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Home Sweet Home—Part One

In the first of a two-part finale to 2018, Mr. Loadlink explains why we could be at the dawn of an exciting new era.

LiftEx leads a nomadic existence—but could that be about to change? Here’s why I’m voting Remain (again).

The annual trade show, hosted by the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA), wanders around the UK from year to year, bouncing from hotel to exhibition hall to sports stadium and back again. A caravan of vendors travels with it from town to town, setting up stalls, participating in various co-located activities. As such, LiftEx has always felt like a bit of a pilgrimage. And it’s true people follow it like a religion. That was until this year when, over two days in mid-November, the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes (MK) started to feel like home—like the Holy Land.

There, in the shadows of MK Dons’ football stadium, where frivolities and formalities alike took place in the onsite DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, the show exhaled, as though it meant to stay. True enough, word quickly spread around the aisles that LEEA plans to return next year and then, who knows, perhaps the show could create a footprint there to the same extent as other residencies around the world?

The Dons, formerly Wimbledon, found a home there following their altogether more controversial relocation from south London, after all.

Has LiftEx finally found a residence?

Has LiftEx finally found a residence?

LiftEx, perhaps like the promotion chasing League Two side, is a unique concept. It’s a very trade centric show and has never really attracted great numbers from the user community. Neither do the aisles ever burst at the seams; roughly the same footfall was recorded in MK, as Telford, Aberdeen, Liverpool, Bolton, and so on. For manufacturers, however, great networking is on offer and even the distributors seem to come back each time. Let’s face it; it’s the only time of year that the lifting gear sector comes together, and for that reason it’s precious. I also had conversations with attendees from the U.S., Canada, and further afield, proving that quality of visitor was there too. LiftEx hasn’t lasted this long through sentiment alone.

Hand in glove

The Marshall (formerly MK) Arena is fit for purpose. That’s not to say the Telford International Centre, Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre, Exhibition Centre Liverpool, etc. weren’t, but the show didn’t have to puff out its chest to fill the floor, neither did it have to suck in its stomach. Size doesn’t matter in the trade show business; I’ve exhibited at some terrible, large expos and some brilliant, small ones. The neighbouring hotel in the stands of the football stadium also worked well. Again, not too grand but not too dingy. Centre of gravity. Equilibrium. Ideal. Perfect, even. I heard it all said about LiftEx 2018 and I concur. And we haven’t even talked about the centrepiece yet—the inaugural LEEA Awards, held after the opening day.

It was the first trade show that I’d attended with my 18-year-old son, Isaac Ayling (aka Mr. Loadlink Jr.), who was also a finalist in the LEEA Awards’ Apprentice of the Year category. An expo debut at LiftEx, say, a decade ago would have been a different experience. Many avoid the subject but it’s true to say that it used to be an ageing, male-dominated community, on exhibition stands and in the aisles. Finally, that’s changing and it was encouraging to see a higher representation of women and young professionals this year. I hope that goes some way to persuading Isaac and his peers to stay in the lifting industry. We need them.

The Marshall Arena show floor was tailor-made for LiftEx.

The Marshall Arena show floor was tailor-made for LiftEx.

Isaac didn’t win the award outright; Straightpoint (SP) was more fortunate in the safety category, while shortlists in Innovative Product of the Year, Sustainable Solution of the Year, and Unsung Hero (Roshan Divakaran, design engineer) were high praise enough. More significantly, LEEA used its flagship event to make a definitive move to recognise member companies and individual representatives for their success against specific judging criteria. Customer Service, Manager of the Year, and the Kevin Holmes Award (a memorial accolade developed to reward companies, teams, and individuals who display excellence in people development) completed the list of honours. Many feel that the principle of the awards concept will define the association’s work moving forward. Watch this space.

It was fun to celebrate SP’s LEEA Safety Award win with my son, Isaac, at LiftEx.

It was fun to celebrate SP’s LEEA Safety Award win with my son, Isaac, at LiftEx.

