2014 is a banner year for MHEDA as the association is celebrating its 60th anniversary! In these pages, you can read about how the industry has changed and evolved in the past 60 years. We asked MHEDA’s Board of Directors and MBOA members to picture themselves in the material handling business 60 years ago. What would they have most liked to know then that they know now — 60 years later? The answers we got were very interesting and spanned a wide variety of topics. See their responses and get to know this year’s board and MBOA below as they prepare to help you in 2014!
President, Elite Supply Chain Solutions
My perception is that 60 years ago, distributors and dealers built their businesses around the brands and products they represented. Today, I believe it is much more important to build your business around your customers’ and prospects’ business challenges. In the current business environment, a successful distributor is one who can pull together the right team, internally and externally, with the best manufacturer partners, to help the end-user/customer reach his goals and objectives.
President, Lift Atlanta, Inc.
The rise of the Internet and the ability to access information quickly, as well as tools like search engines, social media, email, etc., have changed the way and continue to change the way products are marketed and sold. I would have also liked to know how the growing amount of government regulation would have such an impact on small business and how overseas competitors would change the industry.
President, Conveyor Solutions, Inc.
If I were in the business 60 years ago and could know just one thing about the 2014 material handling world, I would want to know about the INTERNET! The Internet has had a direct impact on the way we go to market, the tools and information available to our clients, our bottom lines, the commoditization of many of our products, and has educated the world about our industry. I would break it into two categories: products and services that could be provided over the Internet without client intervention and then “value added” products and services.
MHEDA Vice President
Chairman/CEO, American Warehouse Systems
If I was in business in 1954 but I could be privy to certain “future” knowledge I would concentrate on lasting trends in technology. I would make sure that I was an early implementer of technologies that would be “tried and true” in 2014. I think this would cross all areas of business; material handling technologies to marketing technologies. I would focus on offering my customers the potential for high-density storage and automated material handling systems, knowing this technology would be on its way in several years down the road. Sixty years ago most people couldn’t conceive a fax machine much less the Internet or smart phones. To think that someone could “shop” for equipment across the world and live on a hand-held device would have been something from science fiction.
MHEDA Immediate Past President
President, Wisconsin Lift Truck Corp.
The greatest success we can have is attained by enabling our customers’ successes in the direction of the future. The evolution of material handling runs parallel to the evolution of the industries it serves, the technological innovations of the times and the economic development of the world. Over the 60 years of MHEDA’s existence, MHEDA has provided a forum to the industry to identify trends, learn about innovations and share ideas with peers. MHEDA’s education and networking formats enable us to have a view of the future. A wise man that I worked for early in my career told me that it is good to be ahead of the wave but not so far ahead of the wave as to be consumed by the wave. I look for MHEDA to keep me ahead of the wave.
CEO, AK Material Handling Systems
Maple Grove, MN
60 years ago, I would have liked to have known just how rich and fulfilling the material handling industry would be to everyone’s daily life. In 1953, supply chain management hadn’t even been discussed. By the industry developing step-by-step, it has been able to create a vast array of handling equipment that serves all segments of distribution. Not knowing just how great of a service this business was going to be 60 years ago only makes it that much more rewarding to know that we have all been a big part of this society fulfillment.
VP of Marketing & Sales, Fallsway Equipment Company
The most important key to your company’s success in the lift truck industry is your technicians. You can have the best trucks on the market with the best factory support but without a well trained, competent technician workforce it is not possible to be a long-term successful distributor. Imagine having this knowledge 60 years ago what you could have done: You could have developed an unparalleled training and recruitment program that supplied a constant stream of competent technicians; you would continually grow your technician workforce aggressively, perhaps overcoming fears of underutilization, even during downturns in the economy; you would develop a technician retention program that ensured you held on to all of your hard-earned experience and training dollars.
There are several things that I would let everybody know if I was working in the industry in 1954. The biggest change in our industry over 60 years is the increase in automation and control software to increase productivity. It’s huge and I wonder if anyone could fathom its impact 60 years ago. When I started in the business, and I assume it was true in the mid-50s, it seemed that many of the deals done were just transactional where today there’s much more of a partnership mentality and focus between vendors and clients. I think video conferencing might be the most inconceivable thing to the folks of 60 years ago. Or, smart phones, or, how about the Internet and email!
President, R.H. Brown Co.
It would have been important to understand that as a material handling distributor, the success of the company would primarily be defined based on the value of the services provided beyond the equipment being supplied, as most of the equipment has become commoditized.
President, Advanced Equipment Company
If I could travel back 60 years, the first thing I would tell everybody would be to embrace change. I’m not sure that prior knowledge of market trends would have made much of a difference 60 years ago, but I would advise people to be flexible and change course as necessary to adapt to marketplace changes and industry developments. The thing I would most like to have known, however, is that the economy is going to cycle and no matter how successful you are or how hard you work, you will still be subject to the huge swings that happen in our economy.
