....a load off my mind!

On Your Bike…

In his latest blog, Mr Loadlink reflects on a Harley-Davidson ride up Interstate 45, shares other highlights from a productive business trip, sets his sights on the Philippines, and more.

Aaron Orsak and I hired a pair of Harley-Davidson motorbikes to explore I-45.

Aaron Orsak and I hired a pair of Harley-Davidson motorbikes to explore I-45.

I can envisage the words ‘Mister Loadlink’ in studded lettering across the shoulders of a Hells Angels-style biker jacket. Not a shiny new one, but threadbare and thinned in all the right places. The kind of jacket that has seen every mile of the USA’s interstate network and flashed past a million trucks as I chased down the horizon on my Harley-Davidson. That will be the sign that I have enjoyed a long and happy retirement one day.

For now, it’s just Straightpoint technical sales engineer, Aaron Orsak, and I in my bike club. And it’s not really a fearsome gang at all. It was a sunny April Saturday in Houston, Texas. We completed a series of successful visits over the previous couple of days and we had some spare time before heading east along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans, where Associated Wire Rope Fabricators (AWRF) was staging its 2016 General Meeting & Product Information Exhibition (PIE).

We decided to hire a couple of Harley-Davidsons and terrorise Interstate 45 for a day. During our 300-mile trip, we were sat at a quiet spot near Lake Conroe discussing others who might have the biker brawn and brashness to wear the Straightpoint patches and go riding with us. We could see our U.S. general manager John Molidor, barechested, in a sleeveless leather at the spearhead of the fleet as we descended on a rural tavern. One or two from UK headquarters made the grade too.

Back home, last weekend, I was telling people about our memorable trip at a classic motorcycle show. As it emerged, Straightpoint has a lot in common with Harley-Davidson. Take a snippet from its website, for example: “We bring a commitment of exceptional customer experiences to everything we do—from the innovation of our products to the precision of our manufacturing—culminating with our strong supplier and dealer networks.”

I guess that realisation inspired my revved up opening gambit. Our own distributor network is the focal point of many ongoing initiatives and we always look to add value to every business trip by visiting existing and prospective partners, in addition to end users. I bet Harley-Davidson does the same. Readers of this blog should too.

As John is doing in Florida even as I write this—the 2016 Annual Conference of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) is taking place in Orlando—Aaron and I visited key companies in the Houston area, including David ‘Mo’ Moseley at Bishop Lifting Products Inc. (he’d definitely make our biker club), who is frequently called upon. Within reason, one can’t visit a company too often and every opportunity for face-to-face contact should be taken.

Shoe-leather marketing

Not only did Aaron and I make appointments with key contacts, like Mo, we also cold-called on a number of others. We harnessed the power of LinkedIn to find representatives of relevant companies we identified in the vicinity or stumbled upon and literally knocked on their door. This old-fashioned, shoe-leather marketing gives me a tremendous buzz and it ensures the elevator pitch and introduction to our products is in good order. I recommend it, but I’m glad we did this part of the trip in a car and not on the Harleys. First impressions and all that.

The four-wheeler also allowed me to introduce Aaron to Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, whose standup routines I played on my smartphone. Fittingly, the funny-man is also famed for touring the world on a Harley-Davidson trike, stopping at towns to entertain audiences, often followed by television crews making documentaries about his trips. He has recently swapped trike for train in a series for UK television, taking rolling stock from Chicago to New York (the wrong way round), but he is a frequent visitor to the states and has travelled its famous Route 66, for example, on three wheels. Billy, Aaron loved your jokes—you and the trike would be welcome on a ride out with us any time!

In between gags, it was fascinating to talk to Houston-based Aaron about his geography. He oversees an interesting marketplace in that the state of the Gulf Coast oil and gas sector is broadcast by local and international media every day. Google it and see the myriad of articles and forecasts that come up. The lifting industry, like others, is obsessed with oil prices and one must guard against slipping into a reactive state. Of course, we’re buoyed by references to a recovery in the sector, but we’re not sitting on the Harleys waiting for a market analyst to give the signal—we’re already roaring up the interstate to take marine, salvage, decommissioning and other opportunities.

I feel like you’re reading on for some information from the coalface. I’m happy to share what I heard but don’t let it govern your thought processes—things change quickly and no forecast is set in stone. One key player told Aaron recently he expects oil to rise to $70 a barrel by the end of this year, with onshore activity reigniting in the next couple of months, preceding a return to offshore enterprise in around 12 to 18 months time.

