We All Have Something To Be Thankful For

November 26, 2014

469_4312814As the Thanksgiving weekend approaches, I’d like to say thanks to the many friends and clients we’ve had the good fortune to come in contact with over the years. We’re all running in several different directions all the time, and this time of year we need to slow down a bit to appreciate the things around us.

So this weekend, don’t take your briefcase home, and your emails will still be there Monday morning when you get back in the office. Recharge your batteries this weekend. Play with your kids or grandkids, visit an old friend or watch some football. We take a lot of things for granted sometimes – our Families and Friends. And no matter how screwed up our country is in Washington, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Enjoy the weekend. We can get back to the rat race next week.


How Are You Utilizing Training?

November 25, 2014

I don’t think any manufacturer out there would argue the importance of training. What manufacturer wouldn’t want to ensure their customers are trained properly on how to use their products or informed on their latest product offerings. Plus, training offers manufacturers a way to further differentiate themselves from competitors, as well as continue to build their brand with their customers.

There are many ways to approach and handle training; from how-to videos and online training courses, to traditional, printed instructional manuals and sales people demonstrating products in the field.  But sometimes there is no substitute for in-person training.

One manufacturer that is leading the way for in-person training is Viega. I should note that Viega is a client of Sonnhalter. The Viega Education Facility, located in Nashua, NH, is a stand-alone, dedicated building for training and I have to say, a pretty impressive facility. It first opened up in 2006 and since then, over 10,000 people have completed training sessions. Viega averages over 200+ days of training per year, with attendees ranging from architects, contractors and engineers to apprentices, distributors and even Viega employees. Currently there are over 13 standard courses covered in two-day, three-day or five-day sessions.

For the majority of industries, continuing education becomes a necessity to staying up-to-date and informed on the latest techniques, trends and technologies affecting their respective fields. Additional training can also offer up the benefits of increased productivity, reducing your liabilities for errors or omissions with updated knowledge of laws and regulations, increasing morale and job satisfaction, as well as reducing employee turnover

Kevin Higginbotham is the CEO of the Evergreen Marketing Group. Evergreen has always been a leader in product training since its inception, and Kevin gives us some insights into what their group is doing to advance professional training using a multi-dimensional approach.

Both manufacturers and distributors acknowledge the importance of training.

How are you utilizing Training?


Fabtech Expo Recap

November 20, 2014

Rachel Kerstetter, PR Engineer, Sonnhalter

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I had the opportunity to attend the Fabtech Expo in Atlanta last week. It was my second year at the show and I am continually impressed by the immensity of this industry. The expo brought together more than 27,000 attendees and 1,400 exhibitors covering more than 500,000 square feet of the Georgia World Congress Center.

Fabtech kicked off on Veterans Day and it couldn’t have been more fitting since Workshops for Warriors was selected as the recipient of the Fabtech Cares campaign. Workshops for Warriors is a wonderful organization that I had the pleasure of writing about last year in Production Machining magazine. Workshops for Warriors, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to training, certifying, and placing veterans in manufacturing careers.

It’s no secret that manufacturers are looking for new sources of talent. At the same time, many former members of our armed forces are looking for work. Workshops for Warriors combines these efforts, giving American veterans and wounded warriors the skills U.S. manufacturing employers need. Veterans who are transitioning back to civilian life provide a vastly untapped talent pool of hardworking and disciplined talent for the manufacturing industry. Fabtech hosted a panel on the first day of the show on bridging the skills gap with veterans. You can see the progress of the fundraiser (and donate) here.

Reshoring of manufacturing was definitely another popular topic. The Day One keynote actually came from Cindi Marsilgio, the VP for U.S. Manufacturing at Wal-Mart. The company has pledged to buy $250 billion of products made in the USA over ten years to encourage the creation of U.S. jobs. (You can read more about the keynote and Day One highlights on Fabtech’s blog.) When walking the show and helping out in various booths, I heard the question, “Where are your products made?” Many purchasing professionals in attendance were seeking domestically produced products to us in their own operations.

Day Two of Fabtech kicked off with four-time Super Bowl champion and Vietnam War veteran, Ricky Bleier, presenting on how attendees can be the best that they can be. Later in the day a panel was held on the industry’s outlook. You can see video and other highlights from Day Two on Fabtech’s blog.

Although I headed back to chilly Cleveland at the end of Day Two, the final day of the show was also packed with a presentation from  Google for Work’s Head of Manufacturing, Mike Walton on transforming manufacturing for the digital age. This is a very popular topic, especially with the rise of 3D printing, robotics and digital design capabilities. You can check out some video from the presentation here.

