....a load off my mind!

Chorus Line …

During a busy start to 2016, Mr Loadlink picks a soundtrack, dreams of a day out at Wembley and gets in a tangle with his shoelaces.

I didn’t expect this to be the lead of my first blog of the year, nor did I anticipate sitting in the boardroom with a guitarist, tapping my foot to the Straightpoint theme tune, during the first week back from the holidays. But no sooner had PH Media set up their equipment and played a few sample tracks, I was sold on the concept of the company having its own audio identity.

I’m a big believer in percentage gains and the small components that go into each good—or bad—experience. It’s not just the food, it’s the cleanliness of cutlery (silverware), efficiency of service, value for money and quality of dining environment. Same in business. From being selected as a viable solution provider, a lot of systems are at work from enquiry to order to delivery to after-sales to positive referral and repeat business. There are a lot of chances to get it right—and wrong.

A quote from Sir Dave Brailsford, former frontman of British Cycling and inspirer of great successes on two wheels, resonates: “If you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.” Again, the theory can be applied to the business world.

Another percentage-based statistic I read recently alarmed me. It said that over 70% of people will not call a company back if they have a bad first experience on the telephone. Consider how hard the engine of a business has to work to get an enquiry. Thousands of revs per minute have already been recorded. It might have taken an overseas trip, a lengthy pitch at a trade show, a company visit, a reputation built over many years and more, only for a delay in picking up the phone, poor answers to initial questions or, worse, an unfriendly greeting, and you’ve fallen off the bike onto the tarmac. Face down.

Reading the statistic didn’t provoke any emergency action here because we are already aware of the importance of a quality experience at the first point of contact, but it did get me thinking about how we can improve the telephone and general customer experience even further. A subsequent conversation with PH Media quickly snowballed and before long we were pedalling towards an audio brand identity and custom voiceovers that would effectively create the Straightpoint soundtrack.

Working with the audio professionals and deciding on voices, tones and tunes that captured the essence of a vibrant, bold, innovative, business, that motivates itself with an overriding goal to make the lifting industry a safer place, was an uplifting but challenging experience.

For motivation I was thinking about the dull, claustrophobic experience of moving between floors of a building in a lift (or elevator as I’m writing from North America) made even worse by dreadful piped music. Lifts have their own brand of pre-recorded nonsense, seemingly composed to make us want to get out two floors early and take the stairs. By contrast, I think we’ve struck the right chord and I’m excited about uploading the technology to our systems in the coming weeks.

Think of master systematiser McDonald’s and its iconic jingle. If your company had a song, what would it sound like?

Exploding onto the scene

Atex Zone 0,1 & 2 Load Cell

Atex Zone 0,1 & 2 Load Cell

Some weeks are more memorable than others and week commencing 18 January will live in the memory for a long time as one of the most significant in our history. Not only did we receive approval on our new ATEX version of the Radiolink Plus, but we welcomed two industry heavyweights to the company. First, Dave Mullard joined as business development manager on the Monday before our new project engineer, Sarath Chandran, arrived three days later.

I believe one can tell a lot about a company by the personnel it retains and recruits. I’d encourage readers of this blog to set the revolving door as a barometer by which to measure their success. We already had great staff retention but recent acquisitions, including that of Dave and Sarath, are taking the company to the next level and equipping us to pioneer development of force measurement, load monitoring and suspended weighing load cell technology.

In his interview for the announcement we shared with trade media, Sarath said, “I believe that in the future, Straightpoint will provide a system without a requirement for display devices. Instead, we will implement a fully web-based system that facilitates remote troubleshooting and allows the user to check the system’s performance.”

It’s an ambitious statement but as the Internet of Things becomes an increasingly hot topic, we need to set the bar high.

Dave was equally forthright in response to questions put to him, saying, “I am convinced Straightpoint will pioneer progression of the lifting industry. It is a very dynamic business and has demonstrated time and again its ability to react to market situations or customer demand and deliver a solution.”

Leading a session as Dave Mullard, our new business development manager, gets his first taste of the Straightpoint boardroom.

Leading a session as Dave Mullard, our new business development manager, gets his first taste of the Straightpoint boardroom.