A slice of PIE

Our door-to-door sales effort was a perfect way to warm the engines ahead of AWRF’s event and charmingly-named PIE, where John joined us in the Big Easy. I’ve heard the expo was the inspiration for the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association’s (LEEA) LiftEx trade show, which itself is 12 years old in 2016. The two associations embrace each other’s work and it’s easy to see why UK-headquartered LEEA holds its American counterpart in such high regard.

AWRF knows how to throw a party and, once again, the event provided a backdrop for serious business conversations and enjoyable, productive networking. In the spirit of the show, we organised a competition on the Straightpoint booth to see who could pull the highest force on a wireless Radiolink plus load cell, setup with a couple of shackles.

The average was about 80 lbs., with one or two participants beating that and pulling 120 lbs. But Serge Lavoie, director east of Quebec at Lam-É Industries, Canada, pulled a staggering 130lbs. to take the prize—an iPad. A special mention also goes to Tony Mazzella, CEO of U.S.-based Mazzella Companies, who not only suggested we should have operated an over 60s category, but then pulled an impressive 80 lbs. to win it himself! Tony, a prize for claiming victory in the impromptu category is on its way to you even as you read this.

It was a great event but I was pleased to make it home for my son Isaac’s 16th birthday. Speaking of young people going places, I was thrilled to hear about the success of Straightpoint apprentice Josh Chipps’ standout load cell presentation at the South Downs College Engineering Project Day recently. Chipps concluded a 24-week project by presenting to college staff, Straightpoint representatives, invited members of industry and fellow students. His paper followed the manufacturing process of a load cell. I’m excited about watching Isaac and Josh develop over coming years.

Islands of opportunity

Contact cultivation is a global project. In fact, it more commonly sees us focus our attention on new and developing markets. For example, Dave Mullard, our business development manager, is constantly narrowing down his search for new distribution partners, particularly in Russia, a hotbed of potential on his watch. Meanwhile, I have been making inroads into the Philippines, which is a collection of an incomprehensible 7,000+ islands. We’ll need a boat not a Harley!

Online research unveiled the Overseas Business Network Initiative (OBNi), a joint project of the British Chamber of Commerce Philippines (BCCP) and the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). OBNi assists UK companies in exporting or doing business in the Philippines through OMIS / Business Support Service. I arranged a Skype meeting, name-dropping Dutch distributor Van Gool and Bishop, among others, as existing partners who boast the key criteria we look for in new distributors, and am excited about basing a trip there on the outcomes.

In my last blog I touched upon the visit of a delegation from heavy lift specialist ALE from Spain. It’s worth elaborating on that in the spirit of the relationship-building theme within this blog. ALE are a special company and a valuable customer. After all, few would visit primarily with a view to gathering intelligence about our 300t+ compression load cells and centre of gravity software. Fewer still would request a bespoke software package, tailored to their audience. It took a lot of man hours and engineering expertise to perfect the new system but the investment will pay dividends in the long term.

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Home Improvements…

The better you get, the more important it is to improve, says Mr Loadlink in his final blog of Straightpoint’s latest financial year.

The need to improve doesn’t change with success. Can you imagine Sir Alex Ferguson arriving at training during his reign as Manchester United manager and saying, “That’s it boys, we’re done improving, let’s concentrate on staying as good as we are”?

Balls, you can!

Other great sporting and business leaders agree that the best time to improve is when a team is at the peak of its success. That may sound oxymoronic but consider the determination and wholesale buy-in to good practice and systems that run through a successful team. Success breeds energy and hunger for more silverware—or sales.

I hope Paul Cook, the manager of my football team, Portsmouth, is demanding constant improvement from his charges at our Wellington Sports Ground training facility this week as we pursue League One status via promotion this season. The better Pompey (our nickname) do, the more it’s apparent how continued improvement is vital. People challenge success and the consequences of failure become greater. Every defeat damages our chances of promotion. For the teams languishing in mid-table, the price of immediate failure is less.

Roshan Divakaran, design engineer, and I were certainly looking at ways Portsmouth can further improve in the run-in, despite watching them defeat promotion rivals Accrington Stanley 3-1 at their Crown Ground in deepest Lancashire earlier this month. Three first-half strikes did for the home side that night.

We noted that a visit to the Sira Certification Service, an independent certification body, coincided with the match and as Roshan and I were in the north and on the road already, the opportunity for him to take in his first away game was too good to turn down.

