RUBB

Welcome to our first forktruck feature of 2011, with news from major players including Jungheinrich, Still, Crown, Translift Bendi, Combilift and Flexi Narrow Aisle.

Once upon a time, the forklift truck companies simply delivered forklift trucks. These days, retaining and growing business from major customers increasingly requires manufacturers to extend their service and support into previously unexpected areas.

As Nicholas Allen, After Sales Director at Jungheinrich UK, says, modern truck users with large fleets have come to expect a full range of managed services from their equipment provider. These services can span everything from warehouse planning and design, fleet rationalisation analysis, through productivity and utilisation reports to fully managed maintenance packages and operator training. Henry Ford might well hate it (he only offered Model T’s in one colour, black), but in 2011 the reality is it’s down to the suppliers to listen to the customer’s needs, and be flexible. And in the present buyer’s market, users won’t hesitate to switch suppliers if their expectations aren’t met.

Increasing the pressures on suppliers to be flexible, the leading manufacturers’ ranges differ widely in performance and spec, and a large factory or distribution hub, for instance, will draw on a spectrum of machines from various manufacturers, including specialist suppliers, to carry out the different materials handling tasks. Hence, in delivering machines for big fleets, forklift suppliers and distributors find themselves increasingly working closely with ‘competitors’ to supply all the different trucks that the customer needs in a multi-vendor service contract, with one supplier assuming overall responsibility for managing the whole fleet.

Simon Brown, MD at Translift Bendi, who we interview in this feature, is relaxed about supplying Bendi’s specialist trucks to other OEMs and their distributors as part of their fleet solutions for major customers: “The guys in the industry who understand we’re not competing with them are the ones who will benefit. We have good relationships with the big players.”

Truck solutions for major customers increasingly also involve modifying the environment where the trucks work, to ensure optimum performance. In these situations the forklift suppliers’ strategy is typically to enlist outside partners, with the forklift supplier once again acting as principal. In our feature we report how Crown Trucks recently called in Concrete Grinding to create a superflat floor solution for the trucks at Oxford University Press’ new Kettering DC.

Kevin Dare, CoGri Group MD, confirms there is a trend for forklift companies to take charge of floor improvements at customers’ premises: “Although it isn’t an explosion as such, this source of enquiry has definitely increased. We have always worked closely with forklift manufacturers on a referral basis. They generally have the expertise in house to specify the correct floor flatness, but reliance on experts like Face Consultants and CoGri with a quick phone call is quite common.”

So can forklift companies be expected to know about flooring, on top of everything else? Kevin Dare certainly thinks so: “The speed, productivity and maintenance of a forklift truck operation is directly proportional to the floor condition, and most manufacturers know this. Provided you know where to get the information, you don’t necessarily need to know every detail.”

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