John Faulkner: lessons from the field

John Faulkner -
Forklift Diaries
- 18 Apr 2024 ( #1175 )
4 min read
John Faulkner - president Industrial Forklifts, Inc.
John Faulkner - president Industrial Forklifts, Inc.

John Faulkner, president of Industrial Forklifts, looks back on his 50-year career in the materials handling industry, including a surprise multi-million-dollar deal.

In the 70s the materials handling business looked to have a bright future. I was a young father (that happen before I left high school) and I had to grow up quickly.

Before finishing university I went into the materials handling business. I took a customer service support job with the Clark dealer in Dallas, Texas. Clark was the leader at the time and was the place to be. 

I was soon promoted to equipment sales and branch operations and then at the young age of 23 was assigned manger to a branch in North Texas. I became a Clark dealer at 26 as the result of sales leadership and hard work.

I was on the fast track and I learned a lot in a short period of time. What I did back then would be hard to do to today because of the business complications and the difficulty in borrowing money.

“Don't sit in the grandstands and watch the game, get on the field and play the game.”

During my time in the industry a lot has changed but I'd have to say the biggest change I’ve witnessed is the velocity of information and the speed with which we deliver information to our customers. 

The ability to get in front of the buyer, in person, has always been one of the biggest challenges of the business. They're busy. 

It used to be you'd get a call requesting a quote and they'd ask you to deliver the quote by the end of the week. 

You'd write it up, drive it out to them and close the deal. 

Nowadays everything is SO much quicker. When we get a call for a quote, they often ask to get the quote back in one hour! You work up the quote and email it over. Decisions are made in five minutes. Sometimes it's a big help and other times it's a bit stressful! 

Even so, having those personal relationships is critical. I still maintain relationships with customers from 20 and 30 years ago.

"I have always treated people they way I would want to be treated in all aspects of life and business."

One of the biggest lessons I have learned in my career is to always keep a sharp eye out for the next opportunity. 

According to John personal relationships are critical to good business.
According to John personal relationships are critical to good business.

Here’s an example from a few years back when an overseas wind tower company called in for information on a specific machine type. 

They'd just called wanting to rent a very large machine, which was very unusual for our market. 

However, our rental manager recognised a bigger opportunity. I followed up with the customer and an opportunity came up - the chance to bid on an entire factory's worth of materials handling equipment. 

I flew to Copenhagen to finalise the deal. 

That one rental inquiry resulted in the largest order we ever fulfilled – for USD13 million! That phone call also resulted in a long-term customer relationship that continues to this day. 

The order could have easily been missed if not handled efficiently (and with a little extra push). 

That was a good lesson. The next opportunity is always there if you look for it!

You also need to know the market, know your competition and all your vendors. 

You need to be visible in the industry, get involved in factory groups and associations, MHEDA and best practice groups like Currie Management Consultants. Make sure you WIN all the manufacturer factory trips and take them! You meet more people on these trips than at the manufacturer factory meetings. 

My relationships with vendors, colleagues and friends have been invaluable throughout my career. All have provided me with encouragement, assistance and knowledge over the years. 

I think it's incredible what these relationships have helped me accomplish over the last 50 years. Many are still people I deal with daily. 

Quickfire round with John:

Celebrating five decades in materials handling.
Celebrating five decades in materials handling.

Best and worst business decision?

The worst thing I ever did was taking on a business partner in my early days. I think maybe the best thing I have ever done is having a great business partner today!

Advice for navigating through big decisions?

Be honest, be firm and be fair. Each decision you make may not seem like the best thing to do at the time but the right decisions will be the best in the long run. 

What’s next for the coming years?

A soft landing in retirement! Yes, I do plan to retire. I'll be 75 in three years. I figure that's enough time to transfer all my duties and customers into capable hands. Then it'll be time to relax. Do some more fishing, spend a little more time in Cabo San Lucas. My wife and I would like to travel the world a bit more too. 

Also Read:
With a little help from my friends: How a tech built a dealership
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With a little help from my friends: How a tech built a dealership Forklift Diaries - 21 Mar 2024 (#1171)
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