Innovating in the Right Direction

Dec. 1, 2011
This is our annual Innovative Products Award issue and it's always special to the RER staff and the judges who took the time to participate. The RER staff

This is our annual Innovative Products Award issue and it's always special to the RER staff and the judges who took the time to participate.

The RER staff participated in the judging a couple of years in the past. While it was fun and a great opportunity to take a closer look at some of the amazing products submitted to us, I found it rather agonizing to have to choose one over the other because I would see the merits of so many. Category winners and a Grand Award winner are selected, but those that didn't come first were winners as well. Kind of like being nominated for an Academy Award. The nominees are all winners — there are no losers in that group.

I want to strongly commend all the companies that submitted entries not just because we want a lot of participation, but for not standing still when it comes to product development. It's not easy to risk capital in tough economic times. During the past few years rental companies reduced the size of their fleets, closed branches and put expansion plans on hold. For many companies it was a matter of survival.

Similarly many manufacturers cut back on production. Obviously they didn't need that much production, couldn't afford to keep paying that much staff or the costs of storing a lot of equipment that wouldn't be sold.

While some companies also cut back some on R&D, the entries to our Innovative Product Award show us that a pretty healthy dedication to R&D was still going on. If you're in manufacturing, or any kind of product development, you know you have to keep going forward even in times of retrenchment in some aspects. If you don't innovate, you don't get the chance to get the jump on your competitors who are not innovating, and you take the chance that other companies are coming up with new products that will put them ahead of you.

There's no question that even though financial results in 2011 were good in most areas of our industry, there is still a lot of uncertainty. There are concerns out there that make many companies pause. In our next issue, we'll be taking a closer look at how the rental industry looks in 2012. Although replacement needs and increased demand has most rental companies looking at expanding fleets, there are still reasons for caution, and obviously manufacturers face the same concerns.

Along with R&D must come a constant focus on what your customers are looking for. This is true in manufacturing as well as operating a rental company. You can have all the greatest new products in the world, but if you aren't anticipating what your customers are looking for, along with trying to figure out what they'll be looking for a few years down the road, all your R&D may go for something the market doesn't care about. And rental companies, if you aren't out there talking to your customers about what services are most important to them, you might not be investing in the right direction. So keep innovating and staying abreast of what your market needs.

For those of you who have never attended the World of Concrete, which is coming up in January in Las Vegas, I highly recommend that you do so. Of course I always suggest people attend The Rental Show and this year is no exception, coming up in February in the popular city of New Orleans. But WOC has a unique quality as well. Check out what some of the concrete equipment manufacturers say about it in the article on page 30. A lot of the exhibitors offer demonstrations of the latest concrete-working techniques and you have a chance to check them out in the company of, for the most part, contractors. So you can see how people who could be your customers are reacting to the equipment and processes on display.

And, as many of you know, the name of the show is a bit of a misnomer. While there is a lot of concrete-related equipment, WOC really shows a wide variety of construction-related equipment — earthmoving, pumps, generators, aerial work platforms and more. It might be more aptly called World of Construction-Related Equipment with a lot of Concrete. Doesn't quite roll off the tongue, which is probably why it's called what it is. But there are always a lot of new products introduced and the networking opportunities are unique.

Hope to run into some of you at both World of Concrete and The Rental Show in January and February.