Mar 11, 2010

And Don't Forget The Channels Part

Manitowoc, the maker of huge cranes used in construction projects, had announced a (not surprising) big sales and earnings drop (Wall Street Journal, March 31), and their stock has sunk like a stone. We all know that new commercial construction was on the skids, but the Manitowoc news was still sad to hear. Especially since they’ve evidently had already done what you’re supposed to: squeeze out production efficiencies, stretch working capital, go back to the table with lenders. Keep the ship afloat.

Is there anything left that they could do to get sales growth under way again? I think there is. While I know nothing about what Manitowoc is actually trying on its marketing strategy front, there are a couple things they’d do well to explore, if they haven’t already. And we’re not talking bank-breaker stuff. Early stage exploration costs almost nothing.

First, since sales are way down in European markets, this is a good time for Manitowoc to revisit its foreign distribution partners and their business models. I don’t mean raise their prices, or insist they load up on inventory. I mean revisit and reinvent everybody’s activities down at a granular level, in search of new value-creating levers. What’s effective, what isn’t? What will help end customers most, what doesn’t add much value? Who’s good at what? How should we reapportion our division of labor?

When everybody’s desperate to reignite sales, they’re going to be more cooperative.

Second, look for ways that Manitowoc can reposition itself from a product manufacturer to a solutions provider. Cranes are a focal point in any large-scale construction process. Schedules get planned around them, very carefully. Manitowoc may be able to get more mileage out of that centrality than it has exploited thus far. Why not be sure there isn’t a way to sell the crane as the anchor to a larger solution that pulls together other equipment, other contractors, and makes portions of the entire construction process run more smoothly.

Even a cash-strapped company can afford to investigate new, innovative third-party distribution possibilities. And now isn’t a bad time. In fact, it’s an excellent time.

No comments: