Doing What it Takes

Words: Dan Kamys

Business Management

The economic environment is tough on everyone. Even if you can pay your bills, you most likely get slow payment from others.?? Are you doing all you can to maximize profits, utilize available technology and keep your customers (and gain new ones)?

Masonry spoke to several companies of varying size to learn what it takes to remain relevant and profitable in today’s rocky financial climate.

Joel Aronie is VP of Quickpoint; Earl Bickett is general manager of Mortar Net U.S.A.; and Randall Coe is VP of marketing for Robert Bosch Tool Corp. Following is what they had to say about doing what it takes.

Earl Bickett, Mortar Net: Mortar Net USA has a national presence with 15 employees in Indiana with other employees and more than 20 independent manufacturers reps spread across the United States and Canada.

Joel Aronie, Quickpoint: We are a small business (number of employees is company information only), and sell nationwide and export to eight to 10 countries.

Randall Coe, Bosch: We are a global company, and I represent the North American Business Unit. We are based in Stuttgart, Germany.

Aronie: Business is off by approximately 10 percent, but we have reduced overhead and maintained about the same profit.

Bickett: We finished 2009 down by only a single digit versus 2008. We’re down about the same as last year and are hopeful that we’ll be able to maintain that through the end of 2010.

Coe: We are seeing cautious optimism thus far for the professional sector in 2010 over 2009. While some segments of construction are beginning to see a slight increase in demand, many segments are not seeing the growth that was anticipated. The DIY market is seeing a better increase as homeowners remodel/upgrade their homes as an alternative to other expenditures.

Bickett: Our products are heavily specified by architects, so while they are still specified in more than 90 percent of the qualifying masonry projects, there are simply fewer projects to be specified in.??We sell through our rather extensive distributor network and, depending what part of the country they’re in, some of them are hurting pretty badly.

Aronie: A couple of customers have gone bankrupt, but we have gained a few new customers.

Coe: Obviously, it’s been a challenging couple of years for anyone who makes a living using power tools and accessories. We aren’t losing customers per say. But until economic growth regains momentum, some have chosen to be on hiatus, opting to fix or extend their tools’ lives. On a positive note, we are gaining some new customers who are now shopping smarter and, therefore, opting to buy higher quality tools that will last longer and help them perform their jobs faster and more efficiently. This trend is at the core of Bosch’s DNA.

Aronie: Because we are a niche business, we have been able to maintain our prices. But if a distributor buys in larger volume, we have discounted our prices a small amount.

Bickett: Mortar Net USA has maintained its practice of keeping the masonry design, supply and construction community aware of its products with extensive advertising, Lunch & Learn presentations, trade show participation, product demonstrations, sponsorships of numerous masonry education programs and the like. All of these things help to keep our name, our products and the benefits they offer “top-of-mind,” and help to get our products specified in the projects that are going forward. We also have new and innovative product offerings such as TotalFlash and Blok-Flash; and while the overall construction market has shrunk, sales and installations of those products are actually growing at a high rate.

Coe: As I mentioned, we’re really working hard to give our customers products that help them work more efficiently and avoid downtime, and we’re doing it at a competitive price. We have never been a brand that has had to resort to “desperate” discounts to sell product. We are a company that thinks and acts long-term and will continue to offer our award-winning products at competitive prices.

Aronie: New technologies have not affected our actual manufacturing efficiencies.We keep up with UPS software upgrades and YouTube demos.

Bickett: Certainly, technology is incredibly important to us as it is to every business. If I wasn’t using a computer to type the answers to your questions, I doubt you’d be able to decipher my notoriously bad handwriting. We use all the basic technologies for accounting, inventory control, shipping, tracking, lead management, etc. And, I really do like my new Droid.

Coe: Bosch is an innovation company that is always looking at all types of technology for our next innovation. We are keenly aware of how technology is changing the way our users access information. We are actively changing our marketing mix to address this new change.

Aronie: At this time, we have not put in the time to get involved with any of these possibilities to increase sales.

Bickett: We really haven’t gotten in on this as we should have. I don’t think I’m necessarily too old to learn some of these methods, but I’m a little leery of having perfect strangers scribbling all over my walls.

Coe: We want to continue to have an intimate relationship with our users. We are using Social Media to improve that relationship for the future. Video and users ratings are the runaway popular tools for learning all about new Bosch products. Therefore, it is our highest priority.

Aronie: We do have an item that we took out of mothballs, called the Quikpoint Lightning Grouter used for pointing on flat work such as paving block, brick work and stonework. The tool??has??been??reengineered??and??is??much??more??usable??also the??price??has??been??reduced considerably.

Bickett: As I said earlier, sales growth in TotalFlash and Blok-Flash have been a big help in avoiding a serious decline. Both of these products offer greater moisture protection to the building envelope and significant labor savings, compared to conventional installations. As a result, the design community is specifying them more, and masons have been getting them substituted into more projects.

Coe: Users are getting very excited about some of the products we’re introducing in the masonry and concrete categories this year. We’ll be introducing a few new medium-weight rotary hammers with industry-first anti-vibration; a fantastic new 60-pound demolition hammer that will reset the standard we set 25 years ago, still relevant today; an innovative and radically newly designed “glide Miter saw;” and the next generation of the Power box are just a few of the products you can expect in 2010. In total, more than 70 new power tools and accessories.

Aronie: Reduce labor and overhead as much as possible, and use time-saving tools.

Bickett: I won’t presume that I could answer that in a way that would be meaningful to someone running a company that is under a great deal of pressure. I will say that one of my greatest concerns is that, for the long-term good of the industry, the smaller amount of work that is out there needs to be of high quality. Cutting corners now will result in having to go back to fix problems later, and can move designers and owners away from masonry construction - and we don’t need that.

Coe: Work smarter, not harder. If you use tools and accessories that keep you moving forward on the jobsite and get you to the next project sooner, you’ll weather the storm and come out of it with a serious leg up on your competition.

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