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Archive for August, 2010

Making Sense Of The Battle For Airgas

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

If you’re anything like me, you don’t know what to make of the controversy between Airgas and Air Products. Air Products has been trying to acquire Airgas for about 10 months, and everything seems like a carefully played chess match leading up to Airgas’ annual meeting on September 15. As it approaches, I’ve been trying to get a grasp on everything that has taken place.

The feud has now made its way into a New York Times blog from UConn Law Professor Steven M. Davidoff, which dissects the latest moves by each party involved and their potential implications. Why did Airgas send a letter to the Delaware court? Why exactly is Air Product proposing a bylaw amendment to move Airgas’ next annual meeting all the way up to January 2011? Davidoff puts it in terms you can wrap your head around. NB – It’s infused with Davidoff’s opinion, so don’t take it all as fact.

Last week, Airgas sent a letter to its shareholders stating, among many other things, “If Air Products truly wants to acquire Airgas, it knows what to do. It must offer a price that fairly compensates you—our stockholders—or terminate its efforts.”

The NYT blog brings up an important point that seems to draw on this statement: “Whether Airgas intended it, the events of this week tell the market that it certainly is for sale at the right price.”

Is a takeover imminent? What impact do you think it will have on other distributors if it happens?

How To Grow More Customers

Friday, August 27th, 2010

The shortage of skilled welders is a well-known fact, and I think it’s great that many GAWDA members are working with schools and in other avenues to promote the trade. Who, if not you, is going to look out for the profession? These are your customers.  So what can you do to make sure the profession thrives? Are we focusing our energies in the right areas?

I came across a study today which indicated that a stigma around blue-collar jobs is partly to blame for the current blight. That stigma is proliferated by parents and educators who direct children toward college as the only path to a financially secure and fulfilling career, even if this is far from the truth.

Growing up, I was instilled with the notion that a college degree is a minimum requirement for most jobs. At college, I met a lot of people who still had no idea what they wanted to do, but they went to college because they were supposed to. How can we change this attitude?

I am not a welder, but a writer. In seventh grade home ec class, we did a research project on careers we were interested in. My teacher took me aside and told me that I shouldn’t aspire to be a writer because writers don’t make enough money. Still, I pursued writing because I loved it. Much in the same way I could not be deterred, you cannot make someone become a welder. You can only provide opportunities for students to be exposed to the welding trade.

Throughout my schooling, I was never exposed to skilled trades. Whose responsibility is it? You may have a hard time convincing schools to give more weight to skilled trades. But you can work with the schools to make a difference. Expose students to careers in the industry and engage them early. Awe them and inspire them. Get them before they’ve already chosen a career and make sure they see the welding industry as a viable option.

These are your customers. What are you doing to make sure they are plentiful for generations to come?

Why Inexperience Is An Asset

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

In a recent conversation with a distributor, a young salesperson told me about a large sale he made after the customer called him and invited him to provide a quote. Although the customer called him, the salesperson deserves a lot of credit for getting the account. Why? Because the customer only found him after an internet search led to his Craigslist ad.

His periodic Craigslist posts contained virtual pamphlets with product information. It allowed the salesperson to advertise locally—and for free. Many of you might not think of Craigslist as an ideal place to advertise, but it’s the positive, “hey, it’s worth a shot” attitude that won the opportunity to get this sale.

Personally, I was surprised to learn about this because I think of Craigslist as a cluttered classifieds section. I would never have expected to hear this kind of success story, but I’m glad to know I was wrong. I think we can all learn from this salesperson who took a shot in the dark and wound up with a sale.

On a literal level, we can grasp that Craigslist might be worth a shot for free advertising. But beyond that, it’s to embrace the endless optimism a young professional can bring to a task. If there’s anything that young professionals are good at (I should know), it’s not “knowing” what doesn’t work. Inexperience is a wonderful thing!

Over time, it’s easy to become bogged down with “the way things are done.” It’s easy to find reasons something won’t work. But sometimes it is worth trying even far-fetched ideas, changing your routine a bit. A little open-mindedness and (polite) defiance in the face of naysayers can go a long way. You’re only young once, so make the most of it.

