Selling a Crane Company

Why should we care that a company’s founder keeps the first set of product blueprints on their office wall? Tad Dunville, director of corporate development at Ace World Companies, explains.









I wish I had a dollar for every overhead crane company that has called itself an “industry leader”. It’s a bit of an empty statement. I’ve blogged before about the peculiarity of this marketplace in that most manufacturers make big, yellow cranes that loom overhead. Further, they can all point to a landmark installation that supposedly demonstrates their credentials. If that automotive plant bought one, it must be good, so the theory goes.

Request a crane brochure from half a dozen manufacturers or builders and they’ll read pretty much the same. You’ll find the words “industry leader” or “industry pioneering” in there, alongside a shiny image of a crane lifting a load. It’s a shame because there are some great businesses in this sector and they should better differentiate themselves. Customers don’t appreciate boilerplate; it undersells a company, and lets the industry down by reducing margins across the sector.

Anyone can say they’re a leader but it takes quantifiable achievements to truly differentiate the organization or change the state of the art. From a user’s perspective, one hallmark to look for is history of solving unique problems and longevity of product line. That should be the focus of their marketing efforts, not that they’re the “best” just because they say so.

Ace in the pack

Take my company as an example. We’re a 31-year-old manufacturer that was founded by engineer Ace Ghanemi. We specialize in high duty cycle cranes, high capacity cranes, and custom cranes. Over that time, Ace has set about achieving his goal to make end users’ cranes perform better, last longer, and do so with less moving parts that can go wrong. It’s integral to his business model that, especially where our Crane Manufacturers Association of America (CMAA) Class F and / or high duty steel cranes are concerned, we source name brand sub-components like motors, brakes, and controls, and educate our customers on how those parts work and contribute to the lifting equipment’s longevity.

That’s what we communicate to customers, not: “Work with Ace; we’re the industry’s leaders”. It’s upon this that we’ve built a reputation for supplying the best possible solution for the most demanding applications in the sector. We show them, not tell them. Our motivation is constant evolution and innovation. Ace himself challenges design, manufacturing, and other processes to deliver solutions that many wouldn’t have thought possible upon inauguration back in 1987.

As an Ace employee, it’s been interesting to chart this progression. I was an attentive listener during an Association for Iron & Steel Technology (AIST) Crane Symposium presentation in Argentina recently. One of the industry’s top professionals was delivering a paper about a ladle crane. I have an enormous amount of respect for the speaker; thus, I was surprised when a photo that appeared on one of his slides looked so different to our corresponding product. But it made perfect sense when I considered that we’ve invested so much time, money, and expertise in providing ladle cranes with fewer moving parts. The product in the gentleman’s photo had closer resemblance to previous Ace generations.

Give me five

We’ve all been asked in our careers to write down the USPs (unique selling propositions or unique selling points) of our product or service. It’s remarkable what people come up with when they’re asked for, say, their top five:

1. We’re industry leaders
2. Our product is the best
3. We deliver the best customer service
4. Our product is the cheapest
5. We’re the biggest company

They’re all so nondescript and with a bit of imagination can also be applied to everyone else. And how will anyone really know if they’re true?

Here’s my take on the exercise:

1. Ace keeps the blueprints for the first set of end trucks he ever made on the wall in his office.
2. We started as a component manufacturer and right off the bat moved into high duty cycle markets, such as paper and steel mills.
3. We are one of only a few companies that are capable of making ladle cranes for steel mills and equipping entire new-build mills.
4. Many of the other ladle crane companies are legacy companies that use old designs. As a consequence of being a newer company, we clean sheet a lot of our ladle and mill cranes so we have the ability to attack challenges with a fresh perspective.
5. As a consequence, we use top-level brand name components where we do source from outside the company. Think about it in terms of buying a diesel truck at the top of the market: customers can specify an engine from a premier engine maker like Cummins or Cat; a transmission from Allison or Arvin; and tires from Goodyear or Firestone.
UPS, for example, wouldn’t buy semi trucks with off-brand diesel engines and tires because they’re focused on getting the load moved with the highest mean time between failures (MTBF) rather than finding the cheapest tires or transmission. We approach our customers with the same mentality; our controls, motors, and brakes have to offer higher MTBF, which is far more profitable than saving a few dollars on a subcomponent.

Ok, I’ve beefed my USPs up a little bit but it’s amazing how companies who claim to be the “best”, “fastest”, “hardest”, or “cheapest” often don’t back it up with proof. Ace’s son, Camron, the company’s vice president, is a passionate marketer, yet his commercial leadership is based entirely on tangible differentiators. Whether he believes we’re the best or not has nothing to do with it.

Tour guide

The way a company communicates to its audience says a lot about its culture. I’m always surprised when I hear of manufacturing businesses that keep customers away from their shop floor. Perhaps they have something to hide. I always embrace opportunities to bring clients to our Fort Worth, Texas headquarters—and I ask Ace to show them around.

What he walks them through isn’t an assembly plant, but a proper manufacturing environment; visitors are fascinated to see us cutting drums and wheels; aligning product; testing parts; and much more. He is always particularly proud of our gearboxes and the America centricity of our product. It’s exciting—even for an employee—to hear Ace talk about his vision for cranes of the future.

Most salespeople will tell you success is driven by relationships, yet many don’t realize how their selling tactics build walls around them. Ace has retained relationships with many end users over much of its history. Moreover, the company’s representatives understand the cranes it’s installed. Think about your oldest friend; you know what they care about, when to put an arm round them, when to kick them up the backside, and even when the next drink should be their last. It’s the same with cranes; when it comes to improving or upgrading lifting equipment, we know the performance and application so well; we can tailor a solution accordingly.

Could you be an industry leader playing catch-up?

Tad Dunville
Director of Corporate Development, Ace World Companies
Membership Vice President, Crane Certification Association of America
[email protected]

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