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2017: Ticked all the Boxes…

In his final blog of the year, Mr. Loadlink starts by looking at the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats presented by a SWOT analysis.

It’s a time of year when one might be asked to conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of their business, product, division, or something else.

“We need a big year, team, so let’s get a SWOT matrix done and hit Q1 hard,” a CEO might say. “Let’s spend the afternoon on it; we need to deliver 20% growth next year,” he or she continues, slamming the desk with a fist.

It’s this kind of talk that gives SWOTs, indeed all business planning, a bad name. It’s a safe bet that companies who plan like this probably cut and paste much of the text in each of the four boxes from the last time they completed the exercise.

I can imagine someone saying, “We already know how we match up against competition, have identified opportunities and know that a recession would be bad news; change the date and send it off to the boss. Do it at ten-to-five though, so he [or she] thinks we’ve given it plenty of thought.”

Clever, eh? Not really.

No wonder the results aren’t treated with any sincerity. A good SWOT investigation can’t be completed in an afternoon; it’s not a box-ticking exercise. Producing an effective document that actually equips a business for growth and protects it from negative influence takes contributions from an engaged workforce on a regular basis. Moreover, it must be constantly challenged, updated and reattached to the whiteboard. Look at it every quarter—at the latest.

The standout weakness and threat combined by a SWOT analysis itself is the lack of care that’s too often associated with its production. This is actually a serious task. Think about the value in truly understanding one’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Imagine the power in knowing when a threat looms and having a system in place to create fortifications. When the attack comes, or market dips, a company can be ready for it.

SWOTs are underrated

SWOTs are underrated

Much of the problem can be attributed to a lack of acceptance of how temporary a SWOT matrix really is; it evolves constantly. The greater the time a business spends on it, the faster that change becomes. In fact, it creates that change. A good company with a robust SWOT can turn weaknesses into strengths and threats into opportunities. Where it can’t, it builds defences so strong that even the worst-case scenario can’t penetrate them.

Snowball fight

Take two winter maintenance equipment manufacturers, for example. One company is called Winter Wheels Ltd. (WW) and the other Snow Scene Ltd. (SS).

They are both a year old, hit their revenue targets for the first 12 months and their kit seems to be performing well in the marketplace. The production lines, both in Germany, are working efficiently and are meeting demand for road gritters and snow ploughs across nine-hour shifts, five days a week. Occasional overtime is needed when a large order comes in but both manufacturing teams are willing to put in the extra hours so orders are fulfilled and customers are happy.

As the year-end approaches, the respective chief executives request a SWOT analysis be delivered to board meetings at the end of that week. The team at WW takes the task seriously while SS, which has the same personnel numbers, throws the document together in an hour or so. Despite the differing attitudes, remarkably, both pieces of paper look similar. There are not even any real differences to highlight:

  • Strengths: Our equipment is performing well in demanding conditions.
  • Weaknesses: Demand for equipment is seasonal, as customers renew their fleets.
  • Opportunities: We have greater capacity in production.
  • Threats: A similar business is producing an equally good product for the same marketplace.

The difference was, WW decided to revisit the task at the end of the next quarter, while management at SS put it in a drawer and hoped they wouldn’t be asked for it again. A year went by and, much to the SS team’s disappointment, the dreaded email came round and another annual SWOT had to be presented in the boardrooms at the end of the month. WW had been planning for this, but SS less so.

WW took the SWOT and put it at the forefront of its business plan. During year two, it looked at leveraging its strengths. How can we make use of our manufacturing capability and look at other equipment that might be broadly similar to road gritters and snowploughs? Is there an industry that perhaps requires equally robust chassis but uses them all year round? Can the snowplough attachment be adapted for earth moving? Is there a road sweeping trade show where we can demonstrate our new idea?

Where SS saw the limitations of its business—a winter-themed product range would always be dependent on seasons—WW saw the chance to diversify and moved the goalposts. Where SS remained worried about a competitor that presented an alternative to 100% of its product range, WW created a market environment where a previous threat now only competed on a portion of its offering. WW was on the way to creating a business that was no longer reliant upon one season a year but created a new positive kind of threat that they’d have to close the new production hall if they couldn’t retain demand for the new range of products. Marketing was on the case, however.

How can a snowplough be adapted to serve another industry, WW thought?