Have any examples of a fresh idea that worked for you? I’d love to hear about it.

How Much Would You Pay?

Friday, August 20th, 2010

In the tradition of the casual Friday blog entry, started by my predecessors at the GAWDA Edge blog, here’s an interesting video to supplement the latest issue of GAWDA Edge. As you learned in the August issue that came out yesterday, Bellingham Technical College’s Welding Rodeo is a welding sculpture competition. At the end of the contest, sculptures are auctioned off to raise money for scholarships.

Here’s a video of one of the sculptures being auctioned off from this year’s event. It was made from the mold of a female model and welded together using scrap metal.

Take a guess how much it went for. How much would you pay for it? (Don’t forget it goes to a good cause.)

Want to know? You might be surprised. Watch and find out.

Here’s another view:

The Psychology Of Gases And Welding

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

The psychology of a gases and welding salespersonRecently, I was speaking with Guy Marlin, president of Lampton Welding Supply, and I want to share a piece of our conversation. In talking about the company’s salespeople, I learned that the company refers to its outside salespeople as “field engineers,” and with good reason, too.

As Marlin explained to me, if you walk in to a customer and say, “Hi, I’m a salesperson for XYZ welding supply,” the first thing the customer will think is that you are coming to get money. If, instead, you say “I’m a field engineer,” the customer will probably give you a funny look and ask you what a field engineer is.

Lampton’s field engineers find out what their customer’s problems are and find ways to help customers. Instead of the customer tuning out, expecting to hear a sales pitch, they will begin to share their problems. As field engineers listen to the customer’s problems and help find solutions, they develop a relationship with the customer.

It’s a simple change, but a smart one. By changing the title of a salesperson, Lampton Welding Supply alters the customer’s expectations. It can even change the mentality of the salesperson/field engineer. A field engineer brings a problem solving mindset. Calling yourself an engineer also carries a certain responsibility to be an expert in industry products and processes. Ideally, it will push them to look after their own continued training and education.

What do you think of the name change? Would you ever try something like this at your company?

Is Customer Service Dead?

Monday, August 16th, 2010

By now, most of you have heard about Steven Slater, the flight attendant who lost his temper and cursed at passengers before making a dramatic exit through the plane’s emergency exit. Since his tirade, Slater is being heralded by many as a hero for standing up to uncooperative passengers and speaking his mind. What does the popularity of Slater say about customer service? Is it dead?

I think the positive attention Slater receives is because people relate to Slater as the service provider—they empathize with disrespectful customers. The age-old adage of business says the customer is always right. We would like to think customers would always be respectful, but every now and then, there is a customer or prospective customer who is less than polite.

While it may be tempting to return the favor, I think it’s important to stop and consider the consequences. Even if they may never do business with you, word travels fast. They are sure to tell people how rude they were treated. Not only will you lose their business, but possibly the business of many others as well. In Slater’s case, he may be a hero to some, but he was also arrested and charged with reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

So many GAWDA distributors pride themselves on their service. So I’m curious to hear what you have to say about Slater. Was he justified in speaking his mind? Where do you draw the line? And how do you deal with disrespectful customers? Is there any recourse at all, or is it best to bite your tongue?

Got a horror story of your own? I’d love to hear it.

Bad Press For Gases And Welding

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hydrogen Balloon ExplosionIn today’s GAWDAwiki headlines, you will see that a staff member at the University of Iowa, Dale Stille, was injured in transporting hydrogen-filled balloons to give a science demonstration. The demonstration involved exploding the balloons under safe conditions, but unfortunately, this time they exploded too soon. Stille attempted to fill the balloons at the college before transporting them to the school, and the result was disastrous.

Before the accident, Stille was doing a great service by getting students interested in gases through his demonstrations. Anytime someone promotes the industry in schools, they are doing a great thing. While Stille probably learned his lesson from the explosion, there’s a lesson here that distributors can take away from this: you can never stress safety enough. You can say he should have known better, but there is a responsibility for the school’s distributor to make sure he does know better.