As I told trade media upon collection of the Rigging Services-sponsored Safety Award, the idea generally was well received and from a member’s perspective the evening was a big success, befitting of an excellent LiftEx in totality. To emerge victorious in the safety category was overwhelming given LEEA’s stature in the industry and the extent to which safety is in our company’s DNA. We underscore our work with the mantra ‘making the lifting industry a safer place’ and what stronger endorsement could there be that we’re meeting that objective?

It feels too early to start summing up the year. In fact, while I’m happy to participate in any occasion of merriment, I’m always amazed at the wholesale support those with commercial interest in the season get in starting the Christmas season in mid-November. I’m no Ebenezer Scrooge but I wonder what negative impact it has on other industries when people are wearing festive hats and playing carols six weeks before the big day. Perhaps employers feel the opposite is the case but I’d be wary of any business environment that can be uplifted to better productivity at the sight of a snow globe.

I might afford myself some more festive spirit in the next installment.

Thank you for reading Part One.

Mr. Loadlink

Going Round in Circles…

Standing in for Mr. Loadlink, David Mullard, business development manager at Straightpoint, talks tactics.

The Mr Loadlink briefcase

I knew the look. He approached me like this once before back in the UK spring of 2016.

Straightpoint (SP) director David Ayling, aka Mr. Loadlink, hugged the wall of the corridor as though to stay out of view. It didn’t work. By the time he arrived at my desk, small briefcase under arm, I knew what he was going to ask.


“I’d be honoured,” I interrupted.

Mr. Loadlink looked perplexed that before he’d even asked if I’d be happy to pen another guest blog, I’d gleefully accepted the invitation. Truth is, since he asked the first time, I’ve kept a mental note while on my travels to make sure I’m always prepared to share my experiences should the need arise—even as I descend upon the Liverpool Exhibition Centre for this year’s Speedy Expo.

With Mr. Loadlink called away, here goes in the shape of three tips for successful business development.

1. Become the lord of the rings

Don’t worry; this isn’t a trip to Middle-earth. Far from it. But it is my lead point in something of a trilogy.

In the here and now, it’s important to place oneself in as many relevant communities as possible. I call them circles. They can be of all different sizes, some overlap, and the number of circles in an individual’s career should be ever increasing, within reason. A circle can capture an end user marketplace, an area of technology, a geographical region, a group of professionals, or something else.

Everyone’s circle map will look different.

Everyone’s circle map will look different.

I work at a company that manufactures a diverse product that can be used underground, offshore, at height, on the highway, and on the airfield. And that’s just a small sample. It means my map of circles is vast in number. Some are small. Someone else’s might look more like the Olympic rings, while another person may have only two or three circles to work within. It doesn’t matter; what’s really important is that they’re clearly defined (a circle is a simple closed shape) and they’re entered with authenticity and a long-term commitment.

I’ve recently been spending time in my offshore wind energy and marine circles, for example. Both are important marketplaces for SP equipment. Activity surrounding the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA)—it organises a regular programme of meetings and events all over the world—forms an important circle to me. One could argue it’s part of the larger marine ring, but I don’t want to overcomplicate the theory. Each of these events might address a different audience and work to varied objectives.

Mullard the mariner

Recently, I was invited to speak to an IMCA delegation about using load cells in marine applications. Delivering such presentations is a great way to raise a profile within a circle and build a reputation as a thought leader. It’s about being a marine force measurement expert here, not just a load cell guy. This isn’t an article about presenting but it’s worth stressing the importance of not abusing such opportunities by making sales pitches. One could be evicted from a ring (over the top rope) pretty quickly if they don’t adhere to the codes and practices at play.

It’s important to immerse oneself in different business communities

It’s important to immerse oneself in different business communities

The Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) technical committees presently form another key circle for me. Readers of this article outside of the lifting industry will no doubt have similar trade associations and working groups relevant to their sectors. It’s hugely rewarding to contribute to such work and, again, providing these activities are entered in the right spirit, peers are generally appreciative of everyone’s participation.

