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Successfully Moving Profits and Goods in a Down Economy

January 16, 2009

 Lessons Learned from Austrian Exhibitors at ProMat 2009

“2009 is an open question. Orders continue coming in, though numbers this year won’t reach what we did last year. But it won’t be a catastrophe either.” This was the generally held view of the state of the material handling industry this year as expressed by the five exhibiting Austrian firms at ProMat 2009, the key trade show for material handling in the U.S. This cautious but grounded optimism held by the exhibitors, specifically DS AutomotionKnapp Logistics Automation , Nedcon USA, Inc. , Roll Forming Corporation , and TGW-ERMANCO INC. , begs the question: How does a firm ensure its survival and success in the face of the current economic climate? Whereas they may differ in their approach, the Austrian firms seem to follow these principles of success in doing business in the U.S.

Focus on your loyal customers.
“We have developed close contacts by meeting the needs of key customers in the two branches we focus on most. These are our Stammkunden and we will remain close to them. We have particularly devoted resources in tailored software to help them respond to the developments in their marketplace,” asserted one CEO from Austria. A bird in the hand is worth two customers in the bush.

Maintain a diversified customer base.
“We’re still taking orders from pharmaceutical customers, but anything highly leveraged or related to automotive sector is on hold,” is how one president described the benefit of maintaining sales through a wide net of customer segments. DS Automotion, which manufactures automated guided vehicles (AGV’s), has cast an even wider net with their robots cruising through diverse worksites from sterile hospitals to hot metal production facilities.

Offer complete solutions.
The line between hardware and software has blurred in recent years in material handling. Firms such as Knapp Logistics Automation and TGW-ERMANCO both offer specialized automated storage/retrieval systems, including hardware and software, though geared towards different applications. They understand how their customers want solutions, preferably from a single supplier, where delivery, installation and even maintenance are included.

Maintain your strategic advantage.
“We offer the best products through a design engineering process which involves customers and then utilizes local production and international sourcing for strong pricing,” describes a CEO in an industry competing strongly on price. Speaking with contagious enthusiasm, a U.S. Business Development Manager described how his firm provides a missing software link between firms’ corporate headquarters and floor equipment at remote distribution centers. Another Austrian CEO described how he has learned to partner hardware and software with a friendly European competitor to offer the best solution, explaining “In this market, our companies collaborate with good results. The U.S. now accounts for 20% of our firm’s revenue, and we don’t even have an office established here.”