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Ask Your MHEDA Board: Vision for the Future

“Given the 2018 Material Handling Business Trends as identified by MHEDA, what is your vision for the future of the industry?”
Asked by Lisa Brink, Marketing Director Riekes Equipment, Omaha, Nebraska

Doug Carson, VP Marketing / Sales, Fallsway Equipment Company, Akron, OH

I believe the future of material handling will evolve along the lines of ever increasing automation. Advances in information technology coupled with all forms of automation will gradually reduce our customers’ human resource requirements dedicated to supply chain, work-in-progress and finished goods movement. All of us associated with MHEDA will gradually progress along the lines of supplying the equipment and services related to increased automation.

Buddy Smith, CEO, CMH Services, Columbia, SC

I believe the future of the material handling industry will present tremendous opportunities to the manufacturer as well as the dealer. Clearly, our end users are seeking more efficient means to ship and store products thereby enhancing their own productivity. We are seeing an increase in a demand for both telematic and automated solutions in lift equipment. Much like the automotive industry, I see the material handling industry moving more towards “operator-less” lift trucks. This is being driven not only by a desire for more productivity but more importantly by a significant labor shortage nationwide. What does this mean for the dealer? Opportunities. Dealers must be aligned with partners who are on the leading edge of providing telematic and automated products and services. This partnership will yield good profit opportunities. I also see the dealer moving into a more consultative role with the end user as our customers seek assistance in using data from telematics to help in managing their fleets.

Mike Vaughan, CFO Liftech Equipment Companies, Inc. E. Syracuse, NY

My vision of the industry is an industry that will be driven by the same passion that has fueled success of the past but will be driven into the future with greater degrees of agility and adaptability to meet the speed and demands of today’s economy. It is exciting to see how material handling professionals are adapting their business practices to improve the speed of customer service and drive efficiencies into their organizations. Dealerships that have a vision for what success feels like will embrace the use of technology, master the art of integrating the development and strengths of a multi-generational workforce and focus on rebranding themselves as organizations that invest in themselves, their employees and their communities. There’s much to be excited about!

Ted Springer, President Springer Equipment Birmingham, AL

MHEDA’s 2018 Material Handling Business Trends speak to our vision for the future of the industry as one of accelerated change. Opportunities are often the result of change and the MHEDA members who are working to become prepared for a multi- generational work force, Ecommerce, automation, robotics and recruitment and retention challenges will be well positioned to take advantage of the coming opportunities within our industry. Internships that lead to inside sales and internet marketing positions will be one of the keys to dealer brand growth. Partnering with systems and automation groups in order to offer customers complete solutions is what many members are currently doing. More changes will result in time and thankfully the robust economy will allow members to continue to network and participate in the many educational opportunities offered by MHEDA!

Mark Nelson, President Nelson Equipment Company, Shreveport, LA

The Material Handling Industry has enjoyed significant growth over recent years with a continuation along the same path for the near future. It is truly a good time to be in our industry both as a manufacturer or a distributor. I am excited for what lies ahead. The technological advancements in automation are coming at breakneck speed. Those that embrace this, and learn how these advancements will help their customers, will enjoy continued growth and success. This will require new and strengthened partnerships within our industry sectors. That is why I see MHEDA as being such a vital conduit in building these partnerships, and supporting the educational needs to drive sustained growth. Wow, what a mouthful. I believe we are just beginning to see the resurgence in the U.S. economy not to mention the global impact taking place. Who would have thought just a few short years ago, the United States would be a world “exporter” of oil? How did that happen? Technological advancements within that industry. Our industry is capable of taking a similar path. The real question is what will this ultimately look like and how will it affect the current norm. While I may not have the answer to that question, I can say that it will come from a marriage of technology, education, manufacturing, distribution, and service together. All done seamlessly and at the speed of light.

Tom Albero, President & CEO Alliance Material Handling, Inc. Jessup, MD

Our industry continues to consolidate on the side of both the manufacturer and dealer. In some cases it is a combination of both. When you look outside of our industry, consolidation is happening worldwide. There are multiple theories out there on how all of this will end up. Alliance is along for the ride and will adapt accordingly to any scenario we create or are presented with. I have been to many conferences on this subject and the most popular theory is that over time, everything will go through Amazon. In that case it is critical for the dealer to be a Value Added Consultant with the end buyer. It certainly is conceivable for forklifts and Allied products to be sold by Amazon, but the Value added Dealer must have a relationship with the end user to guide the end user to order the right equipment and material with the correct specifications to ensure a safe and efficient operation. One thing that will not change is the fact that if you provide great service, customers will continue to buy from you. Dealers that focus on continuous training for their technicians and who consistently exceed customer expectations will weather any storm that the future will bring to our industry.

