Lift truck sales, and spirits, picking up
Two years ago, the economy was particularly bleak and some of the most drastic downsizing had yet to hit the materials handling industry. When combined with January weather perfectly suited to the mood, ProMat 2009 was well-attended, but less than jubilant.
The North American lift truck market was particularly hard-hit, with a stunning 40% plunge in 2009 sales that neared 30-year lows. Since then, lift trucks mounted an equally shocking rebound of 40% growth in 2010, serving in both cases as a barometer for the state of the industry. At this year’s ProMat, manufacturers of lift trucks and lift truck accessories reported a marked change in the atmosphere.
“There is definitely exponentially more confidence today than there was at the height of the panic,” David Furman, vice president of marketing for Raymond, told Modern at ProMat 2010. “There’s more confidence, but there isn’t a cavalier quality to it.”
Companies are no longer adding capacity in anticipation of unending growth, said Furman. Instead, companies are trying to leverage the assets and real estate they have, and are looking to lift truck manufacturers for more than just trucks.
“It’s a different discussion,” said Furman. “They’re telling us all their problems, from storage to racks to order-picking, data management and sustainability.”
Raymond had in-house engineering and optimization specialists in the past, but those resources are being deployed more than ever as customers seek full-spectrum services from their OEMs.
“ProMat allowed us to showcase that we’re well-positioned for that demand,” said Furman. “We had three times as many booth visits as in 2009.”
According to Melinda Beckett-Maines, national marketing manager for Toyota Material Handling, the weather during ProMat 2011 played no small part in the event’s success.
“No one can argue that March is a better time to visit Chicago than January,” she said. “It was nice to see the shift in timing did not dissuade people from attending the show. ProMat brings together people from all facets of materials handling, making it a great meeting place. From Toyota’s perspective, and those we spoke to, it appears the industry is cautiously optimistic about the material handling industry in 2011.”
Jeanette Robinson, marketing and advertising manager for SMH, echoed this sentiment, reporting plentiful, qualified leads at her company’s booth.
“We were very pleased,” she said. “Almost all our customers said business is picking up. We’re not just at the beginning of the recovery, we’re in the middle of it.” And, as far as Robinson could tell, the recession was not without its silver lining.
“The downturn made our customers look into other markets, and that’s what we did as well,” she said. “You can’t do the traditional thing and make the same money.”
Accessory providers like SMH benefited from industry-wide efforts to bring older trucks and rental fleets out of storage. These small steps toward growth are timid when compared to new fleet purchases, which are increasingly structured as short-term leases, another sign of cautiousness. That said, if the industry can grow as projected while buyers are still pulling punches, increased confidence could lead to knockout lift truck sales, and that’s good news for everyone.
ProMat 2011 will be held March 21 - 24, 2011 at McCormick Place South in Chicago. The tradeshow will showcase the latest manufacturing, distribution and supply chain solutions in the material handling and logistics industry.