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Portal has come a long way

Thursday, 2 Sep 2010 ( #477 )
Special Feature
Forkliftaction 10th marks its 10th anniversary this week, and Melissa Barnett looks at some of the highlights.

It was a risk – the internet was new, relatively untested and still on dial-up connection. Few company managers, sales staff or technicians in the materials handling industry knew how to use a computer, let alone subscribed to the internet.

Fast forward 10 years and one man’s idea to bring the global materials handling industry together, to share ideas and information through worldwide communication technology, has reached a milestone. Not only have the doomsayers been proved wrong, but continues to grow in strength each year. In 2010, the portal remains the most popular materials handling website for the industry, providing news and services to 50,000 subscribers.

Michael Leu, executive director of FLA
"I wanted to connect people in the industry - from east to west and from factory to farm," says Michael Leu, founder and executive director of, "to let people know what was happening and where to get the best deal, spread the word about workplace safety and let the people who design and fix the machines share their knowledge with each other through the forums".

Leu describes the beginnings of as difficult but exciting. "I remember my colleague and I going to CeMat in early 2000, just before the launch, to gauge industry opinion about the venture. It was a very mixed reaction; many in the industry didn’t trust the new technology and couldn’t see how it could help their business." However, between the official launch of later in the year and the launch of the fully functional portal in 2001, attitudes and internet use had changed considerably.

Leu, who had a background of 15 years in forklift sales and rentals, was a keen reader of the materials handling magazines published at the time. He was impressed by the quality and breadth of stories he found in them but frustrated by the cost of subscription and the often slow dissemination of news. The internet, Leu believed, could deliver a product to the materials handling world that was comprehensive, up-to-the-minute, considerably cheaper and most exciting of all, interactive. "I was well aware of the global nature of the materials handling industry and how hungry for industry news its members were," he explains. "I also believed the site should alert dealers to new possibilities for products and spare parts and to provide manufacturers with information about new and innovative technology, alternative component suppliers and news of organisational and marketing strategies used around the globe."

Early online news view
Leu has always believed the core strength of should be an interesting, relevant news service, one that is, most importantly, independent. has endeavoured to bring the materials handling industry news which is free from influence, treating all stories with equal editorial objectivity. Starting with a trial run and just two news stories delivered in plain text to 50 subscribers in three countries in July, 2000, the newsletter now goes out online with up to 20 stories to 50,000 readers across the globe.  

Every week, another 120 business professionals choose to register for the free membership and news service.

Ten years ago, the industry professionals from the forklift manufacturing and distributing companies were the first ones to sign on, trying to keep up to date with their industry and the competition. In the past five years, has increasingly attracted end-users of forklifts: forklift owners and fleet managers. Today, they represent the biggest group of members, reflecting the increasing use of the internet for research and purchase decisions.

Because News is an independent service, it can report on stories that are sometimes hotly denied by the companies involved. For a year after News initially broke the news, NACCO consistently denied rumours of sales and dealer consolidations among its global operations, before finally confirming the policy shift.

With objectivity, the news team has been able to report on contentious litigation involving key industry players. The newsletter also has a duty to cover the uncomfortable issues surrounding forklift deaths and injury through lack of adequate safety, training or workplace supervision. " can take great satisfaction in knowing that somewhere, somehow you have undoubtedly saved lives by your consistent support in promoting forklift safety," agrees Richard.E.Higgens, director of the US Open Forklift Rodeo and Safety Expo, an annual event supported by

It’s not all ‘bad news’ reporting though, and News has also reported on many acts of charity and generosity in the materials handling industry. In a decade of unprecedented natural disasters, including the Asian tsunami, cyclone Katrina, the Australian bushfires, the devastation in Haiti and now the Pakistani floods, newsletters have covered a large number of companies, including Trelleborg, Castle Forklifts, JCB, Raymond, Linde and Komatsu, which have donated time, equipment and money to these disasters. There are others such as Mitsubishi, Clarke and Jungheinrich which regularly support local charities – also widely reported in News.

Features, as well as weekly news, are another mainstay of News, providing in-depth reporting on issues pertinent to the materials handling industry. Features are published monthly and topics are selected to cover areas which subscribers have indicated are most relevant to their area of materials handling.

2000 Website image
The first feature was published in June, 2001 and covered the then-newly emerging Chinese forklift market. It spanned 550 words and was published in two parts. These days, the features are three times the length, published monthly and involve hours of research and interviews with materials handling players, experts and organisational bodies. This ensures that the features are accurate, highly relevant and contain a broad range of opinion. This year News, has focussed its regular regional forklift industry report on China, the USA and Latin America. Market segment features have covered a range of topics including forklifts in ports, attachments, rough-terrain forklifts and narrow-aisle forklifts. Next month’s feature is a report on battery and power source innovation. News readers appreciate and respect the integrity of the news and features, and most would agree with Howard Quick, regional product manger for Linde Material Handling – North America, when he says, "if it is in, the materials handling community is talking about it".

Others also agree. Tim Jamal, vice-president of Jamco, says he has seen evolve over the years into "the leading global news source for the materials handling industry".  Bernd Dolk, sales manager for Raeder-Vogel, agrees that "with its worldwide coverage and readership, is unique in distributing information on all aspects of materials handling to interested parties, manufacturers as well as end-users". Terry Wickham from Keytroller finds an interested audience with Forkliftaction for its products: "We were able to gain tremendous exposure for our many new products and ideas".

"Customer loyalty", says Leu, "is based on the quality of the service. We have customers who have advertised with us right from the start. Svetruck is one such company; they stay with us because has formed strong bonds with them over the years and we offer them value and consistent results for their advertising.

"New customers are attracted to the website by the extensive range of services offers." This is supported by general manager Ann Hofmans who has been closely involved in ongoing development of the website. She explains that the site grew its content together with the interests of the materials handling industry. "Forklift businesses these days," she explains, "have to follow the buyer and respect the changing ways they purchase a forklift. They now do an enormous amount of research - online. The buyer wants to learn what’s on the market, what technology is available and where they can get it". She adds that, through its marketplace, business directory, spec-checker, online forum and links, "provides all this in one place".

Ann Hofmans, general manager of FLA
Hofmans is excited about some significant changes to the website which will be launched before the end of the year. The changes mean a new ‘look’ for the news and an enhanced news platform. " News will soon be available online with the ability to switch easily from one news story to another, between media releases and product features," she explains. "There will be a mobile version of the newsletter for those subscribers who choose to receive it on their mobile phones and RSS feeds which can be used to feature News on subscribers’ own websites.

"The new design of the newsletter, the improved structure and format of Forkliftaction’s news service will bring it in line with the newest internet usage by our members," Hofmans notes.  

So, what else is planned for the next decade of "To increase membership and visitors in all countries," says Leu, "through development of additional tools for users, regional news in all major economies and translation capabilities for non-English speaking countries."

Another aim is to increase the usability of the site with additional functions on a paid subscription basis for those who want more, he adds.

When asked if he would do it all again, Leu has no hesitation: "Yes, indeed I would, as long as I was able to assemble such a talented and dedicated bunch of people to come with me!"

Read the many testimonials from loyal Forkliftaction members.
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