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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

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