The pair have already got column inches from lifting equipment-focussed and other industrial journals, as editors welcomed the alternative to the boilerplate text so often associated with personnel announcements.

It’s important not to let the early days drift by when new faces arrive at a company. I don’t buy into the theory that people need time to get to know their surroundings and settle in on their own. We set a programme for Dave and Sarath so they quickly became acclimatised. This procedure wasn’t isolated to their own roles or workspaces; they were exposed to every process at the company and spent time with individuals responsible for each activity. Walls, staircases and floors are only physical barriers at Hampshire, UK headquarters. Everyone works closely together and it’s been good to see Dave and Sarath folded in the warmth of the team’s embrace. I know Roshan Divakaran, design engineer, will provide superb leadership for Sarath as they have worked together in the past.

Proper downtime is often contributory to productivity so with that (or any excuse) in mind, Dave and I were in the stands with my business partner, Peter McGreal, as the mighty Portsmouth, of League Two, progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 2-1 replay victory over Championship side Ipswich. Dave is a Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) fan, who are lost in Championship mid-table obscurity and were dumped out of the cup by West Ham, so he relished the opportunity to see a competitive game. I could see his eyes lighting up as Gary Roberts put Portsmouth ahead with a penalty before Marc McNulty doubled the lead with a header to effectively put us through before a consolation goal from the visitors.

Action stations

I managed to dodge the worst of Winter Storm Juno, which battered much of Canada and the eastern states earlier this week, to land safely in Toronto. Here, I enjoyed a productive meeting with wire rope and rigging specialist, Unirope, our Canadian distributor. I walked the team through our new catalogue, while their Montreal and Edmonton offices joined us via Skype. Before flying to our U.S. headquarters in Camarillo, California on Friday, where Q1 planning will take place, I have more exciting meetings in Chicago. More about those another time.

Unirope, our Canadian distributor, were great hosts as Winter Storm Juno blew nearby. Good job I had my new sweater on!

Unirope, our Canadian distributor, were great hosts as Winter Storm Juno blew nearby. Good job I had my new sweater on!

As is customary at the start of a new year, and particularly important at the outset of Q1, we have broken down our annual plan into quarterly sections and extracted from it our short-term goals. In the UK, we enlisted the guidance of Gary Mullins, of Action Coach, a leading business coaching company, to front a meeting dedicated to these processes. I will take John Molidor, general manager, Straightpoint Inc., and the team there through a similar jam session.

It’s always fun to dress up, particularly for the Action Coach awards evening.

It’s always fun to dress up, particularly for the Action Coach awards evening.

We were again invited by Action Coach to attend their annual awards evening and celebratory dinner. Remember, at last year’s event they crowned us Business of the Year 2014. We enjoyed another fabulous night in their company and congratulated the latest winners in person. It also represented an opportunity to network with fellow business leaders and other companies under the wing of Action Coach. It’s a great community of local firms and we continue to learn a lot from each other.

Tied in knots

A short anecdote before I sign off for another month.

Like you, perhaps, one of the last things I do before leaving a hotel room is put my shoes on. I was pondering the challenges of the day ahead as I fed the laces through the top eyelets and started to tie a bow. My thoughts were interrupted as I became aware I had much more lace in each hand than usual—and certainly more than I needed. I looked down and noticed that the laces also appeared a different shade than before.

I bet you’re thinking I’d put the wrong shoes on. No, they were the same shoes I bought at home and wore the day before. I tried again, as if I had been imagining it. Maybe the light was particularly bright or the laces not as tight in the shoe. I attempted a bow but the cords were so long I could have used them to rig a load. I had two choices: wear gigantic bows like a clown, or wrap the laces around my ankles or under my shoe multiple times like I used to do with my football boots. Neither option seemed appropriate for a day of meetings. Imagine the reception I’d have got.

“Hi, I’m David Ayling from Straightpoint. Yes, I always wear them like this.”

By now I was 100% sure they were not the laces I travelled with. I was convinced someone had put new ones in my shoes. Now I had to address this with reception. What else could I do?

“Are you claiming someone has been into your room and swapped your shoe laces, Mr Ayling,” the receptionist said, probably nudging her colleague as she put me on speaker phone.

