As I walked the show floor at last week’s Pack and Process Expos, silently celebrating that I had only gotten lost within the exhibitor booths half a dozen times and found my way to an exit each time without necessitating a trail of breadcrumbs, I noticed two prevailing trends.
The first was the continued push for sustainable options — everything from eco-friendly packaging materials to environmentally-responsible processing solutions. The second was an overall attempt to help companies succeed despite the bad economy.
While neither trend was surprising, it was good to see companies directly addressing the problems their customers are facing, especially in terms of the economy. The 800 pound economic gorilla in every American’s room is admittedly somewhat difficult to ignore, and yet, companies feeling the pressure to sell sometimes overlook the economic struggles of their customers in order to meet their own financial goals. I thought of this the other night, when I saw Keith Urban (insert country music jokes here) live in concert at Madison Square Garden. At the end of the concert, he came out on stage, acknowledged the struggling economy and then thanked everyone for doing what they had to do to find the extra cash to come see him sing. Somehow, this made the $80 ticket price sting a little less for me.
The best recession-friendly example from the show floor was the concept of retrofitting, which in terms of equipment involves either adding to or upgrading portions of pre-existing machinery. The option to retrofit equipment is often mentioned in the last sentence of press releases, almost as if it’s an afterthought. Profit-wise, obviously it behooves companies to sell customers brand new machinery rather than retrofit pre-existing equipment. But replacing an entire piece of equipment is not only expensive; at times it’s even wasteful.
I found it refreshing to see that equipment manufacturers have stopped keeping their retrofitting services a secret. Smart companies have realized that although they might lose the revenue that comes with the new equipment price tag, they might gain something more valuable — loyal customers. Nothing wins over a customer’s heart like telling him you can solve his problem and cut costs by tens of thousands of dollars. And it is these customers who are most likely to come back to the same equipment vendor when the economy is better and the timing is right to entirely replace plant equipment.
During bad economic times, the decision to spend money is always a tough one, and companies that recognize this and offer customers varying options, might just have an edge on the competition. The retrofitting option is out there, as is the fact that I like country music — why keep great things a secret?