“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What can I say?  Dickens certainly got the second half right.

While the banks and the financial talking heads are cautiously optimistic, Chrysler just went down. GM is in no way guaranteed to make it to 2010.

And anyone in PVF who thinks what happens in the car industry isn’t germane to our happy little corner of the world is sadly mistaken. More than 50 years ago, then-General Motors President Charles Wilson said, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  He wasn’t wrong then and he wouldn’t be wrong were he here today.

When the big three suffer, their suppliers suffer - and those who supply the suppliers suffer. Even if none of these entities buys one single pipe, valve or fitting, the absence of their tax revenues (and their employees’ tax revenues) will have a profound impact on what isn’t going into the coffers, monies that would typically be used for infrastructure projects, upgrading power plants, etc.

In order to make this the best of times, it is time to change some of our thinking. The future belongs to those who are flexible. Part of what drove the American car companies into the ditch where they are currently languishing was a lot of the same old, same old thinking. They didn’t respond to competitive threats or changing consumer needs. As the market changed around them, they didn’t think they needed to change their product, their business model or their partners. So, certain they were “right,” they stuck with the old plan, even as their market share shrank, year after year, for 30+ years in a row.

In the best of times I recommend getting closer to your customers and vendors - to focus, to specialize and to stick with your core strengths. In the worst of times it is worthwhile to revisit some of those assumptions.
  • Who are your best customers?

  • Are they growing?

  • What industry are they in?

  • Do we supply what they want today (not what they wanted five years ago)?

  • What are our core strengths?

  • Does the market value our expertise?

  • Do our competitors offer something different/better/cheaper?

  • Where could we specialize/expand?

  • What areas could we enter and make our own?

  • What are our customers looking for?

Your customers in construction require delivery of many more materials than PVF to the work site. If there is value in being a one–stop shop, consider adding some other construction materials into your warehouse mix.

Your large institutional customers (hospitals, schools, public buildings) perform all kinds of maintenance on those buildings. Consider supplying everything from drop cloths to paint, oils, rollers and paint brushes to them.

Somebody is supplying those very items to your customers right now. How are they doing in terms of on-time delivery? Quality products? Error-free orders? I bet you can take their business tomorrow - because I know you can do it better. You are in the supply business - this is your line of expertise. When you can’t seem to sell enough PVF, it might be time to supply other products. Your customers will appreciate it, so will your bottom line.