Europe is a hot topic in more ways than one, says Sarah Spivey, managing director at Modulift, upon her return from distributor meetings in the continent's southern regions.
It's fitting that I should write a blog about Europe almost a year to the day that the UK government held a referendum on leaving the European Union (EU), on 23 June 2016, where the majority voted to Leave. It's never really been out of the headlines but the story was further fuelled recently following a snap general election in the UK and the start of formal Brexit talks with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Have you been given that look recently? You know the one, where you visit a European friend, contact or other associate and they frown as if to say, "What happens now?" Everyone has their varied opinions on Brexit—Remainers and Leavers still debate it every day, often around the same family dinner table—but there is a collective acceptance of the unknown. That creates a particularly challenging environment for a UK-based, global business.
Having sent notification of 'our' decision to Leave in the form of the Article 50 letter on 29 March this year, it means the UK officially exits the EU on the corresponding date in 2019. Understandably, UK businesses that deal with the continent are being challenged to explain what that means for existing supply agreements, trade deals, exchange rates, etc. Trouble is, we don't yet have the answers. Anyone professing to know what the economic and business climate will look like on 30 March 2019 is lying.
It's an amusing plot line that the next working day is also the first day of April 2019; we call 1st April, April Fools' Day.
Those gazing into crystal balls trying to find answers to the questions everyone is asking are wasting their time. The focus for any business in this position should be planning for every eventuality, remaining flexible and, above all, ensuring that they can prioritise customers' needs and grow regardless of what Brexit leaves in its wake. When Barnier and our man on the job, David Davis MP, have finished their negotiations, Modulift and its distributors will head onwards and upwards together.
That was the message this month when John Baker, business development manager, and I visited Milan-based distributor FAS S.p.A., which represents us in Italy; and Vigo's Pescaira, our representative in Spain and Portugal. Both have been in our distributor network for a number of years and we hope to be partners for many more yet post Brexit. Barnier and Davis won't be factoring below-the-hook into their negotiations, after all, so we've got to stick together.
Of course, Brexit might turn out to be a good thing. In the meantime, both FAS and Pescaira are reporting much more favourable market conditions. In both cases, 2017 turnover is already beyond what they achieved in each of the previous three years and the leading indicators are pointing to a strong finish to 2017. Spending time in these marketplaces and introducing key partners to John will only further strengthen these valued partnerships.
It's not just Southern Europe that's picking up; we've detected heightened activity in Scandinavia and Eastern European markets as well.
As many of you would have read a couple of months ago, John blogged about the importance of continuing to build on relationships with customers even when their markets are slow. Much of Europe has endured a prolonged spell of calmness and many businesses, in the lifting industry and others, will respond to warming conditions by frantically trying to rebuild bridges with contacts they haven't engaged with since the last boom. However, it's not just a case of packing the sun lotion and getting on a plane. Trust would have evaporated in the meantime and it'll take time to earn it back. In many cases, they're already burnt.
I listened to an interesting podcast recently about removing the 'close mentality' to sales processes. The thought leader was eloquently making the point that too much focus is put on closing out a sale, getting the purchasing decision and moving onto the next one. The result is that too little time is devoted to the 'open' part of the sales process, which is where a provider learns about the potential or existing customer and builds a relationship accordingly. The folks who've turned their back on, say, Italy and Spain in recent years did so because they couldn't see the 'close' potential. It's a mistake they'll now be regretting.
Among the Modulift products in demand by FAS, Pescaira and others is our new Adjustable Lifting / Spreader Beam (or MOD CLS), a combined lifting and spreader beam utilising a clamp system, which we unveiled only a month ago. We had originally intended to follow the launch of the 8.5t capacity beam with another model with a higher working load limit (WLL), but such has been the level of interest that industry is accelerating the concept to market earlier than expected.
I remember calling it, "Game-changing from a lead-time perspective," in interviews with trade media but the extent of the uptake has been even more overwhelming than we were anticipating.
John was joined by Chris Schwab, our sales manager, on the road this week as two LEEA Roadshows took place in Belfast and Dublin. The MOD CLS was onsite at both events and, true to form, it was well received by Ireland audiences. In a month where we dedicated much of our resources to spending time with distributors, it was also opportune for John and Chris to catch up with Irlequip, who represent us in the region.
Belfast is also home to marine manufacturer Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries Ltd. Still popular on our website is the famous case study where we designed and manufactured a giant lifting rig utilising a 500t lifting beam, 48.5m lattice spreader beam and two spreader beams, used for lifting and assembly of giant wind turbines for the Irish Sea. Ireland is certainly an area where we have a rich tapestry and the guys have had some interesting conversations about adding to it in future months.
Interestingly, post Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (not part of the UK) will become the only land border between Britain and the EU.
Thank you for reading and use the #belowthehook hashtag to engage with us on social media.
Managing Director Modulift