Scott Lee, President Conveyor Solutions, Inc. Schaumburg, IL

In the past, our industry typically functioned in the shadows of other business to consumer segments. We were thought of as a necessity, not a competitive advantage. However, when we emerged from the “Great recession”, that all changed. Consumers quickly embraced new buying patterns. Ecommerce and the “Amazon Effect” have elevated our industry status straight to the front line. The end user now wants their product as quickly as possible. They don’t want to be bothered with a lot of questions. We must anticipate their needs and push information outward in a convenient, simple to understand method. The future awareness and value of the material handling industry has never been brighter than it is today.

With that being said, it’s also changing rapidly. In the past, Material Handling was mainly about the “equipment solution.” While we still provide hardware in most cases, the data and services accompanying those solutions drives a significant portion of the total value proposition. The world will continue to commoditize and automate the predictable and repeatable. Now that we’re in the consumer spotlight, we must continue to challenge ourselves to stay ahead of the consumer’s demands and provide what they want and need, not just what we want to sell them. The future looks bright!

Hal Ingram, Divisional VP Gregory Poole Equipment Company, Raleigh, NC

Here is my vision! I see continued strategic consolidation of distribution. The demands for services, larger rental fleets, fleet management capabilities, attracting and training techs and third party competitors are making it more difficult for the smaller distributor (in lift truck distribution) to survive financially. The small distributor is not going away in the next five years, there will just be smaller numbers over time. The strong manufacturers and distributors will continue to thrive as they are able to adapt to changes in the business world.

Automation is a big topic these days and ecommerce is driving this change in distribution rapidly. Automating distribution centers is where I see Automation having the largest effect at the current time. Self-Guided Vehicles seem to be becoming a trend again in lift truck applications. We have seen attempts at embracing this concept before, but technology just could not make it work very well except in very specific circumstances. Technology seems to have advanced well enough now to make Self-Guided Vehicles more applicable. I certainly believe that how a distributor interacts with customers is becoming automated quickly. What we as individuals experience outside of work (Amazon, online shopping, internet information and research, etc.) is beginning to influence or set expectations as to how we expect to be interacted with at work. In the next 5 to 10 year time frame, Millennials will be the largest generation in the US workforce replacing the Baby Boomers. How a Millennial has grown up with technology will set new standards for business interaction methodology. The last subject to touch on is training. Being able to competently train a distributor’s workers will become more important going forward. Technology use, less likelihood of associates staying at one job for many years, the complexity of equipment increasing and the speed at which all of this is expected to happen will push the good businesses to create or find sources for training in most of the functions of their business.

Hopefully you will get enough responses where you can see trends from the answers to get a feel for what the future holds for all of us! Have a great 2018.

Todd Maxwell, COO, RMH Systems, Waukee, IA

At RMH Systems, we believe that the economy will stay strong and consumer confidence level will remain high. Our customers are looking for any advantage they can implement that will increase production and lower labor costs. This drives our customer’s automation needs. Our customers will continue to implement automated solutions within their business. The automation projects we completed in 2017 were larger and more complicated than in previous years. We believe that this trend will continue in 2018. Due to the large amount of Systems work that exists, we have created the position of Systems Manager to help qualify and quote the large systems work we uncover. While our customers are trying to do more with less labor, we are trying to find good labor.

The material handling equipment distributors and suppliers will continue the challenge of finding good employees to replace the industry’s aging workforce. With a national unemployment rate of just 4.1%, employers will have to compete for those good employees. The companies that have developed successful recruiting, hiring, and retention strategies will win. We have focused on a formal onboarding process for new employees that makes them feel welcome and part of the team from day one. Our onboarding process covers the following areas: Culture, Compliance, Clarification, and Connection. The onboarding process lays out the goals and expectations over the next 6 months with weekly updates to modify the schedule to fit the employee’s needs. We assign a mentor to the new employee so that they always have someone to go to when they have a question. The future of our industry will depend on the ability of all of us to attract, hire, and retain the next generation of great people.

Jeff Darling, Vice President Operations, Washington Liftruck, Seattle, WA

One doesn’t need a crystal ball to have a vision for the future for our industry. As we look around it is evident that automation is growing at an exponential rate within the material handling industry. This will continue to occur and one will see more robotics, AGVs and automated solutions that will drive improved efficiencies while reducing the need for unskilled and semi-skilled labor. At the same time, the industry will continue to struggle with the shortage of skilled technicians. The skill set required for technicians will change as automated systems continue to evolve in all segments of the market.

It’s also no secret that our industry is continuing to “go green” as more and more companies are replacing their IC powered forklifts with electric units. The evolution of batteries which is allowing two shift run time from a single charge along with opportunity and fast charging will allow more organizations to convert to electric along with other alternative fuel sources. Electric and alternative fueled forklifts will be the predominate mode of power in our future.

In addition, let’s not forget the “Amazon Effect.” In the future, a high percentage if not the majority of material handling transactions will occur on-line. Distributors who survive will be the ones who embrace the web and develop strategies to utilize it as a major communication and marketing tool.