The customer is always right-sized
March 17, 2011 - MMH Editorial
The steady growth of the pre-recession economy made business planning relatively easy for folks in the materials handling business. A few extra lift trucks seemed almost certain to come in handy sooner or later and the annual purchasing cycle seemed a suitable time frame to react to any major shifts in business. As the economy works to right itself, even a quarter seems too large a window to make any concrete assumptions about coming conditions. As a result, businesses are demanding ever more flexibility from equipment and service providers so that they can be react to the peaks and valleys.
John Winter is the executive vice president for Carolina Handling, a Raymond sales and service center. Winter says his company—and the industry in general—is seeing a shift in the products and services they provide. Lately, clients expect a provider to offer a suite of custom-tailored solutions, not just an off-the-shelf product—and Winter agrees. Even after the point of sale, he says, the relationship should continue to be flexible as business conditions change.
“As a lift-truck user, you need to be able to react to variable costs throughout the year,” says Winter. “What if volume swings 25 percent from one quarter to the next? You need to be able to scale
your fleet accordingly.” Not all equipment and service providers are prepared to offer such customized and flexible solutions and not all customers are aware it’s even an option. It’s a new trend in the industry, says Winter, driven largely by the demands of new customers.
“Many were surprised by the economic decline and couldn’t scale quickly enough to stay healthy,” says Winter. “They’re now asking us to provide that flexibility to keep costs proportional to
volume.” The road to quick reactions is paved with good data, says Winter, who says the first step usually includes some truck-mounted equipment to capture information about usage, resource consumption and work cycles. Such an analysis of operators and operations might yield lift truck-related savings of 20 to 30 percent, he says, although even a 5 percent savings could be a game-changer for many companies.
Winter says the data also helps companies like his get better at what they do. The data can monitor performance not just of lift-truck, but of provider solutions. “We take this very seriously,” says Winter. “Providers should have a good understanding of the customer’s business and offer services based on needs.”