Hot Shots: USA

Features Hot Shots: USA Speaking Your Language By Richard Rowe April 2001 In this issue’s Hot Shots feature, we showcase three geographically and product diverse manufacturers that have contributed greatly to their particular fields of...


"Service companies are a little less particular and tend to go for the standard design," adds Silver. "Because of our size, we can manufacture the basic parts of items like baggage carts ahead of time in batches of 300 rather than waiting to get an order and then running off 20 units and building each from square one."

Another change that Silver has noticed is the relatively high turnover of staff in airline purchasing departments, which creates both challenges and opportunities. While it results in less continuity and accumulated knowledge, the new person in charge could herald a fresh start for companies that had not made any impact with previous purchasing managers. "A lot of the newer people rely on the manufacturers which is a good thing for us," adds Silver.

WASP staff do their fair share of visits to GSE shops, and meetings are also held with client GSE maintenance personnel once or twice a year where mechanics offer feedback on how a product can be improved.

"One particular customer in the past has assembled a group of maintenance people from different stations--not necessarily managers--to meet once a year and review any problems that they may be having," explains Silver. "Another customer gathers concerns from the field by means of a ‘product concern report’ that must be filled out. We are then asked to respond to the concern and eventually we review these with the customer and try to agree on solutions.

"The third scenario involves informal visits to customers' maintenance shops to get direct input from the line mechanics. Although you can get ‘blind-sided’ sometimes in this situation, we don't feel that a manufacturer should ever be afraid to hear what the customer has to say."

Efforts have also been made to standardize equipment and parts where possible, but like other manufacturers WASP is caught between the need for specific products by particular customers, and the equal demand for more responsive after sales support.

"We have made a concerted effort over the years to standardize certain components in a given product line," explains Silver. " A good example is our line of LD-3 dollies. We had developed several good reliable versions over the years in response to various customers' individual needs and they all looked like they shared a lot of common parts. Trouble was, those parts were just different enough to make them unique for each type of unit. By ‘tweaking’ the individual designs we were able to come up with a half dozen models that share around 75 percent common parts. This allows us to stock these common parts and when we receive an order for a specific model we only need to fabricate the 25 percent that's unique to that design."

Silver is comfortable with WASP’s image in the market place--"a company of high value products rather than cheap to initially buy"--but is aware of the need to remain competitive in a highly volatile market. "I am convinced that the future will see fewer [GSE] players out there, so we had better be ready to respond to the customer. The GSE market does not have thousands of customers, and we cannot create an artificial demand by convincing airlines to buy more baggage carts. We need to provide the best quality and engineering possible."

Market sophistication is the name of the game, even when it involves small steps rather than giant leaps. Technical manuals are now available in electronic format, and will eventually be posted on the company’s website. "Customers at different locations are trying to come up with something that everyone can access," says Silver. "This is another way for us to keep customers if the next person can’t offer it."

Clearly, customer feedback is crucial, and WASP has used it to good effect. It is, however, a two-way street with communication the key, says Silver. "If our customers can effectively communicate their real needs, we can develop a plan to meet those needs. Maybe they ordered 100 units but they really only need 10 of them to be delivered in 30 days with the rest to follow. If that is communicated to us from the get-go that will help us plan our strategy for success."

It’s an old adage, but the more a manufacturer knows about a customer’s situation, the chances are it will be better able to serve them.

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