If I had known 60 years ago, or even 33 years ago when I got involved in the business, how critical a role our industry plays in the overall economy, I think I would have developed my passion for the business earlier. When I started, I saw it as a job and not a career. The levels of commitment are different and much more fulfilling when you know it’s your career. And if I had known about Europe back then and the advancements that were being made over there with supply chain development and the like, I think I would have been inspired earlier to learn about these things and bring them into my spheres of focus and influence.
CEO, Carolina Material Handling Services
The advancements in electric truck technology and the number of electric models that have evolved over the last 60 years would have been advantageous to know. The electric truck product line has expanded quite a bit over the last several years and my guess is that 60 years ago, most fuel-style trucks were gas. This information would have affected our training, manufacturer relationships and the type of customers we felt were a good fit for us in long-term strategic planning.
CFO, Liftech Equipment Companies
East Syracuse, NY
I think that advancing the concept that competitors can collaborate on industry issues to help the industry get stronger and more vibrant would have been very advantageous. That sharing of information and knowledge is better than protecting valuable information. I would tell everybody the importance of your service operation. It has only been in recent times that the value of a strong aftermarket operation has really been a focus versus the sales operation. Equipment differentiation has become less and less relevant.
President, Container Systems Inc.
While there are a lot of general things I would have liked to know 60 years ago (I would have bought stock in Yahoo!, Google and about 50 other dot-com companies), as it relates to material handling, I would have been shocked to learn that customers would expect their quotes back on the same day they requested them. Even more shocking, they’d expect the equipment to arrive that same day! It would also have been advantageous to know about the wholesale change from corrugated steel and wire mesh containers used in the auto industries to the plastic collapsible containers of today. But if you really want a reliable answer, ask Howard Bernstein. He was there then and is still here now!
President, Pape Material Handling
Sixty years ago it would have been inconceivable that electric trucks would dominate the market and that a lift truck could last 10,000 hours with just routine maintenance. That machines would be able to diagnose themselves, send hours of use and abuse to you sitting in your office looking at a contraption called a laptop, and that you could send a technician out to plug directly into the trucks to see what was causing it to not operate properly would have been unheard of.
MHEDA Advisory Board
Executive Vice President, Gregory Poole Equipment Company
Sixty years ago equipment dealers faced some of the same challenges we have today such as low margins, lack of profits and high labor cost. In the industrial truck market, the distributor profitability was in new and used truck sales. Parts and service profitability was not a focus, but a necessary support required to sell the truck. Today the industrial truck profitability is in parts, service, used and rentals. Based on that shift in dealer profitability, I would hire the best talent to manage those operations and drive processes to improve efficiency and profitability.
MHEDA Advisory Board
President, AHS, Inc.
If I could travel back 60 years I would share the importance of diversification and making sure you develop your team’s abilities to provide value-added services. Representing a good hardware supplier will not be enough to survive. Stay focused on your core competencies but at the same time work on complementary offerings.
MEET THE MBOA
VP/GM Motive Power Sales, East Penn Manufacturing
Lyon Station, PA
The automation and productivity capabilities in warehouse and logistics have been inconceivable. The volume, size, height and speed of material movement in the industry today is phenomenal. We have come a long way in 60 years…the future challenges and opportunities are exciting! I would tell myself that change in business is constant. Remain flexible and adapt to the changing business environment.
Executive VP of Business Development, Unex Manufacturing
In October of 1954, if I knew there was a meeting of eight material handling equipment distributors at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago to form a new Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association, the same MHEDA that today has over 600 members representing the gold standard of material handling equipment sales organizations, I would have figured out a way to attend that meeting to represent the first manufacturer of hundreds that would become a key element in the MHEDA chemistry that makes MHEDA what it is today.
President/CEO, Borroughs Corporation
If I could travel back in time to start a business 60 years ago, I would be mindful of the impact of government regulation on business, current banking practices and access to capital to finance a business, the issues of new generations and what they look for from an employer, the reinforcement of this business as a relationship business and the importance of ongoing performance to get invited back. That may be truer today than at any other time.
President/CEO, Toyota Material Handling, USA, Inc.
One of the more significant product changes in the lift truck industry has been the increase in popularity of electric lift trucks. Only 40 years ago, the industry was 60 percent IC powered (engines) and 40 percent electric power. Now that ratio has reversed and 60 percent of lift truck sales in the U.S. are electric-powered. There have been dramatic improvements in motor and battery and charger technology that we could not have imagined 60 years ago. I also would have liked to have known 60 years ago that the strength and size of a material handling dealership would see enormous potential in the future. I don’t think manufacturers realized how important a successful dealer network would be to their own success 60 years ago.