Hot upcoming markets to look out for in the next decade

If we were to divide America based on geography, demography and socio-economic factors, we would come up with nine regions. An interesting read on Yahoo finance categorized the U.S. into semi-nations and city-states based on the above-mentioned factors.

The Inland West is driven by lifestyle – a strong population of “youngsters” under 20, beautiful natural landscapes and easy access to it. This has led to a booming real-estate which is still cheaper than the neighboring West Coast, and adds up to solid economics.

The Left Coast, or more popularly known as the West Coast will always be the tech-hub where some of the greatest minds, that incidentally educate themselves in the East Coast, eventually migrate. You can’t beat the weather here, but as tempting and beautiful as this region is, the real-estate bubble is sending folks in droves towards the Great Plains and the South East.

The City State of Angels – Los Angeles, is still the land of dreams – the entertainment nucleus of the planet and the weather in LA is near perfect. However, LA has its own set of problems, like dwindling or quickly disappearing industries and a decline in the under-15 and migrant populace.

The Great Plains – the land of the American cowboy. This once underestimated and undervalued region recently posted some of the best job growth numbers and some of the lowest unemployment rates in recent times despite economic turmoil.

Fracking in this oil-rich region, prosperous agribusinesses, and growing technology sectors in urban and cosmopolitan cities have created a growth rate double that of the Northeast. Cities like Dallas, Oklahoma City, Omaha, Sioux Falls and Fargo lend to a very diverse and migrant culture that is likely to grow by 6% by 2023. Bluff Manufacturing, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, is part of the Great Plains, and helps support the energy industry, which is largely driven by major shale finds such as the Bakken formation in North Dakota and the Barnett and Permian in Texas. Learn how Bluff Manufacturing’s heavy-duty steel fracking ramps help protect hoses, pipes and cables at fracking and construction sites.

The Third Coast, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico through south Texas to western Florida, also boasts low unemployment rates. While a major metropolitan city like Houston is now home to the largest medical center in the U.S., it is also the nation’s most racially and ethnically diverse city. Other cities like New Orleans and Corpus Christi enjoy their own unique cultural aspects as well as the concentration of energy jobs five times the national rate, and those jobs that have an average annual salary of $100,000.

The Great Lakes – The Great Lakes were once the second most populous “American nation” but is now a region with aging population and a declining under-5 population. This region was once the heartland of American manufacturing, but with millions of manufacturing jobs having been off-shored or cut, the Great Lakes suffered a major setback. But with the revival of the auto industry in Michigan and shale boom in Ohio, not to mention access to plenty of freshwater, things might just be looking up for the Great Lakes.

The Great Northeast, not including the city-state of New York, is the brainchild of the United States. Housing some of the best universities and drawing the brightest brains from all over the country as well as the world, this region enjoys a population that is highly educated and dominant in business services. It is also the “whitest” population with anglos making up 70% of the population and is mostly a child-free zone, which means it might need to start attracting more migrants and families to sustain its population and to continue to hold onto its political clout.

New York, New York – the city state of New York is the financial backbone of the country – the port of American dreams for immigrants. However this much-clouted world financial center is losing its influence to other strongholds and upcoming economies in the West Coast and Inland West, and even some cities in the Great Plains. Soaring taxes and unaffordable housing are some of the predominant factors that are the causing the downward curve in economics for this great city.

The Southeast Region – the manufacturing belt second after the Great Lakes includes promising economic pockets in cities like Nashville, Raleigh, Birmingham, Richmond and Charlotte. Investments pouring in from Asia and Europe, and migration of families and immigrants, among other factors, might just mean a changing economical and political canvas for this region.

The City State of Miami is known as the Capital of Latin America for a reason. It boasts a strong Spanish-speaking population and the largest Cuban-American community. This beach city not only attracts tourists but also is a major center and a leader in finance, commerce, culture, media, entertainment, the arts, and international trade. Population-wise, Miami is the eighth most populous and fourth-largest area in the U.S. according to Wikipedia. However, this is also a largely aging and childless population and can only continue to grow based on its migrant community from both outside and inside the United States.

So, there you go – the “hot pockets” of economic growth, prosperity and potential within the United States. Following this holy grail of socio-economics might just lead us to improved prospects within our own borders and outside as well.

Drucker challenges with five simple, yet important questions.

