Loyalty: Not what it used to be
One of the most significant changes in the caster business over the past two decades is that customer loyalty can no longer be based on an imbalance in product or industry knowledge. Today, we deal with both distributors and end users who have a sophisticated understanding of casters and wheels. To garner their loyalty we always have to be on the leading edge of innovation and always operating at peak performance. It keeps us on our toes and we like it that way.
When I started working in this business 30 years ago, our customers really didn’t know much about casters or wheels. Distributors were often glorified order takers. They would simply take the specs provided by one of their customers and shop around to find the manufacturer that could come closest to the spec and provide the lowest quote. They lacked the knowledge to advise their customers or to offer any insight about product choice. Unfortunately that led to distributors being taken advantage of and to manufacturers demanding loyalty based on price but not necessarily quality.
At the same time, end users seemed to see casters as a necessary evil – as that final, almost forgotten component that allowed something to roll. The ways in which casters could contribute to overall performance or the visual appeal of a product were almost never considered. That also made loyalty an easily gained commodity.
New generations of business owners and managers combined with a more complex marketplace have changed all that. Our distributors today are sophisticated players in the market. With many more available options including offshore suppliers, they must be able to help their customers spec requirements and evaluate product choice. When I visit distributors these days, I am asked complex questions about our products and the industry. In fact, I will often conduct seminars with a distributor’s sales people and buyers to help them be up to date on industry and product developments. We work closely with distributors, helping them craft approaches to their customers that distinguish them in their knowledge base.
These days, end users are also pushing the envelope, seeking more powerful and efficient solutions. Our engineering and design teams are often put to the test as customers seek ways of increasing capacity and performance within the constraints of budget and project schedule. Thresholds are miniscule and the margin for error is almost non-existent.
It’s a demanding environment in which we are constantly being challenged and we like it.
We would much rather deal with educated, sophisticated customers that demand we are always on our game. We prefer to have to earn customer loyalty through a combination of craftsmanship and advanced technology – what we call Castersmithing. We are pleased that our distributors can independently evaluate options and, at the same time, gratified when they come to us for help with specific approaches. While it often leads to challenging moments, we appreciate end users who push us to the very limit of our capability.
Some manufacturers might look nostalgically at the days when loyalty was so easily gained and customer ignorance made it so much easier to operate. Not us. We are excited by the tremendous increase in customer knowledge and are actively engaged in ensuring that it’s a continuing trend.
The late Sy Sims, a trendsetting and hugely successful fashion retailer coined the phrase, “An educated consumer is our best customer.” We couldn’t agree more.