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Changing Rules in the Materials Handling Industry

Andrea Curreri

Recently at MHEDA’s 55th Annual Convention, the resounding hue and cry from presenters, exhibitors and dealers alike was, “The Rules Have Changed!” While no one was on horseback at the lovely Marriott Marco Island Resort and Spa, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that now famous April 1775 midnight ride of Paul Revere who too had a dire warning to give that “The British are coming, the British are coming!”. Indeed, driven by the shift in economic and market trends, what used to pass for the rules of the game, more precisely the rules used to WIN the game have changed. The glaring question remains: what are the new rules and, like Mr. Revere’s message, what are we to DO now that we have this knowledge of either the impending arrival of the British or the change in game plan?

At MHEDA’s Convention, keynote speaker and leading economist Dr. Lowell Catlet spoke about better understanding the current marketplace including the buying habits of purchasers. So too, speaker and consultant Michael Marks highlighted specific strategies to tip the game board in favor of those businesses who have learned the new rules. Mr. Mark’s winning points include:

  • Invest something to support the world view shift from sales to marketing.
  • Learn and understand the real economics of wholesale distribution, marketing channels and branding.
  • Recognize that real competitive advantage is never gained by following the herd’s conventional wisdom.
  • Realize that winning requires doing new things, not just doing the same things better.

Other speakers reinforced the need to network with peers who have remained profitable even during rough economic times, and to learn from them while uncovering new ways of conducting successful business.

At Bluff Manufacturing, not only have we heard the cry of the midnight materials handling industry rider, but more importantly, we listened early in the ride and have taken definitive measures to capitalize on the rule book changes. Because there has been a paradigm shift in the psychology of “buying”, the focus has changed from selling to marketing. As a result, the critical question now should be “What can we do for the customer?” not “How many units can well sell the customer?” Marketing is the key tool to selling the message. Bluff established an unwavering commitment to customer service well before the rest of the game players. We have a team of six dedicated account representatives, including two product specialists. In addition, we have an engineering design team readily available for live field-to-shop interaction. This entire team is available by telephone to take orders and to actively assist distributors in the field to help our clients make the best choice in product selection..

Innovation and product development are more important now than ever, and are two of Bluff’s core strengths. Through active and effective interaction with our distributors and end users, Bluff Manufacturing has been able to create solutions to common and unusual problems. Our SL Plate™ (Spring Loaded Dock Plate – stores vertically, mounts to the top of the dock) is an example of such problem solving. One of our distributors brought a request from a large snack food company they were working with for a plate that was there when they needed it. Repeatedly we heard from the field that materials handling personnel were tired of looking for “missing” dock plates which had either been misplaced between material transfer, used elsewhere on the dock and not properly stored or maybe even stolen. What to do? Create an aluminum dock plate which mounts directly to the dock and can be easily stored, always available for the next use! Enter the Bluff SL Plate™. The development of this product and its overwhelming popularity reinforces Bluff’s conviction that innovation can be accomplished even with the oldest and simplest of products.

Bluff’s Speedy Board™ is another example of how Bluff has used the “new rules” to the mutual advantage of its entire market channel. As dock operational safety is paramount to efficiency and productivity, Bluff decided to take a critical look at how small changes in its products could make a big impact on safety. Armed with an awareness that 95% of accidents occur when forklift drivers are out of the cage, Bluff zeroed in on how to keep the drivers safely in their cages. By adding notches to the underplate of the board, the tine of the forklift can engage directly to lift the board. Only one individual is needed to place a board and the forklift operator has no need to dismount from the lift truck for board retrieval and placement and stays safely in the cage increasing productivity and efficiency.

So “The Rules Have Changed, The Rules Have Changed!” and the midnight rider has been heard. Some of the material handling manufacturers, like Bluff Manufacturing, got right up the very next morning and started positioning themselves to benefit from the rule changes while others are still wondering, “Who WAS that lantern-carrying rider?” Play the game with Bluff to WIN!