“The mission says why you do what you do, not the means by which you do it.” – Peter Drucker

In our day-to-day business as manufacturers, resellers, marketers, accountants or whatever titles we hold, we forget to stop and reflect. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Is it purely bottom-line economics? Or are we looking to firmly establish our careers? Or are we motivated to achieve something beyond just money and career? In the daily grind of things, it’s easy to sometimes forget that the main purpose of any business is to provide a certain set of products or services that can fulfill the unique needs of a certain set of customers. If our customers didn’t have a need that we couldn’t fulfill with our products or services, we wouldn’t have a business, or goals, or a mission statement. In fact, it is good to re-visit those goals and mission statements as often as possible to remember the big picture:

  • Are our customers happy with our service or product?
  • Are we satisfying their ever-changing needs?
  • Are we evolving with those changing needs?

The only constant is change and most days it’s easy to forget the big picture because we have so many small moving parts to deal with on a daily basis.

Peter Drucker – the management guru of the 21st century, invented modern day management, as we know it. For all his fame and fortune, the man left behind a simple legacy wrapped up in a world of knowledge.  If we don’t have time to read his various books or articles, we can definitely take time out of our busy schedules to answer 5 basic questions:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?

The questions are simple, but by forcing ourselves to re-examine our assumptions, we can focus on why we are doing what we are doing, and how to do it better.

Bluff Manufacturing’s mission statement asserts that Bluff Manufacturing will strive for superior partnering in all channels to fully understand our customers’ challenges and provide innovative solutions that make us the ‘Go-To Company’ in the material handing industry.

Our customers are our distributors and our end-users. Our customers value high-quality, secure docking solutions that can match their unique needs and requirements. Our plan is to constantly aspire to understand our customers’ needs and to create products that surpass safety standards while meeting these needs. Bluff Manufacturing has worked to closely match results with its company objectives. But in order to continue that, it’s important to keep asking these five questions. As Drucker puts it, “Suppliers and especially manufacturers have market power because they have information about a product or a service that the customer does not and cannot have, and does not need if he can trust the brand. This explains the profitability of brands.” Here’s to profitability in American manufacturing and creating trust-worthy brands.

Summarizing SERC 2012 – The Southeast Recycling Conference

The 25th Southeast Recycling Conference & Trade Show – SERC – was in sunny Destin, Florida at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa held between March 11 – 14, 2012. Two of our lucky employees got to attend this wonderful show at a fantastic location and this blog is a summary of their account of the show.

To begin with, this is a great four day event linking industry leaders and recycling officials, offering focused educational sessions, the latest recycling products, equipment and services and exciting networking opportunities all at an economical rate.

Where does Bluff Manufacturing fit into all this excitement? A substantial percentage of Bluff’s customer base originates from the recycling industry. The recycling industry has various material handling needs and Bluff Manufacturing provides unique solutions to match this industry’s requirements.

Some of our customers in the recycling industry face the common problem of inadequate amount of dock space or no dock at all. Those without a ramp commented that unloading a trailer without a dock or ramp was hard work, time consuming, and hazardous.  At the Bluff booth, the team highlighted the Bluff Portable Yard Ramp using a new video showing the Bluff Portable Yard Ramp in use at a paper recycling facility. The video along with a miniature replica of the 36’ ramp created buzz and excitement and enthusiasm for the solution. Our team was also able to engage with a customer and help him find an optimal solution to extend the life of his existing ramp (which was at least 15 years old).

Bluff also introduced our new Tuff Guard Safety Rails at SERC 2012! The recycling process / operation involves heavy forklift traffic in recycling plants. This creates a critical need for safety measures to protect personnel, products, and property.  The Bluff Tuff Guard Safety Rails provides the safety barriers that recycling plants need.

With over 600 attendees and 80 exhibitors (Bluff being one of them), this was a great trading and networking event. Key note speaker Dr. Leonard Coldwell motivated an already enthused audience when he reminded them that “we are all born champions” and “that we determine our own health and happiness – it all starts with believing in oneself.”

All in all, this networking event was truly productive and our team gained a lot of information from this event while spreading the word about Bluff’s products and solutions. On a more social note, looks like our postings on SERC’s Facebook page earned us a few fans that arrived at our booth to claim their prize – a Bluff jacket! See you at SERC 2013 and don’t forget to recycle!

Simple steps to reduce shipping claims or better ways to recover damages

We’d love to have zero claims on all our shipments that go out. But in the event we do have some claims, here’s how we can all work together to either reduce the number of claims or recover the damages.

Last Friday, one of our employees that works with Con-way met with one of their representatives to go over a few details regarding damaged shipment. The damaged shipments were BLS products. This is what she discovered:

In 2010, we had 2,789 shipments with Con-way. In 2011, we had 5,640 shipments with Con-way – a 50% increase! In 2010 and 2011, we had filed 25 claims with Con-way, 20 were paid for, and 15 were declined. The 15 that were declined was because customers had not accurately signed the Bill of Lading (B.O.L.) – and did not mark whether the goods were short, damaged, lost-in-transit, etc.

