When people begin the process of looking for a lift truck, they often are looking to satisfy a basic need that would make a task easier, more productive or safer for their personnel. When it comes to making such improvements in their facilities, our goal is to assist them in getting to a simple solution that helps them work smarter and get the job done.
My name is Paul Shinn and I proudly serve as the Northeastern Regional Sales Manager on the Big Joe sales team. My role includes assisting our dealers and their customers from Ohio east and from eastern Kentucky north to Canada. I really enjoy helping people solve problems in their operations which are often very unique to a given task, facility or industry. After 20 years in the industry, I have gained a lot of knowledge and I have seen that customers really appreciate working with a company that not only makes a good product, but one that takes the time to listen to their customers and present ideas tailored to what they value and are trying to achieve.
When it comes to helping a company determine what type of lift truck solution they need, there are a few key questions I will typically ask a customer right away:
- What are the dimensions of the materials they want to handle, including weights (Min / Max), What do they need to do with them and how often? Physical size and weight of materials are obviously very important. However, dimensions of things like warehouse and production aisles, the elevations materials need to be lifted, and the frequency and duration of work can be equally important to reaching a good solution.
- Are there materials in need of handling that are not on pallets. Are materials in boxes, barrels, or bins - or is it loose? Sometimes customers have products or materials that are not packed well or not packed at all which present additional challenges. If a load of materials is not uniform or can sway during transit it can have a big effect on lift truck carrying capacity and safety which may be overlooked when evaluating equipment alternatives.
- Where and how is the product being handled or “What is the application”? Loading / unloading trucks, stacking / unstacking shelves, picking / placing items into bins in production areas, building sub-assemblies, outdoors on route deliveries, in coolers? Whatever the case may be, the nature of the task to be accomplished and the environment in which it occurs are huge considerations in the selection of right piece of material handling equipment. Typically, the simplest and most reliable equipment that strikes the best balance between cost and productivity will be the best choice. To arrive at a great solution, a holistic approach - a trained eye - and a good ear go a long way.
For example; sometimes customers have a need to pick or place individual items that are not on pallets, which is where a product like the Joey task support vehicle shines, especially when it comes to areas with small parts and bins. This requires a deeper level of questioning and understanding that come from secondary questions such as:
- Locations - Will or can the equipment work in different areas of the same warehouse?
- SKU’s - (Stock Keeping Units) How many different SKUs are being handled and what are their attributes? Will a company be pulling multiple small items or full cases? How are SKUs arranged in their facility, by customer - type - order velocity?
- How often are they picking or putting items? Sometimes it is once a day or 3-20 times an hour. What does peak season look like? These are huge considerations.
- History - How are they doing their job right now? How did they do it 3-5 years ago?
- Picking Method - What is your current order picking and replenishment methodology? Batch, slotted, cluster, zone, wave??? How could the right equipment choice potentially impact the performance of these established methods? Are there operational performance targets for picking or replenishment that may drive equipment selection?
Most times our customer knows the job they need to get done, but they often haven’t thought through the ideal tool to perform the many tasks involved to do the job well or question if their current methodology or equipment is the best fit for what they want to achieve each day.
When looking for a solution, our customers may already be using something else, but for some reason - it isn’t working and they want something better. By getting into the fine details we can often uncover what it is that is at the core of a customers dissatisfaction and correct it with equipment that is a better fit.
Rolling Ladders vs The Joey
More and more, safety is a consideration that drives a great deal of questions in regard to equipment selection. Our Joey vehicles are often sold because a customer is using a rolling ladder to reach highly stacked areas and people have a tendency to not be able to properly handle a load and come down a ladder simultaneously. I inform customers that warehouses that are currently using rolling ladders have an obligation to provide a safe means to accomplish a task under OSHA, and then ask some basic questions to uncover the size of any potential issue.
I ask them things like; How many times have items been dropped when people are climbing up and down ladders? Has anyone been injured by the use of a ladder at the facility? Even with one incident it can quickly become obvious that it is time to invest in a new solution. Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes and open conversation to get past things like, “This is how we have always done things here”, but it is important that such subjects are discussed openly.
