation work. In essence, we manage the project and eliminate headaches. We think we’re easy to do busy with.”

— Richard Sinclair, President/CEO, Jefferds Corporation (St. Albans, WV)

“At Memphis Material Handling, our strategy was simple: Try hard and work hard. We just tried to keep everyone focused on each job and take care of each project to the best of our ability. It’s the same strategy as in the past, but by concentrating on taking the extra step for the customer, it worked out. We were not worried about meeting any award criteria; we just needed to stay focused and keep everyone busy. By doing so, and by listening to what customers needed to have done and their goals, we got several projects. Service and competitive pricing were the keys to 2009.”

— Russell Caldwell, President/CEO, Memphis Material Handling (Memphis, TN)

“Several steps were taken at Skarnes to achieve success in 2009. First, we maintained contact with existing customers, even if their business had been slow. We asked those customers if they knew of anyone in their lines of business who was growing in spite of the economy. If they did, we called on those companies. We made a point to talk about safety and maintenance issues, which most plants still spend money on.
“One of the most important things was to keep a positive attitude and relay to the customer the reputation of Skarnes. We’ve been around a long time, and this isn’t the first downturn we’ve faced. Over the years, we’ve developed a broad customer base in manufacturing, food, pharmaceuticals, wood products, service companies and more. We do not have all of our eggs in one basket, so we can weather the storm. Finally, it was a team effort. By working together, we were able to achieve.”

— Paul Wanous, President, Skarnes Inc. (Plymouth, MN)

“Our secret was to remain fluid while implementing our 2009 strategic plan, which we developed during the fourth quarter of 2008. This strategy allowed us to increase our market share for most every manufacturer we represent. We kept our sales force intact in order to increase our marketing presence and focus on understanding our customers’ business. We directed our sales force to specific SICs and used the entire company to become regarded as a ‘valuable’ supplier for our customers.
“In short, we made it our business to understand our customers’ business and respond quickly to their demands. By doing so, we exceeded pre-set objectives for 2009.”

— Steve Rice, President, Welch Equipment Company (Denver, CO)

“Our theme for the year was ‘Service Is….’ Our objective was to provide exceptional service and continue to build relationships with customers. Achieving that objective involved increasing our number of repeat customers, improving customer survey results, responding to customers’ needs during the initial contact, reducing the amount of required rework and overall improving processes. We try to be proactive in our outreach to customers to improve the probability that we are in the front of their mind when their needs arise. We try to proactively seek to assist customers in being more efficient, being more productive, being more profitable, and having more control. That may sound like a commercial, yet our purpose is to present areas of opportunity versus waiting for the customer to hopefully present them to us.”

— Steve Strifler, President, Cisco-Eagle Inc. (Dallas, TX)

“In mid-2008, I realized that business was sliding fast around us. Many of our staff felt that I was being too negative in seeing such severe storm clouds on the horizon—at the time, we were still doing better than most. But we began to look for industries that had severe pressure on them, such as building supplies and automotive, and tightened credit to those customers. It caused some angst, but it helped keep our bad debt expenses in line. We then looked at distribution, which had less economic stress facing it, and gained the confidence of those customers.
“The next step was to look at our customer base of Yale forklifts. In previous years, we had dominated the marketplace with share. Yale had allowed us with superior product and strong National Accounts to populate our market. If that was not done, we would be in a very different position today.
“Our aftermarket, championed by my brother Daniel MacDonald Jr., vice president, drove our staff to have the highest proficiencies and execution of service to customers. As a result, we gained many new service accounts, which provided a steady revenue stream to supplement the shrinking market. The aftermarket staff truly exceeded the customer’s expectations. They responded to every customer in a timely fashion with very accurate information, and those communication skills made our customers quite comfortable during turbulent times. The aftermarket people streamlined the paper process and there highly organized process has reduced errors, time to complete task and reduced stress of our customers during their equipment down time and loss productivity. Their organizational skills allow a greater margin by reducing cost and increasing the customer service base.
“We reduced procedural cost, initiated a 5S program and increased each employee’s knowledge base. In fact, we ask any customer to visit unannounced and take a tour of each of our departments and then visit a competitor and tell us what they see different. To quote an old Yale Standard, ‘Total Customer Satisfaction’ is what both M & G Materials Handling Company employees and Yale provide day in and day out. No one will outwork us to achieve that task.”

— Ken MacDonald, President, M & G Materials Handling Company (East Providence, RI)

“Instead of cost-cutting, Hewitt Equipment Limited actually decided to invest significantly in sales training, tool effectiveness (including quoting), technician optimization processes and product training to improve our service team. By investing more in these areas, we increased both our market share and customer satisfaction.
“We implemented a sales funnel approach and performed regular tracking of salesperson activity. On the training side, we provided 35-day salesperson training and continued to invest in a one-year apprenticeship program. In service, we readdressed our delivery efficiency while focusing on supporting, training and growing tech and staff engagement with specific corrective actions on topics raised in team meetings. We displayed and tracked top 10 service key performance indicators while enticing technicians to both maintain current work and grow our base.
“While the market was moving downward overall, we measured and identified new opportunities. This resulted in an increase in our allied brand offerings and growth in product support sales. We offered more total maintenance and repair options, while at the same time increasing the visibility and availability of our used, rental and parts departments. It all added up to our 14th year of winning an award from MCFA.”

— Michel Lauzon, Vice President Material Handling, Hewitt Equipment Limited (Pointe-Claire, QC, Canada)

“As we have done for the last five years, we employed a precise strategic planning process modeled after MHEDA’s own. A key part of that was research beginning in mid-2008 when we saw the sands shifting. The initiatives that emerged as our strategy were focused on streamlining operations before we had to and focusing on the customer base that was minimally impacted by the economy, ag-pharmaceuticals-distribution. We also put our emphasis on higher margin revenue, the aftermarket.
“We designed action steps to be followed up for each initiative with specific metrics to be monitored for progress. We selected specific accounts on whom to focus and designed strategies to present our capabilities and provide value. We understood all entities were under cost reduction pressures. Much of what we worked on was to improve productivity or reduce costs. For either result, it was imperative that current status and proposed changes could be measured accurately. We also realized that business relationships were being challenged offering opportunity and potential exposure.”

— Duncan Murphy, President, Riekes Equipment Company (Omaha, NE)

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

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