said. customer with a value-added service, only to have the purchasing agent then put your product out for bid to the lowest bidder?” he asks.
Drouillard tapped into one of the top concerns of distributors: retaining employees. He said losing employees to “better offers” is a constant problem and must be addressed by considering the needs of the newest generations of employees.
Baby boomers, he said, were raised with the idea of company loyalty and a career path that considered middle management a “plum assignment.” “That’s not true of Generation Y workers,” he said. Research shows those workers place a higher value on work-life balance, and they are less willing to sacrifice personal and family time for the office. Downsizing often targets middle managers, he said, so those jobs are less attractive.
“Today, retaining employees means a willingness to be more flexible about who does what, he said. “Giving employees more control over a significant portion of their job content can make the difference between losing and keeping them.” Offer a “menu of work environments” to match their needs, including flex-time, tuition reimbursement, cafeteria-styled benefits, help with professional services, state-of-the-art equipment and multi-lingual courses.
“Customers want it their way more than ever,” Tevens said. To meet this need, Columbus-McKinnon has structured its manufacturing facilities and Web sites to enable a customer to design a hoist with the combination of options and features that is needed for their specific application and then shipping within a day.
Tevens said this flexibility is an example of how channel partners can “beat the flood of cheap foreign imported products coming into the marketplace.””
Traffic congestion can take a “costly business toll” on distributors, said Drouillard. Timely deliveries no longer are timely, and salespeople spend more and more time between calls. “There is no such thing as a ‘free’ delivery -it’s just a question of who pays for it,” he said.
Consider adding a minimum delivery charge, a fuel surcharge or savings to the customer if he picks up his order. “If we don’t want to show a separate line item for delivery, we’ll have to build these costs into our product prices,” heThe Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association (www.stafda.org) had more than 5,600 participants at its November 2007 show in Nashville, TN, the second-largest turnout in the association’s history. As always, the show’s annual meeting included State of the Industry addresses from the association’s president, Greg Drouillard, president of Target Building Materials Ltd., Windsor, Ontario, and a representative from a manufacturer member, Tim Tevens, president and CEO of Columbus McKinnon Corp., Amherst, NY. Here are notes of interest from those speeches.
State of Construction
In Canada, said Greg Drouillard, housing was 8 percent ahead in 2006 but the market has cooled in areas where heavy industry has experienced plant closures and subsequent job losses. U.S. home building is down 24 percent through September, he said, with the seasonally adjusted rate at its lowest level in 12 years.
Unrest in the credit market is delaying the recovery of the real estate market,” he said. Still, he reported nonresidential building in the first eight months in the U.S. was running 3 percent ahead of a year ago, with a 13 percent gain for stores and shopping centers and a 7 percent increase in office construction.
In addition, the market for renovation is strong. “There are still plenty of opportunities & hellip; although we may need to shift our sales emphasis. That won’t be the first time for most of us, and we’re fortunate to have that flexibility,” he said.
Tim Tevens also had some optimism on the state of construction markets, which according to STAFDA represents 70 percent of its member companies’ total business. The non-residential portion of the construction markets is holding strong, he said.
The oil, gas and petrochemical industries in particular are operating at all-time highs, Tevens said, and the construction of new power plants around the globe is also at a high level. “Every developed country in the world is rebuilding public works and energy infrastructure, and every developing country is building infrastructure for the first time,” he said.
Still, the globalization of production has made participation in these markets more complex.
Tevens asked: “When a new power plant is being designed in Houston and built in China by a construction firm from Germany, how do I participate in that business? When English is not the first language, and, in many cases, not even the second or third language of my customers, how do I support them? If contractors no longer want to buy my products, but just rent them, how do I respond?
Rentals are expected to be over 40 percent of the construction market by 2015. That’s up from just 5 percent in 1995, Tevens said.
Concrete consumption is at an all-time high in the U.S., representing 4.5 percent of global consumption -China is consuming 40 percent of the world’s concrete, Tevens said.
Thirst for Information
Tevens said his company is “experiencing an insatiable thirst” for safety-related seminars and training from channel partners and end-users.  ; This information includes everything from how to design and select the right product for an application to how to install, operate and maintain equipment.
“More and more, people are using the Internet to find that information,” he said. “In a recent survey we did, our customers told us that the No. 1 source they use for information is the Internet. & hellip; In fact, in many cases, the information is becoming more valuable than the product itself. This raises a major question and opportunity for us as manufacturers and distributors. Is there an opportunity to sell the information itself, separate from the product?”
Tevens said the traditional model of a high-priced product with value-added service wrapped around it is being challenged. “How many of you have provided your