Did you attend Fabtech? What did you think of the show?


Manufacturers: Contractors are expecting more from you. Are you delivering?

November 19, 2014

Progressive contractors, I believe, are changing the way they are interacting with their manufacturers. When I ran across this research recently, it verified in my mind that it holds true. I only wish the Electrical and Plumbing markets would do similar research.

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HVACRBusiness recently released a new research study, “HVACR Contractors: Trends in the Adoption of Products/Systems & Management Approaches,” (for a free copy of executive summary click here), that highlights new trends on their involvement with manufacturers. I did a podcast interview with Terry Tanker, the publisher, to talk about the results of the research.

Bottom line – 70% are more likely to evaluate additional manufacturers and their products. You can’t depend on your sales rep going to see them personally to introduce a new product. By the time they get there, the contractor may be well down the selection process. Contractors, no matter what kind, are looking for good information, not a sales pitch, but information that can help them do their jobs. If you can do that, it will help keep you in the game.

Here are some highlights.

They define a “High Yield” contractor as being more active in managing their business, have substantial revenues and are experiencing significant growth. In other words, The “A” players in the field.

  • 93% get involved in the early stages of the selection process of new products.
  • Contractors have even greater expectations for products/systems than 5 years ago.
  • Contractors are expecting manufacturers to do more to help them compete and operate efficiently.
  • The selling environment has become more businesslike and competitive.

The bottom line is that these “High Yield” contractors have made significant changes in their relationships with their manufacturers and expect more out of them. Among them the top three are:

  1. Making manufacturers more accountable for their products/systems.
  2. Offer more support.
  3. Make more objective decisions about products/systems/brands.

 


Is Listening a Lost Art?

November 18, 2014

Did you know that we spend 25 percent of our waking hours listening?

Are we making the most out of it, and what’s more important, what are we missing?

If social media hasn’t taught us anything else, its made it clear that people want to be heard. Listening makes us better people whether it’s listening to our kids, friends, coworkers or customers. We all fall prey to interrupting someone to make a point. We’re so busy thinking about what we’re going to say instead of listening to what’s being said and responding appropriately.

From a leadership point of view, listening is the most important skill a strong leader can have.

In the business world, listening spurs conversations which leads to resolutions and probably more sales. We need to make sure our salesmen and customer service folks are honing these skills.

According to an article in American Express‘ open forum, the article cites a study by the American Listening Association that only 2 percent of all professionals obtain any training to improve their listening skills.

As the landscape continues to change, prospective new customers armed with the internet and social media now are coming to the table with a whole nother set of questions which we may have to think about before we answer. Truly listening to customers can lead to more business!

Here a few listening tips:

  • Focus on what people are saying instead of formulating a response before they finish
  • Interpret what you hear
  • Clarify what you heard
  • Ask open-ended questions to engage deeper conversation
  • Validate what you heard

Just because you listen doesn’t mean you have to agree. Good listening spurs good conversations and that’s what we’re all looking for.


Tradesmen: Trade forums can help answer your questions

November 13, 2014

Sandy Bucher, Media Engineer, Sonnhalter

Have you ever had a question that you didn’t have the answer to, and wanted to ask a person in the same occupational trade as you? If you normally read magazines specific to your trade, there is a chance that magazine may offer a forum where you can post a question and have like-minded participants help answer it for you. Or, if you search for a trade-specific forum, you’re very likely to find one out there.

I’ve listed some forums below to give you a head start. Don’t be afraid to ask anything. There are always people out there willing to help you out.

HVAC market

HVAC-Talk.com – online forum of Contracting Business

HVACSite.com – forum for the HVAC market

Plumbing market

Plumbing Talk – online forum of Contractor Magazine

PlumbingZone.com – for professional plumbers only

RIDGIDForum.com – a forum of RIDGID users

Electrical market

ElectricianTalk.com – forum for the Electrical market

Different trade forums for contractors

ContractorTalk.com – forums for all kinds of trades


STAFDA Show Recap

November 12, 2014

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I just returned from the STAFDA show which was held in Charlotte, NC. It was the biggest one in some years.

The show, for the most part, was upbeat, and the economic forecast for the next few years looks promising for the construction market.

I talked to several manufacturers and they seemed happy, for the most part, on the turnout for the trade show. The last day didn’t set any records, but most trade shows don’t.

In talking with several distributors and a few buying groups that were there, they confirmed that they were having great growth in 2014 and expect it to continue into 2015.

It was nice to go to a distributor/manufacturer meeting where both sides were positive. Hopefully the crystal ball will be right.


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