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A Bifocal Blog

Sarah Spivey, the managing director of Modulift, explores one way of applying market intelligence to the DNA of a business.

This blog never shies away from the issues of the day. Over the past year or so, I’ve been frank in assessment of the oil and gas industry, direct on the economy and, more recently, forthright on Brexit. I’ve even had to tear a strip off a North American judge, all in the line of duty!

It’s important that businesses confront what an industry or the big bad world throws at them. It’s equally critical that they have an ability to quickly compute how hard those developments will hit. Everything has a ripple effect. Sometimes waves crash over the deck, on other occasions they simply lap against the hull while the crew is fast asleep. Whatever the impact, it’s better to know it’s coming than get thrown out of the bunks unawares, or even capsize.

It’s why business leaders need to take a bifocal approach, switching their gaze at regular intervals between what is right before them and in the distance. I think the old fashioned bifocal spectacles serve as a good analogy—you remember the ones that had a clear line scored across the middle of each lens. A person putting them on couldn’t fail to be reminded of the glasses’ ability to give them clear visibility of the road signs in the distance and the speedometer on the dashboard; or the pages of the book and the departure board on the wall.

We should all put an imaginary pair of bifocals on by way of a reminder every morning. And that’s really what this month’s blog is about. Only by looking to the top and bottom of the lens in equal measure can we safely navigate the road, set a heading in choppy seas or make our connections. Moreover, it looks at the amazing ability businesses have to adapt to circumstances and even thrive when news bulletins, market forecasts and the pessimists suggest the end is nigh, or a tidal wave is coming.

Biggest ever

The last month or so has been about new dawns and uncharted waters at Modulift. It’s been about discovery, exploration, expansion, success and positivity. I’ve blogged before about the super heavy lift sector being particularly buoyant, as proven by the recent order we received for the largest spreader beam we have ever manufactured, which can lift 1,500t at 26m. What’s more, despite the doom and gloom being widely reported about the region, the spreader is bound for Europe.

Satisfying though it’s been to process the order, we were not surprised. We were already aware of the potential at the super heavy end of the market—the middle remains quiet—and I don’t expect this to be our highest capacity beam for long. We recently delivered two 1,200t beams but have the capability to go to a gargantuan 5,000t. We usually expect to deliver even orders for this capacity within eight weeks, but such is the extent of the DNV GL (formerly known as Det Norske Veritas AS, a global provider of knowledge for managing risk) design review, it’ll probably be onsite closer to 12. Testing will be completed using our in-house rig.

One can imagine the excitement in the engineering room when we receive an order for such a large capacity unit. Our beams are designed by experts in their field and manufactured in our own specialist facilities. The team takes great pride in, and ownership of, their work, which is a cornerstone of our ongoing success in the super heavy lift sector. That said they could produce such equipment in a relatively routine fashion. So busy is the production line on a daily basis that we couldn’t afford for a whole team to devote its time to one project, regardless of the size or capacity. The manufacturing system is such that the heavier units simply require a seamless upscaling process.

I’d urge manufacturing businesses to be careful when increasing the size or capacity of their products. Regardless of market trends, be mindful that procedures, suppliers, engineering capability and so much more has to be in a certain place before processing such orders represents a sensible business decision. I guess one could pop the bifocals on again and check it’s looking good on both halves of the lens before proceeding. If the market says yes, but the one engineer you’ve got is struggling to get products half the size out the door, he probably says no.

Our engineers are also abuzz about prototype testing of a new product next month (August). I can’t say too much about it yet but needless to say we’re excited about introducing another new below-the-hook product, devised to address a market trend.

New partners

We recently named I&I Sling Inc. our latest North American distributor, offering us comprehensive coverage of eastern regions of the U.S. from facilities in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia. We have also introduced Ontario-based Equipment Corps as our first distributor in Canada. Oil and gas, construction and steel industry decision makers have already noted the latter appointment. We’re also close to naming two additional partners before the end of the year.

I frequently referred to 2015 as the year of the distributor at Modulift, but of course efforts to grow our dealer network and support our existing partners remains key to our business model on an ongoing basis. Making the right appointments is as crucial today as it was last year, the year before and the year before that. We have criteria that all prospective partners must meet, but more important is their ability to facilitate use of our equipment in a region where we want to expand a presence or introduce our products to market.

As is the case when marketing high capacity equipment, it’s important to be sure a business can sustain a growing network of partners. Before every appointment we look at the volume and type of equipment they require and the level of commitment that will be necessary from our engineers and production line. For example, we have a distributor in Saudi with MOD600 units in stock, while another one might never require anything above MOD50. Both are equally important to our business, but to be effective and efficient we have to understand these different types of demand and plan for them accordingly.

Again, our supply chain, storage and schedules must be scrutinised to ensure we deliver our promises from the outside. Imagine the negativity that would be generated by a new distributor selling a below-the-hook solution to an oil and gas purchasing decision maker using our equipment for the first time if we delivered to site a month late. We wouldn’t have to worry about delivering there again that’s for sure.

Back to school

Here in the UK, like many places around the world, September represents the start of the new academic year. It also marks the onset of another trade show and conference season. That those threads coincide is fitting, such is the extent of the market intelligence we continue to garner from exhibition aisles and networking sessions.

We have a high profile at a number of events, including LEEA’s LiftEx in Aberdeen, which takes place 23-24 November, but I’m particularly looking forward to the first Cranes and Transport Middle East (CATME) conference, organised by International Cranes and Specialized Transport magazine and KHL Group, which will take place on 8 December in Dubai, UAE. Anthony Culshaw, our senior design engineer, is already working on his presentation and we’ll also sponsor the event.

Finally, I’m delighted to update readers that I passed all four modules of my Chartered Director Programme at the Institute of Directors (IOD) with distinction! It means I can now go onto the diploma stage in the autumn with a final exam in November.

Be sure to embrace the learning opportunities that come your way.

Thank you for reading!

Sarah Spivey
Managing Director
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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