When a company reassesses or reviews its materials handling fleet strategy, it takes time to reach the right decision. After all, a fleet is a major financial outlay and it is important to get it right – to have a fleet that sits nicely in the ‘Cinderella zone’ – not too big, not too small, just right. Dealers go to at least as much trouble as fleet operators, in order to make sure that they put together the right package, at the right price and with the right equipment. It may sometimes seem that the process is timeconsuming and detailed but it is better to take a month or so to ensure everything is right, than to find oneself stuck with the wrong setup for several years.

Route and branch

“Before we formally submit a tender, the Aprolis team will audit the current pool of equipment: the brands, models, configurations, technical specifications and so on,” said Elizabeth Niedojadlo, sales administration manager with France’s Aprolis Loueur et Manutencion. “Whenever possible, we will seek to complete a site survey, in order to be fully aware of the different machines, how they are being used and the operating conditions.” The team will audit the floors, the age of the buildings, driveway size and review the operator’s needs.

In Spain, Bergé Manutención follow pretty much the same process – initially, at least. “We will ask the client what they want to include in the service contract and to identify any particular incidents or issues they have had with forklift trucks in the past,” said Ana Martínez, Bergé’s product manager. Questions of fleet size and specification will also be raised – whether it is large enough and appropriate for the jobs – and they will be looking for ways to do things better and provide more value. For Impact Handling in the UK, the first step will often be an RFI – a request for information – that is drawn up by the client. It is a substantial document that will go into quite some depth of detail in describing forthcoming requirements including terms of supply, details of product range and operating locations.

Documentation

“We will complete the customer questionnaire which generally comprises of: a copy of our company accounts for the past three trading years; company accreditations, a list of the Impact Handling team involved with the tender and their skills, the relevant products to be supplied, a draft copy of the SLA (service level agreement), and information on the geographical location of our service depots to the customer sites, parts support capability, contract management support and the details of the funding to be provided to provide the leasing terms of the equipment,” said Peter Walker, Impact Handling’s manager – major accounts. As his answer reveals, it is an extensive process, and most UK customers are seeking flexible leasing arrangements, which have their own particular attributes.

The length of time taken to provide initial information to the clients varies. Aprolis says that the more information is provided initially, the sooner the initial tender will be prepared. For Bergé, it depends on whether it is a private sector client or a government department or agency.

First steps

“Private client tenders normally take more time than those for government, where milestones are very well defined,” Martínez said. By contrast, the experience in France is that the level of detail in public sector tenders is significant and failure to meet all specifications can result in exclusion. For Impact, the RFI document will be prepared by a team of around four people and can be presented in as little as a week. The pool of potential suppliers will then be whittled down to a shortlist and the real work begins.

“The shortlisted suppliers will carry out a thorough assessment of the products to be handled and site conditions,” said Walker. This process will also reveal operational hours and involve interviewing operating staff. Discussions with local management will crystallise their needs and safety requirements. “This process provides an opportunity to offer advice, to discuss product benefits, and to investigate the possibility of reducing costs, without changing site efficiencies.” The client will then receive individual presentations from the shortlisted suppliers, which presents Impact Handling with the opportunity to clearly describe its flexible finance terms, benefits of certain products, service support capability, and reduced "out of contract" cost by dedicated contract management and short term hire capability. “Our objective is always to focus on quality, to identify what the customer is not receiving from their current supplier and to determine what best suits their industry needs.” In general, the average time taken from initiation of a tender enquiry to order placement is about six months.

Public concerns

While Impact does not have a huge presence in the public sector, which is largely dominated purely by cost considerations, Aprolis and Bergé both see government work as important, and have developed the expertise required to ensure they meet the criteria.

“Communication during the tender is very formal. All questions have to be sent by mail, and the answer is given to all the suppliers tendering,” said Elizabeth Niedojadlo. Bergé highlighted the fact that public sector tenders might be more transparent, with the benefit of knowing pat facts such as price, specifications and service levels. In Spain, the private sector tends to lease more than public agencies and they will also look for more add-ons. It may also be harder to get onto the ‘approved list’ of suppliers, as many private companies, especially the larger enterprises, have headquarters in other countries; in France it might be more difficult to get on the list in the government arena.

Train to gain

Other areas requiring attention will include training requirements. If the supplier is bringing in new trucks then there will be acclimatisation and familiarisation to be gone through.

“Generally in the UK the customers will provide training for their operators,” said Walker. “Impact Handling always carry out documented installation of new and used equipment. We work with a driver training company called Mentor, who we can put forward should a customer require accredited driver training but this is not a frequent request.” Aprolis has chosen to stay neutral, on the basis that it is not an official, accredited training centre. Bergé agrees that training is a customer responsibility but it is prepared to help.

“For us as service supplier, education in issues that affect the state of the truck is important,” Ana Martínez said. “For example, it’s very important that operators charge and change batteries correctly as this directly affects their life. And it is common for customers to ask for operator training in order to ensure that the truck is driven safely and efficiently, to save energy and reduce operating costs.” All Cat lift trucks dealers are committed to ensuring customers get the best out of their fleet, and it all starts with the tender process.

“Our benchmark for success with tenders is to understand the customer, to listen to any difficulties they may have experienced in the past and to put forward a cost effective solution,” Impact’s Peter Walker concluded. “Most customers are receptive to genuine advice and will guide an understanding supplier to success with their tender offer.”

Ruari McCallion

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