May The Source Be With You
The climate lends itself to sourcing from large, independent companies over corporate conglomerates now more than ever, says Ashley Thacker, general manager at lifting, rigging and safety specialist supplier, Ranger.
In the lifting industry—probably other sectors too—selecting the right tool for the job goes a long way to ensuring its user and those around the application are safe. Choosing the right supplier is equally important, yet it is often an overlooked prerequisite.
Here, I build a case for lifting equipment buying decision makers to source from established, reputable, independent companies. And the good news is, it’s never made more sense to do so.
The playing field has significantly levelled over recent years in Australia and the balance isn’t so greatly tipped in favour of three large companies in particular that once bossed the industry. As it turns out, complacency and a lack of attention to customer service can bring even the biggest suppliers to their knees. On the flip side, consistency, agility, flexibility, reliability, value, knowledge and service are now lauded by industry more than they used to be. Independent businesses typically bring that lot to the table in abundance.
We’ve seen similar market conditions in the UK, where two beacons of the lifting market, Hewden and Lloyds British, have recently fallen from grace. As was the case here 10 years ago, to try to take on these giants as a smaller company was futile. They had the knowledge, equipment, personnel numbers and incredible buying buyer. Slowly things started to change until there was less swagger in their step. And less power in their punch.
In Australia, the top tier suppliers put all their eggs in the mining boom basket and went to war with each other to try to win massive contracts. If they had their time again I’m sure they’d have played that chapter in history differently as they might not all have a bright future—or one at all. Lots of work is now being taken by the larger, independent companies in the second tier and, as they continue to offer quality of product, swift delivery and brilliant service, the trend is set to snowball.
Here are a couple of case studies:
1. We were beaten to a major contract recently on price alone. That’s not sour grapes, it’s fact. The site-based members of the team were keeping their fingers crossed we were successful, but procurement focussed too much on the dollar signs and looked elsewhere. I don’t like to see any project falter or professionals put in difficult circumstances but I could at least acknowledge the sense of irony when the project had to kick the winning lifting equipment supplier off site after just three months. Imagine the subsequent delays and costs that were incurred.
2. An order for a 32mm chain sling was placed with a huge company a month before they needed it, but the day before they wanted to make the lift it still hadn’t been delivered. They called us at 12 noon and we had it onsite at 10am the next morning ready to use. If we hadn’t done so, they would have had a 120t crane onsite with a big team racking up costs, but nobody would have been able to get to work.
In both cases, penny wise and pound-foolish springs to mind!
It’s a familiar story and it’s repeating itself more and more. I hope the country doesn’t lose any of its landmark businesses but the reported falls in turnover of some companies and the volume of good staff that are walking away are huge warning signs. Add in disgruntled customers, loss of reputation and the resurgence of tier two suppliers and the writing could be on the wall.
Come of age
What industry has embraced about the second tier companies is that they’ve become big enough to compete at the top tables of negotiation, yet small enough to care about their clients and committed to long-term relationships. With a bit of marketing savvy, determination and a growing list of high level, happy clients, the independents—many of which are family businesses—are increasingly the first choice for purchasing decision makers.
This commentary isn’t a promotional piece about my company, but take Ranger as an example. My father, Steve, a co-founder of the business, is still the point of contact for customers who have been with us since incorporation two decades ago. Likewise, our staff and suppliers have equally strong bonds with personnel they’ve been working with for years. That means a lot to people.
Imagine the opposite—customers talk to someone different every time they call, representatives are remembered for little more than the account numbers that are assigned to them, and there’s no culture of care. I’ve heard stories about staff struggling to voice concerns because of layers of senior management and others ignoring matters that fall slightly out of one’s job description. Industry has become clued up and is voting with its feet.
We can all learn a lesson from that. Personnel should be aware how their role relates to the company’s culture and, moreover, how it impacts the customer. Where others have paid the price for brushing things under the carpet, staff at good companies step in and deal with the issue. When working on a big project, nobody should mind putting in a little bit extra because they’re aware of the bigger picture and the positive impact it has on the firm, thus, their career. A workplace should be abuzz with enthusiasm and energy.
In this instance, bigger isn’t better. Staff at independent companies, like Ranger, are trained from their first to last day at the company; we spend money to send personnel all over the world to access the best course material available. It means that even when a technical or demanding lifting application presents itself, the local supplier is best equipped to help. Depth and breadth of inventory, meanwhile, mean the right tool can readily be selected and delivered.
As sales shrink, a huge knock-on problem for these big companies is they have to reduce stock levels, which further impacts lead times and compounds the problem further. At Ranger, we have more stock (up to a million dollars!) than a larger company would have at a local depot. If a customer is in an area only supplied by a satellite office—some might have up to 30 sites—the quality and speed of service they receive can only be as good as the lifting or rigging equipment in stock, which is often limited.
This fragmentation causes other problems too. There is a misconception that sourcing equipment from one supplier across the whole country is advantageous. It’s not. Consider the size of Australia—it’s bigger than Europe. How can one company control service, stock, personnel and training at depots in Cairns, Canberra, Coolbellup and Carnarvon? It’s impossible. It would be like one company supplying the whole of Europe. When one thinks of the different state requirements and regional trends, it becomes clearer still why these gargantuan companies have struggled.
State by state contracts are a much better way to go. That way, a company is dealing with a leading company within that area. Higher stock levels, local knowledge and quality of service all combine to better the offering that might be the available from, say, the 10th biggest depot of a larger company. At an independent company, every client is given the best expertise they have available and respect them for contributing to the long-term tapestry of the business.
This commentary wasn’t about championing the little guy. Visit our facility, pass one of our striking vehicles on the road, work with our lifting engineers or experience our world-class expertise on a demanding job site and you’d be in no doubt that you’re dealing with a sizeable, dynamic, growing business that commands respect. However, we’re still in touch with our roots and treat every customer like they were our first.
How will you source the supplier of your next batch of lifting gear?
Thank you for reading.