David and Goliath

If you've ever wondered how products get invented and developed, look no further than your own backyard. This is what I discovered on a recent visit to a rental yard not far from our offices here in Wisconsin.

I was conducting a "reader call," where we drop in on one of our subscribers in order to stay in touch with the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. In this case, the business - Kropp Equipment - was a small, family-owned chain of aerial work platform rental outlets serving contractors in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. In talking with Vice President Kurt Kropp, I learned how the company actively seeks input from customers about what they would like the equipment to do for them. Kropp Equipment then goes straight to its suppliers with this information. What happens next is a prime example of the free enterprise system at work. Kropp's suppliers take these suggestions and go to work creating machines to meet the needs of the end user.

It's no surprise, really. We all know that manufacturers regularly solicit input from customers to come up with new ideas. How else would new product innovations be created and brought to market? What was so amazing about Kropp's approach, however, was the prevailing attitude among him and his staff that their customers' unique needs demanded a quick and effective response from manufacturers. In short, they don't take no for an answer. There is no belief at Kropp that the little man can have little impact on the big, monolithic manufacturing companies. Instead, there seems to be a strong faith in the idea that they should expect nothing less than absolute responsiveness.

To many of us, big corporations seem impersonal, like a big machine. But Kurt Kropp and his crew refuse to allow that to stop them and as such, have gotten results and have been able to serve their customers in unprecedented ways. Kropp cites examples such as encouraging major lift manufacturing companies to develop onboard welder/generators, a glass catcher package for glaziers, tracks for aerial work platforms and even "diapers" to keep machines from leaking on the jobsite.

"It all comes down to listening to the customer," says Kropp. "We take the needs and designs of our customers and take them right to the manufacturer."

Granted, manufacturers employ extensive research and development practices to create the products we use today. It's encouraging, however, to know that there are entrepreneurs out there that still believe the "little guy" can make an impact on those giant corporations. It's nice to know also that the giant corporations are actually listening.

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