A time to retool and a time to rethink

You may have heard it said that you are only as good as your tools. A slightly different take is that you are only as good as your ability to use your tools.

Truth is, we need both. In today's competitive market, good tools are the ante for staying in the game. Creative use of those tools can raise the ante and provide companies with a competitive edge.

Every nook and cranny of a truck equipment shop has tools — from the computers in the front office to the forklifts that handle the inventory stored out back. The challenge is to figure out a better way to harness those tools to make more money.

As technology advances, it becomes more challenging for truck equipment distributors to:

  1. Keep track of new technology that has applications for at least one phase of the business. Some advancements aren't designed specifically for our industry, but that doesn't mean we can't use them.

  2. Buy the new technology. Breakthrough innovations cost money, but the price tag tends to drop with time.

  3. Use the technology in a way that benefits the business.

Stated another way: Are you aware of it? Can you afford it? Can you apply it in a creative way that makes your company stronger?

We have a lot of relatively inexpensive tools at our disposal. Cell phones, BlackBerries, laptop computers, and an array of other electronic devices. The gadgets change. Their capabilities change. And we need to change. To paraphrase the founder of Wal-Mart, it's not about doing something 100% better. It's about doing 100 different things 1% better.

When truck equipment distributors look for productivity improvements, it's easy to focus on the shop. For most distributors, that's where the money comes from, but it's not the only place that can improve. When we use all tools effectively, all departments benefit.

Our story on Page 18 is an example of a company that is finding new uses for its tools. Layton Truck Equipment is using lean manufacturing techniques in an effort to improve continuously the way things are done. Some of those improvements involve technology — not the type of high tech that would make a rocket scientist at NASA jealous, but some practical applications of common tools designed to make the Colorado-based operation and its Auto Truck Group parent company a little more effective.

Many parts manufacturers provide barcodes on their products. Layton would like to see more of that.

“Look at how we check out at Home Depot, and compare it with how we do things in our industry,” says Steve Hayes, Layton's general manager. “Why don't we barcode everything? I would like to see barcodes even on the bodies we install.”

Hayes also sees convenience as something that can be worth the extra cost — especially in the parts department.

“Why not stock parts that are displayed in bubble packs?” Hayes asks. “It's easier for the customers to see, and the barcode makes checkout fast and accurate. You might be able to save a little money if you buy parts in bulk, but it often costs more to process the order.”

As our Layton Truck Equipment story explains, the company also is expanding its use of the Internet to buy and to sell. The company's “e-store” allows customers to buy from its Web site — a fairly common practice by today's standards. Somewhat more unusual is the Web-based quotation system that allows the outside sales staff to spec out a work truck and produce a quotation in real time at the customer's location.

The telephone is another tool that has potential for being used more effectively. Advancements in telecommunications now go far beyond basic caller ID. Internet-based telephone systems now meld the telephone and computer, making it possible for sales or accounting personnel to know the caller's sales history, account balance, and other information right away. As companies downsize, time becomes a more precious commodity than ever for the employees who remain. How much is it worth to save time for the people at both ends of the line and to address the customer's need immediately instead of requiring him to hold or to call back?

You are unique — just like everyone else. So is your company. What may work for one company may not work for another. Today may or may not be the right time to buy a new tool. But every day is a good day to figure out a better way to use the tools we have.

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