To cut a long story short, it emerged that the housekeeper had sucked my old laces up the vacuum cleaner and damaged them beyond repair. As a gesture of goodwill and to replace them, they had purchased new ones and re-threaded them. I’m keeping the letter as a souvenir, which was dated 25 January 2016 and read:

Dear Mr. Ayling,

Kindly please advise us if we got the right length and color of your shoe laces. I hope they will fit fine with your new shoes. We sincerely apologize for the accident that happened with your shoe laces.

Please accept and enjoy this complimentary breakfast for tomorrow.
Once again, we are very sorry and thank you for staying with us!

I can’t end my first blog of the year on a better note than that.

Follow us on Twitter—@LoadCell—and use the hashtags #loadcell and #belowthehook.

Mr Loadlink

Curtain Call…

Deep in conversation at the LEEA Lifting & Rigging Conference Middle East in Dubai.

Deep in conversation at the LEEA Lifting & Rigging Conference Middle East in Dubai.

In his final blog of 2015, Mr Loadlink reflects on the last event of a busy year, welcomes a new distributor, looks forward to unveiling a new member of staff and more.

It’s fitting that I’m sat beneath the largest drapery I have ever seen as I pen my last blog of 2015 and bring the curtain down on another year. Someone told me that here in the lobby of the Shangri-La Hotel in Dubai, where the LEEA Lifting & Rigging Conference Middle East took place earlier this week, two curtains on either side of the room each weigh over half a tonne in silk. I’d like to use a load cell to get an exact weight!

It’s been a big year for us too, during which I’ve clocked up more airmiles, visited more companies, attended more shows, signed off more press releases, sent more Tweets…you get the idea… than ever before. One final journey of 2015 remains from Dubai to Thailand, where I will spend Christmas and the New Year in the beautiful Chiang Rai region.

I will leave for the airport from the Shangri-La on Sheikh Zayed Road later today where, once again, the value of events that combine conference-style content with a small exhibition are fresh in the mind. I’ve said before that I find the visitors to such events hungry for information and prepared for serious conversations. I’ll set the scene again so you can look for similar concepts to add to your own event diaries in 2016.

LEEA, the trade association that underscores itself with the tagline Lifting Standards Worldwide, mirrored the format of the conference it staged in Singapore earlier in the year where we also had a positive experience. Here in Dubai, LEEA hired two ballrooms on the ninth floor of the hotel. A left at the registration table took one into a room named Al Bader, while a right turn took one in the direction of the equally grand Al Nojoom.

The event was, importantly, branded as a conference, which I think is key to attracting a certain audience. In Al Nojoom, two days of high level presentations took place from, say, 9am to 5pm, punctuated by breaks where attendees were ushered back into Al Bader. There, LEEA served a light breakfast on both mornings, lunches and short coffee breaks. During these sessions they were encouraged to peruse exhibits around the edges of the room and network.

Straightpoint had a stand opposite the door at the back in between our friends at Rigmarine and Modulift. It was a great feeling at breaks when traffic headed straight towards us. Each exhibitor had a tabletop for products and literature in addition to a small space to put up a couple of banners. As conference attendees filtered back from Al Nojoom, they were keen to interact and apply the products on show to some of the lessons they had learned across the corridor.

Community spirit

Quality took priority over quantity throughout the event. There was a community of, say, 100 engaged, switched-on people who absorbed world-class, educational content, cultivated contacts and met new professionals to add to their networks. Neither Al Nojoom or Al Bader were crammed to the rafters. Nor was there a queue around the corner when the doors opened. Instead, there was comfortable networking, interaction and constant sharing of information for continued improvement of best practice.

This is in stark contrast to many events where quantity almost takes precedence. Read the promotional materials for most trade events and they’ll make reference to miles of aisles, thousands of visitors, multiple days and even the need to book hotels early because of resultant chaos as the trade show rolls into town.

I often wonder who gains the most from this. Exhibitors can’t possibly engage with that level of footfall, visitors are hoarded into bottlenecks so organisers can take photos to make aisles look even more popular and similarly congested entrances, exits, hotels and restaurants become the norm. Imagine the freebees and brochures that are consumed by these hordes as they roam around booting tyres.

