The trend in manufacturing is to outsource functions that are performed better by specialists. Riding that wave is Towlift Inc., a material-handling specialist family owned since 1965. “Our motto is, ‘If you lift it, stack it or store it, we sell it, rent it or fix it,’” CEO David Cannon says. Over 50 years, Towlift’s services have grown beyond the basics of distributing material-handling equipment to offering a full range of services that bring added value to the customer.
Each of Towlift’s four locations – Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Mentor, Ohio – is managed as a standalone business unit. “They each have a full sales department, a full service department, their own rental fleet, parts inventory, used equipment inventory and over-the-road tractor-trailer trucking business,” Cannon stresses. “They are a full-service store that can help customers in a geographic area with immediate service.”
Towlift’s Parts Distribution system is an example of a value-added service. The distribution centers in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo measure approximately 50,000 square feet each, and Mentor is close to 20,000 square feet. Cannon estimates the company’s total inventory of parts is valued at more than $4 million.
Equipment that is down and waiting on a part costs the customer money for every hour it is out of service. “Getting the customer’s equipment up and running quickly is valuable to the customer,” Cannon says. “We have online ordering with all our factories. You give me an order by 5 p.m., and I can have it in our store closest to you by 6 a.m. the next day. We have a shuttle system that runs between all our dealership’s stores and the parts depots for major suppliers. We’re shuttling every night between midnight and 6 a.m. A service technician can be on his way to fix your trucks or scissors lift. I can get the part and fix it in 24 hours or less.”
Towlift Inc. remanufactures parts such as transmissions and engines or obtains them from other sources. The company also uses an automated storage and retrieval system in its parts warehouse. It offers at least 50 hours of training annually for its employees and customers in a large training department at its Cleveland headquarters. All Towlift equipment operators have the proper certifications.
Towlift also keeps customers abreast of new products in the industry. Towlift holds complementary lunch and learn seminars to showcase new products and technology. At Towlift’s Cleveland and Columbus showrooms, a wire guide embedded in the floor demonstrates a warehouse management system using electric trucks that follow the wire. “That’s very sophisticated technological equipment for our industry that takes a lot of the operating procedure out of the hands of the employee and the operator and puts it on our customer application,” Cannon says. “We have it here, and so we show it and tell it.”
Towlift Inc. surveys its customers online with every order, asking them to rate the service from one to seven. “We want everybody in sales, service, rental and parts to be rated as all sevens by customers,” Cannon emphasizes. “Every department strives for that, and we measure that and post it on the bulletin board for all employees to see.”
To keep satisfaction high, Towlift Inc.’s employees offer their customers more than just an equipment or parts sale. “The challenge for our distribution network is that the days of transactional selling are over,” Cannon says. “We have to be consultative sellers. We have to consult with our customers and bring them value or they will not do business with us. You hear this from all your manufacturing sources.”
Towlift offers customers the services of Fleet Team, which can handle a company’s entire materials handling effort. “Fleet Team is one-stop shopping for all your mobile equipment,” Cannon says.
Equipment owned by Fleet Team is leased to its Fleet Team customers in case customers’ requirements for the equipment change. “A customer can’t go to a leasing company and say, ‘I’d like to send back that lift truck,’” Cannon points out. “You can’t do that without paying for it in full. But with Fleet Team, you can change equipment any time you want – that’s one of the unique features.”
Towlift Inc. celebrated its 50th anniversary this past summer by treating its employees and family members to a day at Cedar Point park in Sandusky, Ohio, giving them commemorative t-shirts and serving a picnic dinner for close to 600 people. “It was a terrific event, a great time,” Cannon says. It underlines the importance of family ownership.
“Every investment we make is for the future benefit of our customers, employees, suppliers and shareholders,” he says. “Some of the best companies in the world – Johnson Wax, Cargill – are family owned businesses.”