By Diane M. Calabrese / Published October 2014
Be prepared for the future to be successful. But where does one begin? Members of the industry with decades-long experience offer a bit of advice.
“Pay attention,” says Royce Rasmussen, owner of Royce Industries, L.C. in West Jordan, UT. “Things are changing.” Distributors will have to change, too, explains Rasmussen. That entails “working smarter” in the sense of “managing customers’ needs efficiently rather than only reacting to their needs.”
Being able to do more with fewer people will be important, says Rasmussen. Distributors and manufacturers will work in tandem. “The partnership will need to be closer and better for all to win.” Consolidation of brands is one of the biggest changes Rasmussen has seen during his years in the industry. That is in addition to enormous changes in equipment itself.
“Pressure washers evolved from 500 psi to 5000 psi over the years, requiring changes in components to withstand pressure,” says Dr. Marlo Dean, Senior Support Services Manager at Kärcher in Camas, WA, and a member of the industry for 37 years. The refinement opened applications in industrial markets.
When big box stores—and later Internet vendors—began to sell consumers cold water pressure washers, the market became more compartmentalized. “Dealers and distributors sell mainly industrial hot water pressure washers, and their service departments have increasingly become service centers for all brands of equipment and distribution channels,” says Dean.
Companies must look at their data in the context of other companies—nationally and globally. If they do not, says Dean, they “will not be prepared for global change and technology that are impacting their business model.”
Dean recommends keeping an aphorism in mind: “If companies fail to plan, then they plan to fail.” Take the time to establish a five-year strategic plan and gather the needed benchmark information, surveys, and trend analysis to make it a potent guide for the future, he says.
In terms of strategic planning, Dean suggests taking time away during a weekend (away from the day-to day of the business) provides the best setting. “Successful companies will understand their niche in the market and take the necessary steps in terms of technology, market share, market saturation, and potential.”
Be open to others who can teach us something. “I learned my first lesson early in my career from Larry C. Linton, the founder of Landa pressure washers,” says Dean. “He was always looking for new products, ideas, and technology and held several days away from the business to obtain fresh strategies about thinking outside the box—of ways to grow the company.”
Part of creative thinking is seeing opportunity in change. Regulations deriving from the Clean Water Act, for example, resulted in “the decision to make some capital expenditure changes to fund a new line of products that would complement the pressure washer industry and grow the company,” says Dean. The water reclamation and aqueous parts washers developed continue to grow the company.
The significance of a positive outlook cannot be overstated. And like the others who comment for this column, James Scott, Marketing Manager of Alkota Cleaning Systems, Inc. in Alcester, SD, has one. “I usually think that change is good,” he explains. “It’s going to come.”
Scott has seen a half-century plus of change, having been in the industry since the first week of April in 1962—or more than 52 years. “I remember when we went from steam cleaners to cold water,” he says. “It was quite a change…and then, to hot water washers.”
Niche markets still need steam, explains Scott. Even so, seeing the possibilities in change provides a strong foundation for meeting the future. Couple that philosophy with the two parts of doing business that are essential at any point in time—“customer service and knowledge,” he explains. “We had a vice president of sales, Gene Bowling, who reminded us that the customer is our boss,” says Scott. It was a valuable lesson.
Scott says he expects the industry will “see more changes in the next 20 years than I’ve seen in the last 50.” Among them will be “better chemicals to speed cleaning” and the “use of less water,” he explains.
“I’m not going to see some of this stuff,” says Scott. “But water will become the most precious commodity in the world. We see that in the Midwest now, as farmers must apply for irrigation permits.” Water recycling will become a must in the future, says Scott. And that’s a plus.
In a “Straight Talk” column in his company’s newsletter a few years ago, Scott wrote an essay about his perspective on change, including our sometimes resistance to it. He shared the column with us. We note his focus on the way that change makes endeavors “more efficient” and life “way more comfortable.”
Take the blinders off, says Roy G. Chappell, CEO of Chappell Supply & Equipment Co. in Oklahoma City, OK. “Blinders are for horses,” he explains. Being open to new markets means calling on new industries.
“The use of high pressure cleaning equipment is being adopted by new industry in every area,” says Chappell. “Over the years of attending CETA PowerClean shows, you have the opportunity to talk with other distributors across the country. Drawing on a combination of our own research as well as others within the industry, we thought about the selling trends that should be flagged and changed in our own business.” Use such information to adapt and develop rigorous training for employees, says Chappell. And be able to solve problems for customers.
“The use of 10,000 to 30,000 psi units is becoming more common,” says Chappell. With new industries there are opportunities, such as cleaning PVC lining out of production pipe where hydrogen sulfide gas is produced, cleaning fly ash off heat exchangers, and removing lime buildup in boiler pipe. “Solving problems like these for customers builds a name for your company as a problem solver.”
For every problem solved, the word spreads of the company’s ability, says Chappell. It takes time—and so do the solutions developed, which usually require weeks of study, trial, and error to find answers. Be directly involved with employees, he explains, to make certain they gain the edge they need—in expertise and diligence—to succeed.
Learning from others is a crucial part of success. So is being able to depend upon others.
For example, Sam Humphrey, President of Mi-T-M Corporation in Peosta, IA, asked Karl Loeffelholz, the Distributor Division Manager, to give us his perspective on what will contribute to success in the next few years. (The relay illustrates a strong team in action.)
“From my point of view, I see two very necessary attributes common to most successful distributors and both define customer satisfaction,” says Loeffelholz. “The first is the ability to diversify the products to adapt to the ever-changing market. As the customer’s needs change, so should the product offering. Be open to other products that may open the door to opportunities.”
The second attribute, says Loeffelholz, is “the ability to react to needs of the customer.” That requires a determination to “commit the re-sources necessary to get the product to market in a timely manner.”