How good is your forklift dealer? Are they just interested in selling/hiring out trucks with no thought to where you want to take your business and the need for a flexible approach over long-term hire contracts? Is your dealer committed to handling only one truck manufacturer’s range, and so therefore may not give you the best mix of trucks for a highly diverse handling operation, with multi-channel product delivery options. These and a host of other issues makes the task of dealer choice critically important to a buyer’s efficient handling operation.

chazThe task of choosing a good dealer is almost as much a minefield as the small print in any hire contract. But it is a task that cannot be taken lightly, especially by large companies with a diverse fleet of forklifts spread across various sites. The rewards for getting the marriage right are considerable.

A good example is packaging specialist, MacFarlane Packaging, with 16 regional distribution centres and three manufacturing plants. It had a very mixed fleet of trucks with a mixed level of handling reliability and so there was a clear need to consolidate its fleet to support a fleet-wide rationalisation programme following the expiry of its existing suppliers’ contracts. The result was that a new agreement with Yale dealer, Forkway, meant that MacFarlane’s new 70-strong fleet cut its previous forklift numbers by 20% and introduced a degree of flexibility that adjusts to the client’s growth and business changes. The fleet is also remarkably safety conscious by virtue of its on-board telemetry-based truck management system that gathers a wealth of data on individual trucks and drivers as well as overall fleet performance.

However, to achieve that dealer/supplier marriage in heaven what should the buyer do to smooth the nuptials? Among the major truck makers, build quality and reliability vary little but long-term performance rates can vary up to 30%, thanks partly to safety innovations. A good example of this is Linde’s recent intelligent, operator-assist system for its R14-R20 reach trucks. The system automatically compensates and minimises mast oscillation and mast deflection through precise and seamless counter movements of the reach carriage. This means faster cycle times and less damage to the rack or the load stored behind even at heights of over 8 metres.

A big mistake when hiring trucks is to place too much importance on price comparisons among suppliers/dealers. Potential users should ask if the trucks recommended by competing suppliers are comparable in specification and will perform the duty for the application. Given that many rental/lease deals also have maintenance schemes how does one maintenance support programme compare with another, because aftersales service can vary widely?

A major point to consider in maintenance programmes is the quality of call-out rates. Many claim to offer a four-hour call out rate but what if the repair is not done on the same day because the service engineer lacks the right parts? To protect themselves against this and other annoyances, buyers should think of choosing a dealer/supplier that guarantees uptime rates, with penalties for failure to meet them. Good truck suppliers will offer to replace a truck if it cannot be repaired within 12 hours. But a word of caution. Some suppliers contract out the service element of the contract and that risks higher, poor servicing standards.

All leading forklift manufacturers will advise the necessity of carefully reading the small print in hire/lease contracts, obvious enough, one would think, but it still catches people out. If a service is included ensure what exactly is covered; hours of usage, any exclusions like wheels and tyres, etc. Interest rates should also be checked because these can vary widely. Perhaps not least of the contentious issues is supplier policy over what determines fair wear and tear. A useful guide on this is available from the Fork Lift Truck Association.

In an ever-highly competitive forklift market the big buyers have the whip hand, and they should not flinch from using it.