He worked in close collaboration with Sira on development of our ATEX and IECEx Radiolink Plus. It’s worth repeating that meeting Zone 0 classification (an area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is present continuously or for long periods) is unprecedented in wireless below-the-hook force measurement technology. Furthermore, we also provide the technology to Zone 1 and 2 classifications to suit varied hazard levels.

But this blog is really about improvement and moving forward. The purpose of our latest trip to Sira was to advance plans to launch ATEX and IECEx versions of our wireless load shackles, loadpins and compression load cells, which will become part of our expanding hazardous area range of equipment. More on that another time.

Roshan has improved himself since joining us. At the time he was a Manchester City fan but even by his own admission, he’s now 80% Pompey. Only another 20% and he’ll be stitching the star and crescent crest to his overalls!

Giving 110%

Despite our continued and rapid growth, I demand constant improvement of the whole Straightpoint machine and, more importantly, the individuals within it. They are, after all, the most important components of the engine. That’s not to say they’re not giving 100%—they are—but their all can be greater if we analyse and tweak our operation.

That was the focus of recent sessions with Action Coach where we looked into our stock control, inventory control, lead conversion and systemisation, for example. Dave Mullard, business development manager, made some good observations during an exchange about our sales processes and I look forward to implementing those improvements as our new financial year gets underway on April 1.

A sense of perspective is important to continued, effective improvement and often that comes from positivity. When referencing a winning team or a successful business, it’s important to acknowledge that one is seeking to improve a good thing, not a bad one. At our monthly sales meetings, for example, we specifically focus on our recent victories and strike an upbeat tone.

When Portsmouth romped to a 4-0 victory over Notts County on Good Friday—I was at Fratton Park again—boss Paul Cook would have focussed on the overwhelming positives, I’m sure. Unfortunately, our Easter Monday visit to AFC Wimbledon was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. A chance to improve on the training ground, perhaps.

Pivotal to improvement at Straightpoint is our distributor network. At the mid-point of March I flew out to Batam in Indonesia, where a successful visit to PT Rigspek Perkasa resulted in their appointment as a distributor in Southeast Asia and Oceania. I am confident that Jannes Sibuea, managing director; Alexander Silalahi, business development manager; and the team can continue to raise our profile in the geography.

It was interesting to hear Alexander talk positively about government investment in the infrastructure and power sectors in the coming years. Rigspek are also part of the Carl Stahl Group, who we do a lot of work with so there is a good synergy with other elements of our operation. I know they plan to implement our equipment in load testing applications with water bags—another commonality with global applications. Port development in the region is also exciting.

Winning team

Just as it’s important to cultivate new contacts, maintaining relationships and collaborations that have secured earlier wins and success stories is aligned with improvement. To that end, I flew from Batam to Labuan, a territory of Malaysia off the coast of Borneo in East Malaysia, where I visited Anthony Ho at Leyden Engineering Services.

Leyden has been a loyal distributor for the best part of two decades. Anthony and his team have visited Hampshire, UK headquarters but it was my first visit to their facility, where we discussed the 2016 catalogue and he led a tour of his fascinating facility. It was also opportune to enjoy a fabulous seafood dinner or two. The shrimp, scallops and other steamed fish was as good as I’ve tasted.

Improvement comes in the shape of research and development too. Perhaps R&D even epitomises it. Our ATEX and IECEx versions of our wireless load shackles aren’t the only new products in the pipeline. In fact, they’re a long way down the road to the pages of the catalogue, hence our recent visit to Sira. Further away are a series of other products that we’ve been site-testing this month ahead of 2017 launches. Roshan; Sarath Chandran, project engineer; and Alfie Lee, operations manager, have all been involved.

Tests didn’t always go to plan but that’s a natural part of the process. I’d advise any companies during the R&D phase of product development not to be discouraged by the challenges that are encountered. Often, if a product has got as far site-tests, it’s a great idea and one worth persevering with. Even if a concept has to be shelved or returned to the drawing board, remember the value of the process and stay positive.

At the time of writing, a delegation from heavy lift specialist ALE visited this morning from Spain to gather intelligence about our 300t+ compression load cells and centre of gravity software. There’s always too many visits and meetings to mention them all (Bridger Howes and Rapid Response Solutions were present at other notable networking sessions), so that brings to a close another blog and uplifting financial year as Mr Loadlink.

Straightpoint certificate

A certificate was presented to all ALE staff that visited and completed training.

Let’s keep improving. And Play Up Pompey!

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Mr Loadlink

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