Judging when a long game becomes a fool’s errand is down to an individual’s interpretation. All circles should be given a chance (perseverance wins, usually), but if the only action is drinking coffee and talking about football, it might not be worth the air fare. Don’t judge them by direct sales—that’s crude—but look for progress and improvement of an individual, company, or industry. LEEA’s sub-committees have helped to build a substantial library containing 40+ guidance documents covering a wide variety of topics, for instance. As a business we’ll profit in the long term by continued improvement of best practices and elevated standards, which is essentially the association’s ethos—and ours.

2. Be solution centric

In other words, have the answers. Think about what an existing or prospective customer spends a lot of their time doing—seeking ways to solve problems. They might want to be better, faster, safer, or more diverse, and the quest for such advancement will generate questions. They’ll hit obstacles, junctions in the road, and maybe even stumble into quicksand. It’s advisable for any service provider, therefore, to present himself or herself as a problem solver. Ask yourself: what can my company do to make a customer’s life easier?

Become a problem solver.

Become a problem solver.

Whether it’s here at the Speedy Expo, at last week’s Offshore Energy Exhibition & Conference (OEEC), or the upcoming LiftEx, I consider the audience within the circle and try to find out as much information as possible that will help me solve problems. It’s not a lone effort, of course. Everyone at SP has the same mentality; we constantly gather intelligence and feed it back to ensure all of our new products and enhancements are actually solutions. It’s incredibly rewarding to return to a customer and be able to remind them of a previous conversation about an ongoing dilemma, and then pull the solution out of the bag.

Becoming solution centric takes a certain state of mind, however. Regular blogger Mr. Loadlink talks a lot about SP DNA, and I know what he means. We’re active problem solvers because company culture is to be positive; we’re the ‘can-do’ people versus the ‘that’s not really what we do’ folks. Try solving a problem without the right attitude. It’s impossible.

3. Have fun

No circle will become magic or solution emerge if one isn’t having fun in the process. Marc Anthony is credited for saying, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” and many a successful person has paraphrased the adage since. There’s a lot of truth in it. A marathon runner could never motivate him or herself to train on cold, winter mornings if they didn’t get some pleasure from it or at least experience a great buzz or rush on race days. Crossing the finish line might be the greatest feeling in the world to them, so it’s worth training for.

Look around a trade show (or circle) and it’s obvious who is enjoying the experience versus those who are there because they have to be. Mr. Loadlink has already covered trade show strategy and etiquette extensively so no need for me to duplicate his content, but suffice it to say a smile will get one further than a scowl every day of the week.

  • Do you gravitate towards calmness or confrontation?
  • Enjoyment or depression?
  • Problem or solution?

Take the aforementioned OEEC, which took place in Amsterdam on 22-24 October, as an example. We repeated our “strongest visitor” competition, where we test the physical prowess of an attendee by machining handles onto a Bluetooth-enabled Radiolink plus load cell and inviting them to pull with all their might.

There’s a serious point to the product but this is a fun and interactive way of demonstrating its capability versus hanging it on a rack at the back of the exhibit in front of a big pop-up banner. We thought 44kg was an impressive pull—good enough to take home a bottle of malt whiskey on the first

day—but Sean Zevenbergen, who regularly bench-presses my bodyweight, apparently, ripped over 70kg 24 hours later.

I hope participants at the Speedy show are warming up their muscles!

Thank you for reading.

Dave Mullard
Business Development Manager, Straightpoint

You weren’t missing him, were you? Just in case, here’s a photo of Mr. Loadlink, a man with an impressive circle map of his own, presenting another solution to a customer, and having fun doing it. He’ll be back next month.

You weren’t missing him, were you? Just in case, here’s a photo of Mr. Loadlink, a man with an impressive circle map of his own, presenting another solution to a customer, and having fun doing it. He’ll be back next month.