Some Like It Hot

My March travel schedule was like the weather in the Midwest that month. It came in like a lion and went out like a lion. Fortunately I spent the month attending conferences all over the country, so I sampled a variety of climates — including that of the business in various sectors of material handling.

It started in balmy Palm Springs, California, with the spring meeting of CEMA, the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association. Talk about hot. Although most CEMA members were upbeat about their current backlogs and new orders for 2004, they were passionate about what rising steel and employee healthcare costs were doing to their profitability. Their survival strategy is to continue developing new products that will allow you to be safer, more productive and more efficient in your challenging environment.

Next stop: Washington, D.C., for the spring meeting of the Industrial Truck Association. Although it was about 60 degrees cooler there, the ITA’s business agenda was just as hot as the conveyor manufacturers’. These manufacturers are being proactive with OSHA and other organizations to promote lift truck safety and standards for their industry. Most members I spoke with are looking forward to an increase in unit sales for 2004. Like the conveyor industry, they also face increased steel and healthcare costs. Part of their strategy is to continue improving their supply chain processes and to form partnerships that will enhance their competitive position and better serve your needs for higher productivity.

I left our capital’s cold for another shot of hot in Phoenix, where the Transportation, Sales and Marketing Association discussed a topic that every material handler should know about: the new driver hours-of-service rule. I wanted to hear what steps carriers are taking to help you, their customer, make sure these new rules won’t put a kink in your supply chain. I suggest you discuss these changes with your carriers so you can make the necessary changes at your dock and in your warehouse or distribution center.

The good news is that trucks are running full loads and some carriers stated 2004 is off to the best start they’ve seen since 2000. A strong trucking industry is a good indication that the manufacturing and retail sectors are gaining economic strength. This can only be a good sign for the material handling industry.

The last stop in my march through March was back home in Cleveland for the NA2004 material handling show. The Material Handling Industry of America and the Cleveland Convention & Visitors Bureau should be congratulated on making the show’s move from Detroit to Cleveland a successful one. Exhibitors I spoke with felt that the attendees represented a high level of buying influence within the companies they represented. These professionals went to the show looking for products or processes to help their companies be more competitive. Their results are sure to have a big impact on this country’s economy in 2004.

So that’s how March was for me. How’s your year going? If you’ve been having the same positive business and professional experiences I have, please share them with me and we’ll share them with your fellow readers. Just shoot me an e-mail.

Bob Eck, Publisher beck@penton.com

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