As hinted above, the same principles can be applied to all business planning. I’m biased because I’m a meticulous planner and having reviewed my company’s 2017 plans—looking at what worked, what didn’t, where threats became opportunities, etc.—I’m excited about putting Q1 2018 plans into action and looking back over them in early April. There will always be threats and weaknesses at a business, I’m not out to change that, but it’s enlightening when one realises the extent to which they can be manipulated.

How might your business be able to better harness the power of a SWOT analysis or business plan?

Every nook and cranny

Visitors to last month’s LiftEx show, which took place on 29-30 November in Telford, got the first look at a ‘trusted global brands’ concept, whereby we co-exhibited with fellow below-the-hook equipment manufacturer Modulift, which makes spreader beams. We also shared space with Crosby that was kind enough to kit out the space with some truss systems upon which we hung our wares. My counterpart at Modulift, Sarah Spivey, has commentated extensively on the collaboration so I’m not going to repeat what’s already been stated, but it’s worth elaborating on our intent.

SP has identified approx. 15 trade shows that are taking place in 2018, each of which represents an opportunity to engage a different marketplace. If a particular product is more relevant than another—our Clamp On Line Tensionmeter (or COLT) will be of particular interest to professionals who work with tower and stack guy wires—we will showcase it accordingly, rather than present our whole portfolio. At LiftEx, where a more generic audience assembles, a broader mix of equipment is the order of the day.

Trusted global brands, like SP, were a focal point for LiftEx visitors

At many (not all) of the events alluded to above we will co-exhibit under the ‘trusted global brands’ banner and the success of LiftEx suggests to me that other businesses should try to explore avenues of mutual opportunity, where appropriate. For example, do you make or supply a product that is used as a complementary item to another bit of equipment? It might not be viable to manufacture that product oneself (that would have been considered in the SWOT analysis) but, say, a bike frame company and a tyre firm want to exhibit at a show. Collaboration could be the way forward.

Making space

It’s not about cutting costs. Ok, sharing space with Modulift does make it more affordable to exhibit at a niche trade event that may otherwise not be allocated a big marketing budget, but it’s more about presenting the target audience, our customers, with a breadth of solutions.

“We’re looking for a spreader beam but what’s this? Can it measure the load at the same time as we lift?” That might be how the conversation will start. “I’m looking for a new bike frame but what tyres do I get with it? Oh, these guys must be well reputed if they’re on the A-Frame Ltd. exhibit.”

The Modulift-SP collaboration is also a conversation starter and, think about it, getting people talking is a primary goal for any exhibitor. One LiftEx visitor even asked if ‘trusted global brands’ was an official joint entity. We were happy to correct them and, guess what, we were automatically in dialogue about load cells, spreader beams, load testing and heavy lifting. It’s a powerful concept and one that we’re excited about taking around the world over the coming 12 months.

Be mindful, however, that success at a trade show involves more than what happens during its opening hours. This is especially true at a niche event where one’s product isn’t necessarily a household name among that industry’s buying decision makers. It’s a good idea to support involvement with marketing and connect with the audience in the weeks—months, even—that lead up to the show.

To stick with the COLT as an example, if we’re taking it to an event where plumb and tension professionals gather, what trade journals might they be reading beforehand? A series of advertisements with the stand number and image of the product in use in their sector should be budgeted for. “I’ve seen you guys in Cable Mag,” is a great icebreaker.

Let bygones be bygones

LEEA staged its AGM on the first morning of LiftEx where, as I hinted might be the case in my last blog, there were some lively exchanges between the board and certain members. It was the first annual meeting I’d attended so I don’t have anything to compare it to but my impression is that it was particularly well attended. That’s a good thing but for LEEA to meet its objectives and continue to serve members and the industry alike, everyone has now got to get on the same page and explore collective interests once again.

We should be grateful for LiftEx and the opportunities it provides

Credit where it’s due: LiftEx consistently delivers. It’s always going to be a show where quality outweighs quantity of visitors and that’s fine with me. It should be ok with other exhibitors too, but many have expectations way beyond reality.

Don’t judge a show by the amount of people in the aisles; assess it based on quality of conversations and resulting leads. Often, it’s not the sparseness of visitors that mean an exhibitor has a bad show, it’s the dearth of wisdom they demonstrate in connecting with the people that are there and a failure to effectively communicate their solution. And the opportunities it provides.

