So what's the next big thing?

IN a span of only seven weeks in late February through early April, five of the commercial truck and trailer industry's largest conventions and trade shows were held.

Somewhere close to 200,000 people attended those events. They met with one another, discussed common concerns, viewed the latest products, learned about the latest regulations, brought home some new business practices to try out, and adjusted their business plans based on trends and market data that experts presented.

It was a lot to absorb, sift through, and implement. We don't want to overlook anything. After all, somewhere amid all of the PowerPoint presentations and show floor dazzle could be the Next Big Thing. You know, the event that shifts our paradigms.

Or not.

To hear one speaker at the recent NATM convention tell it, the odds are that the next event or idea that will revolutionize our industry will not come from anyone currently working in it — smart as we all may be. Instead, if there is a huge change coming, it will be like a meteor slamming into the earth from outer space.

John Freisinger is president and CEO of Technology Ventures, an Albuquerque company that helps entrepreneurs harness some of the technology developed at the nearby Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Not surprisingly, he has seen some revolutionary science rock the world of unsuspecting industries.

Appropriately, Freisinger appeared at the last minute to deliver the keynote address at the recent National Association of Trailer Manufacturers convention. Why was he appropriate? Because the original keynote speaker had to cancel. Those who simply read the convention program were expecting someone else. Like the changes he described, Freisinger's appearance was unanticipated.

So does his premise — that real change comes from outside — apply to our industry, or does someone in our industry hold the key to the next revolution? You can probably think of your own list, but here are a few past forces that have come out of left field (or at least shallow left) to affect us:

  • Dwight Eisenhower opens the roadways

    Indirectly, nobody is responsible for more truck and trailer sales than Eisenhower. Without his legacy, the Interstate Highway System, America is a provincial country with substantially less interstate commerce. The highway system he signed into law makes today's high-volume freight traffic possible, and maintenance of the nation's highways is a steady source of sales for truck equipment manufacturers and distributors.

  • Chassis managers rethink marketing

    For truck equipment distributors, the biggest game changer in the past 30 years is not a new product line, but rather the introduction of chassis pools and ship-through programs. Suddenly distributors no longer simply compete with the shop down the street. They also compete against the shop — or truck body manufacturer — across the country.

  • Bill Gates does Windows

    Does anyone miss using index cards to manage inventory? How about designing equipment without CAD software, doing without computer-controlled fabrication equipment, or communicating without e-mail? How competitive would your company be with obsolete equipment and systems? How many of these efficiency-enhancing tools were created inside our industry?

Freisinger suggested looking in some unusual places, including social networking sites (where like it or not people freely give their opinions about issues that impact your company) and YouTube where groups like Technology Engineering and Design talk about topics that have nothing to do with their industries. Of course, the challenge when venturing into sites such as these is to find music amid the overwhelming volumes of noise.

Last month, we presented details of what happened at The Work Truck Show. This issue contains reports on this year's NATM convention and the Mid-America Trucking Show. Look for another special issue next month on the recent Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association convention.

Our industry trade associations provide valuable information that you can use to make your company stronger. But we also need to look outside our industry. For example, according to Freisinger, having the lowest price is becoming less important than other factors. His evidence: Wal-Mart has lost sales every quarter since it began a new campaign to aggressively roll back prices. What, if anything, does this have to say to the 35% of the surveyed NATM trailer manufacturers who expect to raise sales this year by lowering prices?

We need to read widely and think deeply. There is more information available to us than ever before. Our challenge, as Kenny Rogers sang, is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting and clicking on “Contact Us.”

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