Innovation, Innovation, innovation: The business model that my father, Freddy Brown, inventor of the Bendi forklift, has always espoused and which underlies his stunning success. “Give the customer more through the product design than is available from any other solution and you’ll add value to their business,” he said. It is a maxim that many other engineering firms failed to grasp and so have passed into history.
Having progressively stepped back from the business over the last five years, Fred withdrew completely in April 2008. I look back over his career with justifiable admiration, especially at his timely foresight to create new products just before the market felt there was a need for them.
The very narrow aisle (VNA) man-up combi truck was a good example. My father thought of raising the operator so that the driver could order pick as well as replenish stock on the same truck. It beggars belief that he built this truck without any direct competition for nearly 20 years and that now it is a “must-have” in most lift truck manufacturers’ product line up.
Once the market place for man-up VNA was saturated by the competition, there was a need to move on, innovating continuously, firstly with a man-down truck that appeared on TV’s Tomorrows World, then going on to develop low-profile rail guidance for VNA systems before the years 1982-84, when the Bendi concept was born. As was often the way, the Bendi truck was unique and received with some scepticism, as one article in December 1987 portrayed with the headline: “The truck that Bends but will the market?” Among competitors, however, that scepticism morphed into derision, as some viewed the early Bendi as a Heath Robinson contraption.
It was his insight and dogged determination to prove that he could design and build what people needed to solve their storage issues that drove him, instead of just supplying what customers thought they needed. This was a rare break from the first law of conventional marketing wisdom which declares: “Give the customer what the customer wants and not what you think is best for him.”
This conviction, however, was not born of arrogance. He may have been seen sometimes as whacky, as he once called himself, “the bumbling inventor” but invariably he’d get it right. Comments in the trade press that referred to the early Bendi, like: “Whether it sells in large numbers only time will tell,” only fuelled his resolve. Back in 1987 he remarked to a materials handling journalist sympathetic to the ground-breaking Bendi that he would have the last laugh on the competition. The subsequent stunning success of the Bendi throughout world markets proved his faith and prescience.
In an almost carbon copy of the former man-up combi years, my father was unchallenged by competition in the articulated trucks’ market for 8-10 years. Then, in 1992, another articulated machine arrived. Driven by the mantra to remain ahead of the game, Fred’s new design took the Bendi to its second stage with an improved aisle performance and then a bespoke new chassis. In 1995 a world supply and manufacturing agreement with a US partner gave increased production to keep up with surging demand. A niche market had blossomed to a size equivalent to the UK VNA market and after 2000 even the narrow aisle market, typified by the reach truck, saw articulated trucks take 20% of the UK market share.
A model revision by the competition in 1999/2000 called for a further step forward with a slimmer 220 degree rotating format, which finally arrived in 2002 to complete the “VNA” 1600mm aisle performance in both front and rear-wheel drive, before a third competitor arrived in Britain in 2004.
Plenty of smaller progressive steps have been made during the period from 2002, counting nine core changes in total from the original concept. These included trucks with 12 m lifts, all sorts of drive configurations and long-load handlers, but nothing to rival the 2002 landmark discovery of 220 deg over rotation and narrow axles – until now in 2010 with a roll out of new products and the delivery of serial number 8000 which is double that of the nearest competitor published figure proving that the innovation has kept the Bendi as the clear market leader, locally and globally.
The year ahead
January 2010: The all-new web site for easy access of information and a clear guide to the product line up with a picture gallery, screen savers, games and videos.
February 2010: The completion of the Bendi visitor centre in Worcestershire to be opened by the UKWA Regional meeting.
February 2010: The Bendi with serial number 8000 will be delivered.
April 2010: Series 10 Bendi will be available to include all of the standard 220 degree rotation and small articulation to give the 1600mm aisle performance from 4m-13m lifts. This truck is designed with the engineer in mind as much as the end user. It features “Naked Access Service” for the first time on an articulated truck. As the name suggests, all of the trucks’ components can be accessed with the removal of three key panels. A new drive and lift/steer system will be unveiled at the launch along with 14 other key enhancements.
April 2010. A retail version of the Bendi more suited to the retail environment and 30% cheaper, offering costs savings and all the Bendi benefits.
May 2010: The Bendi solution to order picking will be unveiled.
June 2010: The Bendi solution for Euro pallet stacking.
September 2010: We shall announce a global collaboration for the production of a 2m aisle, 2500kg capacity general purpose counterbalance Bendi at counterbalance prices.
One thing is clear. The brilliance of the Bendi and my father’s foresight has allowed us to sail relatively unscathed through a year of tough recession. The Bendi’s unique ability to place pallets in APR racking cheaper than any other method has come of age in a time of essential austerity. Given the new and exciting products continuing to come from the Bendi stable the future looks challenging but exciting with innovation, innovation, innovation.