Over and out

It’s been another great year at SP and welcoming new people is always a highlight. Only last week we introduced Kyle Milne as technical sales engineer based in Aberdeen, Scotland. As I told trade media, upon hearing of Kyle’s availability I was keen to explore the possibility of him leading our endeavours to raise our profile, and market share, in the important Aberdeen marketplace. I have been a long-time admirer of his passion for his customers and this industry. It was apparent he had SP DNA coursing through his veins and I’m delighted he’s on board—and already generating enquiries.

It was an honour to welcome Kyle Milne as SP’s new technical sales engineer.

It was an honour to welcome Kyle Milne as SP’s new technical sales engineer.

In closing, I’d like to take an opportunity to express my gratitude to everyone that makes SP possible—staff, customers, distributors, end users, suppliers, authorities, and others. It might well be a product centric business, but when we sit down to do our next SWOT analysis (soon!), it’ll be the people behind it generating all the items in the strengths and opportunities boxes.

If you celebrate it, have a magical Christmas and all the very best for 2018.

Mr. Loadlink

Whoosh Crash…

Mr. Loadlink launches a stinging attack on trade show exhibitors that pack up early, questions Twitter’s motives for dumbing down the social media platform, and more.

Do you know what noise I hate more than someone scraping his or her fingernails down a chalkboard?

It’s the sound of an exhibitor at a conference or exhibition tearing down their stand before the event has finished. The chalkboard trick merely sets my teeth on edge and has me clasping my hands over my ears. The clamour of a premature expo breakdown, meanwhile, does all that, in addition to sending my pulse racing, blood pressure soaring, and turning my face bright red with rage. I look like a beetroot at a farmers’ market.

Anyone who attends, organises or displays wares at events will know what I’m talking about. Whether the show finishes at 3, 4 or 5 o’clock, there is always someone who starts ripping their stand apart ahead of time. It’s like dominoes; once one exhibitor has started pulling posters off walls or boxing up their products, someone else follows and pretty soon everyone’s either joined in or at least had their focus interrupted.

Some are shameless and turn their backs on attendees to pull graphics off aluminium displays and sweep the giveaways off the counter. Others are subtler; they side step to a corner and slowly begin arranging things for easy access. The trouble is they’re not half as surreptitious as they think they are. Once the attention has been diverted from the aisles and the delegation, the game is over. There’s no selling a widget at that point.

The worst noise of all is popup banners whistling back into their cases. They make a terrible whooshing sound as the canvas recoils before thwacking into their final position with a big crash. Some exhibitors have the care to grip the top of the banner as it descends, which reduces the noise pollution, while others let it whizz down on its own, picking up such speed as it goes that the base is jolted on the carpet.


The strange thing is, the hubbub of expo setup is altogether different. It doesn’t irk me in the slightest. In fact, the unfurling of stand displays is almost satisfying. It’s exhilarating to see a hotel lobby or exhibition hall come to life as an industry’s suppliers prepare to engage the marketplace’s buying decision makers. I think it’s the anticipation of it all. Even the beeping of a lift truck delivering a pallet of shackles to a nearby stand is rhythmical. The tightening of screws and the uncurling of a literature stand all add to the anticipation.

It’s remarkable, therefore, that people can’t hold onto this sense of purpose for the duration of an event. Working an exhibit is tough but it’s so important to stick them out until the end. Take the recent World Crane and Transport Summit, for example, which was expertly hosted by the KHL media company in Amsterdam. We were among an assortment of exhibitors keen to engage a high level audience of crane thought leaders and influencers.

The event concluded, say, mid-afternoon on a Wednesday and, despite an already early scheduled finish, several fellow exhibitors were keen to pinch an extra half-hour. The same people who’d paid such attention to detail during setup to make sure everything looked perfect, and photographed their exhibits to send proof back to the office, were now prepared to dismantle them as delegates continued to roam the charming Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky with coffee in hand, equally thirsty for information about their product range.

We were among sponsors at the World Crane and Transport Summit.

We were among sponsors at the World Crane and Transport Summit.

David Mullard, our business development manager, and I felt like the band on the Titanic, defiantly playing as the ship plummeted to the icy depths. Little did we mind as the boss of one of the world’s largest specialised hauling, heavy lifting and hoisting companies danced to our merry tune. As the exhibition area fell to ruins around us, we were building one of our strongest connections of the event. And it wasn’t even teatime.

I accept that there are occasions when people need to get to airports to catch international flights, or family members are playing important sports matches or appearing in school events. But in the main, those guilty of the sins outlined above are failing to honour protocol and show respect for their fellow professionals, just to get to the airport early or check their emails. Unless it’s really important, no travel itinerary should be booked if it means the team on the stand have to leave before the final attendee has been dragged from the floor. If the last plane home leaves at 5pm but you might need to stay at the show until 4:30pm, arrange a networking dinner and travel the next day.