Trade shows should be measured only by how effectively they facilitate the connection between problems and solutions; suppliers and audiences; improvement and the tools required to achieve it. Ok, load cells and below-the-hook equipment are niche markets within a vertical industry where this is particularly true but every conversation is only as effective as it is advantageous for both parties.

Congratulations, LEEA. I look forward to unpacking the flight case at your first event of the New Year, wherever in the world that might be.

Lines of latitude

Before travelling to the Middle East and then the Far East, the topic of conversation at headquarters was North America as Straightpoint Inc. general manager John Molidor was in town for a week. It was important to review the year in person and go through our plans for Q1 2016 and beyond, while John also enjoyed a session with Gary Mullins, of Action Coach, a leading business coaching company that we have been using for a while. Of course, there was also time for a team dinner.

Straightpoint Inc. general manager John Molidor (centre of right row) enjoys a meal with the UK team during his recent visit.

Straightpoint Inc. general manager John Molidor (centre of right row) enjoys a meal with the UK team during his recent visit.

It was a busy start to the month that epitomised our global status with the visit of existing distributor, RUD Lifting Japan Co. Ltd., before we added a new partner to the family, Lenger d.o.o.

I last spent quality time with Osamu Hiramatsu, president of RUD Lifting Japan, and his team when we launched our new wireless load shackle at the Live Entertainment & Event Expo, which took place at the Makuhari Messe in Japan. They actually displayed our equipment at a number of trade events this year.

I led a tour of our building before we enjoyed an evening meal together. As is often the case with visitors, their highlight was our 350t vertical test machine, which is one of the most imposing pieces of equipment at our Havant, Hampshire facility.

It was an honour to welcome RUD Lifting Japan Co. Ltd. to headquarters this month.

It was an honour to welcome RUD Lifting Japan Co. Ltd. to headquarters this month.

Zagreb-based Lenger d.o.o., meanwhile, joined us as a distributor for Croatia. Boris Sadiku, its managing director, is cut from the cloth that suits the business to the Straightpoint family and I am very excited about working with him and the Lenger team. As always with all new and long-standing distributors, we will give Mr. Sadiku the product guidance and literature he needs to promote product to his marketplace.

I’ve shared advice before about growing through a distributor network. It is an effective way to provide a local service globally but one has to select their partners carefully. Lenger is established in the region—it was founded in 1992—and already distributes lifting equipment from leading manufacturers such as Germany’s Carl Stahl and Crosby, a North America-headquartered supplier of components. Lenger clearly ticks the history, pedigree, traceability and other boxes that we look for in a prospective new partner. Be clear about your own criteria.

Older and wiser

It’s been an interesting and challenging year in equal measure. When we approached the corner 12 months ago the lifting equipment industry was probably naively optimistic. Few foresaw the real consequences of the low oil price, euro rate against the pound or the knock-on effect of the waning Chinese economy, among other influences on the global economy.

We have been speaking about diversification at Straightpoint for a long time and 2015 has reiterated the importance of applying a product to a variety of industries, especially when the potential is as great as it is for load cells and force measurement technology. Constant improvement is important too, which is another fundamental part of our annual plan.

For example, we’ve improved safety and productivity when monitoring loads during heavy, critical and multi-point lifting applications by extending our range of wireless products to 700m (nearly 2,300ft) as standard from the New Year. The new range covers wireless products including the Radiolink Plus, Wireless Shackle Load Cell, Wireless Compression Load Cell and the wireless version of the new Running Line Dynamometer (or TIMH).

Thank you for reading my blog this year, which has approached nearly 15,000 words from January to December. I wish you every success in the early exchanges of another calendar year and remember to look out for a very significant personnel announcement next month.

Unfortunately, I missed Christmas jumper day at the office this year. Otherwise, I would have outdressed this lot and donned my red trousers.

Unfortunately, I missed Christmas jumper day at the office this year. Otherwise, I would have outdressed this lot and donned my red trousers.

Follow us on Twitter—@LoadCell—and use the hashtags #loadcell and #belowthehook.

Mr Loadlink

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