The unfortunate side-effect is that the event creates a negative image of gases as being unsafe. How many parents do you think will be happy and willing to let Stille demonstrate to children now? The best case scenario, at this point, is that Stille takes the mishap and uses it to teach others about safety.

It’s easy to preach safety, but it’s more important to practice it. Just because there are no accidents, it’s no excuse to become lax about safety. When many work hard to educate about the usefulness of gases and welding, it’s a shame for an incident like this to undo all of that work.

Phone Apps for Gases and Welding Distributors

Monday, August 9th, 2010
What app would you like to see?
Photo: liewcf

A recent editorial in the New York Times compiled twitter responses to the question: what cell phone app doesn’t exist but should? With the number of apps, it’s a little hard even just to think of what cell phone apps don’t exist. There are even optimized routing apps to help figure out the quickest delivery route, but what about “an app that maps out my grocery list in the supermarket to give me an optimized shopping path?” (as suggested by one NYT reader).

I am extending the question to you, but with a focus: What phone app should exist that would help gases and welding distributors?

Maybe it’s something for inventory. Maybe it’s for salespeople (an app to find customers would be nice). How about a GAWDAwiki app to search industry terms quicker from your phone? Maybe an app could manage your cylinder tracking or CRM.

There are endless possibilities, and it’s completely up to you. Get your creative juices flowing and let me know what app could make your life easier, allow you to develop better customer relationships or improve your business in some way.

Also, what phone apps do exist that you use in your business? How do you use them?

Leave a comment and share your app ideas and examples. I look forward to hearing what you come up with.

GAWDA Gives Back…To Me

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Being new to the GAWDA environment, I am always learning new things. The best part of working with members is that they have a lot of wisdom to share and they are glad to share it.

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been talking with GAWDA members about their work with schools and I’ve been learning a lot about the dedication that goes into this kinds of hard work. With their contributions to technical schools, community colleges and high school programs, it’s not surprising that they are happy to help educate me as well.

When it comes down to it, the distributors I spoke to work with schools out of sheer goodwill and kindness. They do it to give back, not to sell more products. How do I know? One of the things I learned is that when it comes to putting equipment in schools, you’re dealing with state and federal money—simply put, it means that equipment purchases go out to bid.

What about that value added selling? How do you sell service over price? Selling value is hard, especially in what has become a commodity business. But rather than shy away from discounted school contracts, GAWDA members are stepping up to provide good service anyway. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that service defines GAWDA members. So when it comes to working with schools, it’s not about the bottom line, it’s about helping. So I laud you, GAWDA’s members, for your good deeds, and I thank you for extending a hand to help me as I learn about the industry, and I hope that I can help you in return by passing on what I’ve learned.

Welding Rodeos Are Customers Too

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Welding RodeoNow that it’s August, a lot of people are thinking about “back-to-school.” I’ve been talking with GAWDA distributors over the last week about how they work with schools. I’m amazed by the efforts that welding and gases distributors are putting in to help future generations of welders. The best part is that they aren’t doing it for selfish reasons. Some companies contribute time, others contribute equipment or money.

One of the most unique projects I’ve seen has to be the welding rodeo, which originated at Bellingham Technical College (BTC). The event is a competition where amateur and professional welding teams face off to weld sculptures out of scrap metal. BTC instructor Don Anderson says the rodeo, now in its 9th year, has helped turn the school’s welding program from a struggling program to one with a 100-person wait-list. He also says he couldn’t have done it without the support from distributors and suppliers.

The welding rodeo is a great example of how teamwork can lead to some of the best solutions. BTC had students and a venue; distributors and suppliers had equipment to use for the competition and for prizes. Individually, each side could not have duplicated the outcome that they have achieved together.

For distributors, schools are similar to other customers in many ways. It’s important to find out what their needs are to help develop solutions. (In this case, putting together a welding rodeo gets you bonus points for going above and beyond the call of duty.) And by teaming up with schools, distributors not only helped build future welders, they ultimately helped build future customers.

We’ll have more about the welding rodeo in the August issue of GAWDA Edge. In the meantime, tell me about an instance where you worked with a customer to develop an innovative solution to their problem.