Once again, the summit proved the value of short exhibition sessions, punctuated by periods of world-class content and seminars. I’ve blogged before about the happy marriage between a tabletop expo and conference, and the benefits were again there for all to see—particularly for those of us who toughed it out until the end. It’s worth singling out Hendrik Sarens, owner and director at crane and engineered transport giant Sarens, for praise; he delivered an engaging keynote about his life in the industry that resonated with all who listened.

Silky smooth

oe, full of expectation, during Speedy Expo setup

Zoe, full of expectation, during Speedy Expo setup

The Speedy Expo, which took place a week earlier, was uplifting too, where, Zoe Silk, inside sales and hire, made her SP trade show debut. I wonder how much we can improve the culture of exhibitors by better mentoring the next generation of stand professionals. We’re committed to a record number of events next year and, as live interaction continues to reap rewards, it’s likely that other companies will do similar. But how many are really giving this costly, time consuming, exhausting, risky activity the attention it needs?

I didn’t present Zoe with The Perfect Trade Show Host manual on the train to Liverpool but needless to say I gave her the benefit of my experience. I explained why we don’t have seats on the exhibit and why eating is prohibited. Zoe understood already about the importance of greeting people, exchanging information, distributing catalogues—and staying until the end!

It’s not rocket science, and even on her first event, Zoe was a great SP ambassador, yet I fear others taking their first steps into the exhibition environment don’t have the right tuition or grounding. It’s simply not ok to approach an attendee with a mouthful of sandwich or turn one’s back on the aisles to take a phone call.

If KHL deserved credit for their show, Speedy should get a gold star as well. The organisation, hospitality and extent to which it harnessed the power of modern technology—the event had its own app—were exceptional. It was good to meet Russell Down, Speedy’s chief executive, and discover a mutual Portsmouth connection, while colour-coded lanyards facilitated other networking opportunities with staff, suppliers and customers alike.



Biggest LiftEx ever?

Later this month, arguably the most important LiftEx in recent years takes place at The International Centre Telford on 29-30 November. The expo is the showpiece of organising trade association, LEEA, and co-locates with its all-important AGM, dinner dance, conference and more. It is always the subject of debate, in the main surrounding its size, location, frequency, demographic, format, etc. This time there is an even stronger undercurrent with a number of key issues likely to dominate the annual meeting and other exchanges.

With industry stalwart Geoff Holden, the association’s recently retired CEO, being a tough act to follow, it’s going to be fascinating to get an update on the recruitment process and hear about LEEA’s plans for the short and long-term future. With the AGM moved to the first morning and the dinner dance slated for that night, I anticipate that a new-look format will lead to better attendance of peripheral events, which is important if the association is to continue to be an exemplar for all those involved in the lifting industry worldwide.

Frankly, to retain that status, certain rumours and uncertainty need to be put to bed and the AGM presents a perfect opportunity, with the industry’s protagonists in one place, to set the record straight. I hope the hierarchy are prepared to confront these issues head-on so LEEA can move forwards without the burden of speculation. On the morning of 29 November, members, end users and industry stakeholders alike have a right to expect some long-awaited clarity.

I hope exhibitors do their bit by staffing exhibits in an equally exemplary fashion. Beyond the obvious, it’s crucial that we don’t put all our eggs in the day one basket. It’s a front-loaded event, as outlined above, but there might be a purchasing colossus walking the aisles at 3pm on Thursday afternoon, who is only going to call upon those still wearing their game faces. Think about it: would you interrupt someone in full breakdown mode and offer to buy his or her kit? Our combined exhibit with Modulift and Crosby will be among those ready to accept 11th-hour opportunities.


The #LiftEx17 hashtag is already making waves on social media, most notably on Twitter. But I don’t think the show, or the platform generally, will be enhanced by a decision to double the character limit to 280. Essentially, a Tweet can now be a paragraph, which even belies its very name. The brand is known for the iconic, tweeting bird, called Larry, capturing the platform’s supposed ethos to give users a small space to share a concise comment. The change has already paved the way for cut and paste fanatics to post great swathes of their website content. It might grow on me but it feels like the brevity, fun and skill in posting a Tweet has been lost. What do you think?

That’s all for this month but look out for announcements soon about two new SP recruits!

Mr. Loadlink