There is an apocryphal tale about two shoe salesmen sent to Africa to open up new markets. Three days after arriving, one of them calls the office in despair and says: “It’s a complete waste of time, I’m coming home on the next flight. Everybody goes barefoot here.”
At the same time, the other salesperson sends an email to the factory, saying: “It’s absolutely amazing here, the prospects are unlimited, gear up production. Nobody wears shoes!”
It reveals a truth about the thought processes behind contrasting styles of sales people. It also sheds an interesting light on how your approach to a market governs your future potential success.
The question we often face is whether the apparent status quo is a settled and immovable state of affairs, as our first salesman concluded? Or, has it been arrived at simply because no better solution has so far been provided?
If we conclude the former, we deny ourselves and our business a world of opportunities to do things differently and better for our customers.
In our industry, a tradition has grown up of specialist suppliers serving the various trades. The big division, of course, has been between the mechanical and electrical sides.
The distinction is mirrored in our trade bodies, training, career structures and, of course, in the supply channels that support the trades with the products that are the heart of the business.
It is my contention that this current state of affairs hinders the industry as a whole and that a new approach is required.
From a supply perspective, bringing together the mechanical and electrical sides offers an immediate benefit to contractors and clients in terms of efficiency. We are already delivering this for some major customers, and they report overwhelming benefits.
For example, Lorne Stewart is rolling out a pioneering new low-carbon approach to procurement following a successful trial. We worked with the contractor to develop a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach for a major government project.
Instead of many suppliers delivering a variety of M&E products and materials to site via fleets of vehicles, the approach provides a single vehicle with a consolidated delivery across all product sectors.
Following the success of the trial, Lorne Stewart is rolling out the approach on a selection of high-profile projects across the country.
As well as a big reduction in vehicle miles travelled and associated cuts in carbon emissions, the approach reduces road congestion, improves health and safety on site, benefits site efficiency and provides a single point of contact for invoicing and administration.
As we enter a period when tight cost control is essential and efficiencies must be garnered across the business, we believe it is a giant leap forward - with or without shoes.
Scott Craig is sales and marketing director of Pipe Center and Climate Center