But considering the sheer number of shipments we have sent via Con-way, our freight claims are very minimal. In fact, we average a 0.9 ratio on shipments that are damaged, lost in transit, short, etc.  Freight carriers try not to exceed a ratio of 0.9 on freight claims. This means, Con-way does a pretty good job for Bluff!

However, our goal at Bluff Manufacturing is to have zero claims, or to reduce the number of claims even further. If there are unavoidable circumstances where a small number of claims do arise, we would like to be able to recover the money. In order for us to achieve this, we need to work together as one team – our distributors and customers, our logistics partner – Con-way, and our employees at Bluff.

How can you help as employees to better package our products? The Bluff employee took diligent measures to prevent further damages by asking the Con-way representative to assess the products in question and see if he had any recommendations on how to better ship or package the product or what could possibly be done at the Con-way terminals to help prevent damaged products. That was a first good step. The second step is to follow some of the representative’s useful suggestions. One great tip was to label shipments to be handled with care. The shipping department will start adding these stickers to any BLS orders and large crash guard orders shipping via Con-way.

How did Con-way help us reduce our claims or better help us recover our money in case of claims? The Con-way representative was happy with Bluff’s packaging. The only suggestion he had was for the shipments to have clearly marked labels like – “Do Not Double-Stack” or “Handle With Care” or “Fragile.” He even gave us some of the stickers to use.

Con-way also went out of its way to add a note to all of our DR’s (Delivery Receipt) so customers do not forget to accurately make a note on the delivery receipt if products arrive damaged, short, or are lost-in-transit. This is the note you can expect to see under ‘Description of Articles and Marks’ – CAREFULLY INSPECT THE CONDITION OF SHIPMENT AT TIME OF DELIVERY AND MAKE ANY NECESSARY NOTATIONS.

How can you help as distributors and customers when taking delivery of our products? In order for Bluff to claim any damages, our customers and distributors must inspect the product carefully upon delivery, sign the DR (Delivery Receipt), and accurately notify Con-way if articles are damaged, short, or lost-in-transit.

These are simple, short steps to take – but the cost savings to us are tremendous, and when we save, you save as well. Here’s to zero claims or better claiming our damages. And thanks to Con-way for being such a great partner to us!

Creating High Performance Teams

February is the month of love and relationships; but when the calendar turns to March we still have to nurture our relationships if we want them to be healthy all year long.   All of our relationships need care if they are to be strong and productive – even the business ones at work. For this blog, let’s focus on a relationship very critical to the nature of our business – one between the manufacturer and distributor. This is a relationship if nurtured and built on trust and communication, can become a successful mechanism for competent and confident selling.

In order to create a high-performance team and a competitive supply chain, there needs to be a free flow of information and education between both parties. Creating this free flow of information boosts morale for both the manufacturer and the distributor. There is much to learn from each other. Manufacturers provide the education on products, which helps increase the confidence of distributors when selling, and distributors provide critical customer feedback and field information that greatly benefits manufacturers when designing and manufacturing products. The art of great communication is not just what is said, but also, what is heard. So, sharing critical information between these two teams is vital to successful selling. Together, they can make a strong, winning team.

There are several other factors that can contribute to creating a winning team. A recent newsletter article highlighted some key points in developing a great team based on certain factors.

For instance, believe in your product. That is the best way to start off with a great manufacturer-distributor connection. If you believe in your product, it’s easy for the distributor to believe in it, and then it’s easy for the customer to believe in it as well. Basically, lead by example.

Building great relationships – no matter what kind of relationship – is based on a healthy dose of trust and fairness. As manufacturers, we need to be fair and non-partial with all distributors and equally supportive of all their needs. And distributors need to show the same kind of support to a manufacturer’s products as well.

Another factor for success is good training. We talked about communication. But training is a step beyond just basic communication. In the manufacturing world, training requires the manufacturer to thoroughly coach distributors on all aspects of the product – features, benefits, application, use, accessories, related products, and more. Imparting selling and marketing strategies and keeping distributors updated with current specials and promotions is generally good business practice.

This type of checklist for the manufacturer helps optimize performance.

  • Create great quality products
  • Provide top-notch education and training to distributors
  • Take their input into consideration
  • Consistently monitor results to ensure goals are being met

When morale and confidence increase, competency takes a step up as well. Here’s to striking the right balance with our distributors and creating winning teams! Happy Selling!