|“I come to work to solve problems.”
|“We now ask customers the form of communication they prefer—email, no email, phone, no phone, fax, in person.”
|“Doing business with friends…bring that back.”
|“We help customers be productive, efficient and competitive, because the competition our customer sees is not from down the street, it’s from overseas.”
Sixty percent of companies that sell a mix of products forecast a year with increasing sales. The rest believe sales will not decrease, nor will they increase. The average sales increase for those distributors expecting sales to go up is 10.8%, the highest of any other group. Ergonomics, new markets and customer relationships are the buzz words.
“I’ll be happy if I can increase sales by 15%,” says Carl Swanson, president, Equipco Division of Phillips Corp (Bridgeville, PA), whose plan includes taking advantage of the Marcellus Shale and its spinoff business. With many out-of-town companies setting up shop, Swanson is introducing them to Equipco by having a webpage dedicated to products used by this market. Equipco has grown its allied business and is getting more rack and carousel projects as businesses try to reduce overhead. A field service manager will be hired whose role is not only to sell and train, but also to travel with technicians to help them work smarter.
Reorganization of customers’ manufacturing and distribution facilities—including new layouts and processes—is keeping Maybury Material Handling (East Longmeadow, MA) very busy. President John Maybury anticipates sales to be up by 10% as more businesses strive for efficiencies and ergonomics in their work environments. As for his own company, Maybury says, “We’re taking waste out of our processes to be that leaner, meaner company that can pass along lower costs to our customers so they can be leaner and meaner. We’re all part of the food chain.” Maybury is leveraging technology as technicians go to paperless documentation, including work orders and service histories.
“Companies are spending money on capital goods, not people, as they automate lines to improve their processes.” This move to automation will keep sales on an even keel for Paul Wanous, president, Skarnes Inc. (Plymouth, MN). In 2011, Wanous made many capital improvements, including heat conservation and motion sensors on lights in the warehouse. He is working to get his two facilities operating as one. Another focus in 2012 will be customer relationships. “We want more face-to-face communication.” Employees are charged with strengthening those relationships, including lunch with customers to make sure they are taken care of. Wanous is considering more event-type programs for customers.
Service Storage International (Willoughby, OH) was selling to third-party logistics companies but found them to be too bottom-line, so Craig Budreo, president, expanded his horizon to pursue three basic markets. “They are the kind of companies where price is not the important point—performance is: food, health and cosmetics industries.” New conveyors will be introduced in the 1st Quarter, along with additional food-grade products. Budreo forecasts a steady year and will introduce customers and suppliers to the next generation, his son Tim Bernot.
“Our goal is to help customers be as productive as they possibly can be. But everything we do doesn’t really add value to the customer’s product. All we do is reduce the cost of manufacturing,” says Henning Hoj, president, Hoj Engineering & Sales Co. (Salt Lake City, UT), who expects sales to remain stable. His biggest challenge is accounts receivables. “We always had net 30 days; now we get a down payment with the purchase order.” When equipment ships from the manufacturer and appears at the customer’s site or in Hoj’s shop, a partial invoice is sent. Says Hoj, “To our amazement, the customer is not offended, and they send a check.” By the time the project is done, the customer owes only 10-15% of the total price. Hoj calls this increasing their “speed of money.”
Mike Burskey, president, Shelving + Rack Systems (Walled Lake, MI), is strengthening marketing activity and adding two salespeople. With the automotive industry on the upswing, Burskey predicts growth of 15%. During the first half of the year, computer systems and software will be updated. “We want to do a quantum leap,” says Burskey. “We don’t want to be just a little better at what we are doing now. We want to move to the next level or two. It’s pretty exciting.”
Gary Wilder, president, Siggins Company (North Kansas City, MO), changed the company’s marketing strategy when he became president. “We had almost no marketing beyond the salespeople knocking on doors.” Now Wilder is using email and reaching into vertical markets. He is developing strategic plans and hopes for an increase in sales of 5%.
Warner Specialty Products (North Haven, CT) works with large businesses in the defense and aerospace industries, companies that continue to stay busy. President Jack Norton may add an outside salesperson in the first half of the year. He plans to update his website. “A lot of things we sell are much more than price-sensitive products; they are engineered solutions,” referring to increasing pressure from competitors low-balling prices. He aims to make a personal connection with the customer to help them recognize the value of a solution. Norton expects sales to be similar to last year.
Joe Harper, president, Southwest Materials Handling Company (Dallas, TX), anticipates strong aftermarket sales and predicts an increase of 10%. He is buying land adjacent to his current location and will use it to expand his facility. Three employees will be hired for sales and service. “This is a people business,” Harper says, “and finding employees with passion for their work is important, though challenging.”
“Customers want an answer right now, and we must be able to give an answer right now, or they’ll go someplace else. While we must be more responsive, we also must be more patient, because they are not making decisions quickly and they want more options,” says Steve Strifler, president & CEO, Cisco-Eagle (Dallas, TX), who hopes for a 7-12% increase as customers get a handle on future projects. Cisco-Eagle is marketing a product developed in-house that controls interactions between moving equipment and personnel at warehouse intersections.