Toyota’s Sam Gray has a theory that, when it comes to replacing lift trucks, many forklift users feel the same way as they do when they’re buying a new washing machine or any other similar type of household appliance. “People know trucks are something that they need and have to have, but they don’t particularly enjoy buying them – that’s where Toyota come in!” he says.
Sam Gray is Toyota Material Handling UK’s Sales Training and Product Development Manager. As his job title suggests, he has a broad remit, but much of his time is spent alongside members of the sales team talking to customers about their unique intralogistics challenges to ensure that Toyota delivers the correct solution.
Sam is not a salesman per se – “people say we’re wired differently in product management” – but his vast experience, technical background and in depth product knowledge mean that he is regularly called upon to identify the optimum machine or spot a slight modification to a site layout, product picking or put-away processes that will solve a client’s issues.
“Often, what customers believe they want and what they actually need are quite different. As trusted advisors part of our role involves explaining the various options available to customers,” says Sam.
He continues: “For example, a customer may have a fleet of counterbalanced trucks that have been in operation for five years. The forklifts have performed well but are coming to the end of their contract period, so the customer’s initial thought is to replace them with the latest version of the same model.
“But, although the forklift’s design may not have changed much in five years, it’s more than likely that the user’s business has evolved and, as a result, the trucks are now undertaking tasks that they were not originally specified to perform.
“Furthermore, in all probability the client’s business is likely to continue changing over the next five-year period – and so too will its materials handling needs.
“By taking the time to understand a customer’s business and product flow processes, we are often able to recommend an alternative truck model with features that will improve the efficiency of the customer’s current operation and deliver the functionality to match future handling demands. If this means that instead of operating, for example, ten trucks the client only needs to run seven, the benefits are obvious.”
Having started his engineering career in the agricultural products industry working for a German company that made and sold tractor accessories, Sam’s first exposure to the materials handling industry came when he joined B&B Attachments. He moved from B&B to BT Rolatruc and from there he joined Linde, where he spent the best part of 20 years.
Feeling ready for his next career move, Sam didn’t hesitate when the chance arose to rejoin his former BT Rolatruc colleague, Phil Tunney (senior leader of sales training and product development) and become part of the Toyota team.
That was nearly five ago and Sam is thoroughly enjoying being a part of the Toyota family. “Toyota is a breath of fresh air. The company treats every member of its team as an individual,” he says.
When he’s not busy with the Toyota family Sam likes to spend time with his own family. Married to Joanne, the couple have a daughter about to start a degree course and a son who is preparing for his GCSEs.
Home is a village south of Oxford and Sam makes the most of his rural location by regularly covering 60km on his mountain bike across off-road tracks and fields. “I can leave my house and cycle for three hours without seeing tarmac,” he says.
In recent weeks Sam hasn’t had much time for bike rides as he’s been preparing the ground for a number of exciting Toyota product launches, including the introduction of the latest version of the ever popular Tonero HST hydrostatic counterbalanced range.
Whenever a new model is released, or new functionality added to an existing product, it is clearly essential that each member of the sales team is well briefed on all of the key features and the induction training courses and product demonstrations organised by Sam and his colleagues form an important aspect of this learning process.
Sam explains: “During product training sessions we always emphasise the actual benefits that a new feature will bring to a customer’s business. For example, the new Tonero hydrostatic range, which we are launching this summer, has a new Stage V compliant engine that has been designed and built by Toyota especially for industrial applications. Tell that to a customer and he or she might quite reasonably say ‘that’s marvelous, but what does it do for my operation?’
“Explain that the Tonero HST’s engine has been specifically designed for industrial use and delivers optimum throughput rates, exceptionally low emissions and, thanks to its fuel efficiency, significantly reduced running costs and the customer is immediately engaged.
“So from the initial design concept planning meeting to the point sale, at Toyota we are always thinking of the ways that our products will add value to a customer’s business, reduce costs and improve productivity. That’s the Toyota Way.
“By recognising and understanding our customers’ needs, we ensure that not only do we deliver the right solution, but we also make sure that we add value to their business by providing reliability, safety and cost benefits, . And, when we demonstrate how this list of benefits impacts on the company’s bottom line, replacing forklifts becomes a lot more interesting than buying a new washing machine!”