Good equipment selection fundamentally starts with such open conversations that get deeper and narrower until the lightbulb goes off for both sides - What is the item that you are trying to pick? What are the dimensions of the items? Are they easily breakable? Are they expensive? How is success in your picking operations measured? How is safety measured? If one phrase could describe the role of a material handling professional it is certainly - “Know thy customer”.
How Many Times a Day?
- Battery Life - How often a customer is going to use a lift and for what are determining factors when selecting equipment battery options. If a customer is using a lift frequently to lift heavy loads to high elevations, or traveling long distances at high speed - they will likely need a larger non-standard battery. However, customers often don’t see their use as being high or low as they may not have reference points as to what is common at other operations. High capacity batteries cost more. However, we often find that by pursuing simple holistic equipment solutions the majority of Big Joe customers will find our standard battery packs to work well.
- Selecting the Right Product in a Family of Products - The level of use or what we often refer to as “duty cycle” is a main driver when selecting the right equipment available within a family of products. In the Big Joe product line, we have (6) different electric pallet jacks with different battery sizes, carrying capacities and option sets. So knowing how much a customer is going be using the equipment, along with other factors discussed will help determine which pallet jack they will need. Our pallet trucks come in all different configurations to fit specific use cases with continuous run times ranging from 2 to 6 hours, and options to improve on standard run times / duty cycles if required.
- Room Temperature - if a customer tells me they are going to be using the lift truck in a cooler or freezer, then that makes a difference also related to required duty cycle. Not only do we offer specific option packages for colder environmental conditions, battery performance needs to be considered as certain types of batteries can have their performance greatly reduced at lower temperatures or higher temperatures.
Those familiar with Big Joe probably already know that we specialize in customizing our lift trucks to address specific tasks. However, those new to the brand, may not even ask if we can do that one extra thing they could use - which can be a missed opportunity. The more repetitive a task and the more finely tuned a piece of equipment is to that task, the more value a customer will get from proper equipment selection. Often fine tuning a piece of equipment may mean just getting the specification right, or a few additional options, but it may also require some level of customization to really get to the best possible solution.
Below are some examples of things people may need that will require customization:
- Pallet Jacks - Requests for longer or narrower fork dimensions than standardly offered.
- Carts - Requests to lift or move carts with a lift truck.
- Extra long or wide loads - I get a lot of requests for handling loads that require our fork carriages, straddles, or forks to be lengthened. Big Joe can often accommodate such requests if the loads are not prohibitively heavy.
- Special attachments for unique handling requirements - Die handling, drum handling, furnace loading, coils, rolls, handling assembly fixtures, windows, you name it. While forklifts are typically designed for handling pallets… With our approach, some extra engineering time, and custom production capabilities - even our simple small trucks can be customized to do big things for our customers.
The 80/20 Rule
The 80-20 rule (Pareto’s Law) states that 80% of our customers want what we offer, and 20% want something unique to fit their specific needs. Often, customers may ask for blue lights, different lift limits, RFiD hand scanner holders, a lift that works well for a left handed operator as opposed to a right-handed operator, mounting accessories for clipboards or devices often used with a pick ticket system, and more. Whether our customers ask or we discover requirements, that 20% is highly important and should not be overlooked just for expediency. All lift trucks are not equal. While many may just focus on price, lift trucks are tools so getting the most utility at the lowest cost is true value - which requires both effort and diligence.
Anyone can offer a lift truck from a brochure. It is in that special 20% where I believe we really make a difference with Big Joe equipment and one of the things I enjoy most in my role on the factory sales team. In determining what lift truck is best for a customer’s use, there are many basics to cover as I have outlined. Ultimately though, truly knowing a customers operation and creating a picture of what a day in the life of their ideal equipment solution looks like is the key.
Something I look forward to doing everyday.
By Paul Shinn - Regional Sales Manager for Big Joe Forklifts