| Each year, the winter issue of The MHEDA Journal spends the bulk of its space wading through data to layout the economic outlook for the year ahead. In addition to the predictions from many of our partner associations based on booked orders and economic indicators they have seen, we also spoke to dozens of MHEDA members from all segments of the material handling industry across North America to get a sense of what they expect to see in 2015. Though many members are still leery about issues like healthcare and EPA regulations, the consensus across all industry segments is that 2015 will be a year of robust growth across the industry. |
Because our industry has seen a growing trend toward consolidation in recent years, leading to a diversification of product offerings for many members, we decided to change the layout of the distributor forecast this year. Rather than grouping member responses by industry segment, we opted instead to group responses by region of the country. Because more than 97% of respondents expected to see some form of growth this year, while not one member we spoke to expected a decrease in sales in 2015 and just one member expected level growth, we wanted to test to see what region of the country would see the most robust growth. The answer, resoundingly, was the Midwest, with an average growth expectation of 10.4%. When broken up by category, the numbers support the trend toward diversification as those members with a diverse product offering, defined for our purposes as having no more than 65% of sales from any one segment of the industry, expecting the largest increase next year with an average of 11.2% growth compared to a 7.2% expectation in 2014.
Continued Growth Having just completed a particularly contentious election cycle, filled with negative ads describing a flailing economy, you would be excused for thinking that the industry hasn’t been growing in recent years. According to exit polls from the mid-term election, 78% of voters said they were "very or somewhat worried" about the economy with two-thirds of those voters thinking the economy is getting worse, according to PBS. For MHEDA members, that certainly hasn’t been the case, as dozens of members experienced record sales in 2014 and most expecting to shatter those records in 2015. This aligns with MHI CEO George Prest’s projection of 8-9% growth in 2015. Says MHEDA Board of Directors Member and Liftech Equipment Companies CFO Mike Vaughan, "Several economic indicators such as the PMI index, the spread between the 10-year treasury note and the 1-year treasury note, trend of jobless claims and unemployment rates are indicators we can track that currently do not show any trends toward concern for the 2015 economy."
Midwest Of all regions of the country, the Midwest expects the highest percentage of growth in 2015 with an average expectation of 10.4%. In the Midwest, Diverse companies lead the way with an average forecast of 15.25% followed by Engineered Systems at 12.5%, Storage and Handling at 10% and Industrial Trucks at 6.17%. Every company surveyed from the region expects growth in 2015.
In 2014, Associated (Addison, IL) acquired Peach State Integrated Technologies to create one of the largest supply chain solution companies in North America. Says President and CEO Mike Romano, "We expect that acquisition to impact our sales quite significantly. More importantly, we expect it to affect our relationships pretty significantly." The company expects to see top line growth of 6- to 10% in 2015. "We’re seeing our customers really focused on how they’re dealing with the online segments of their business growing," says Romano. "It presents a whole new set of challenges to them. Distribution channels and networks are changing with the influence of multi-channel and Omnichannel. All of those factors are driving a lot of activity toward the end-customers modifying the way they distribute their products, which plays right into our strengths."
New warehouse automation products, both hardware and software, will be the main drivers behind a robust 20- to 25% growth projection for SJF Material Handling (Winsted, MN). "We have seen a change in mindset toward growth and expansion, rather than consolidation as it was in 2013," says President Stafford Sterner. "We see an increase in businesses looking to automate processes and reduce people, slash overhead and improve order fulfillment times." This year promises to be an exciting year for SJF, as the company has planned hardware and software upgrades to its Surepik WMS and IMS packages. Sterner expects overall industry growth in line with the MHI projection of 5- to 8%.
MHEDA Immediate Past President Scott Hennie founded Elite Supply Chain Solutions (Strongsville, OH) in 2013 and expects continued marketplace exposure, additional sales staff and entrance into new marketplaces to contribute to the company’s growth in 2015. In addition to increased 4th quarter activity in proposals and design development, expansion into the automation arena of the industry will help carry Elite in 2015. As Elite grows, the company has plans to hire additional staff in sales, engineering and project management and administration, as well as expand office space this year. Says Hennie, "We will focus on the things we can control. Our behavior, our markets and the clients we call on. If we do the right things greatly, the rest will take care of itself."
An investment in technology, new revenue streams and additional boots on the ground all spell a 15% growth in 2015 for Conveyor Solutions, Inc. (Schaumburg, IL). "All of our manufacturers are forecasting strong increases for 2015," says President Scott Lee. "We’ve also seen a solid uptick in activity in the 4th quarter. We’ve invested in our facilities, technology and resources so we have plenty of room to take things to the next level." The company plans to continue growing its service/PM business and plans to release new sales channels early in the year. Lee also expects social media to become an increasingly important factor in the business place.
Miami Industrial Trucks (Dayton, OH) President and CEO Mark G. Jones expects a 5- to 7% expansion in 2015. "Our growth is driven by our focus to provide Beyond World Class Service across all revenue streams," he says. Employee training and technology to improve operations will be the company’s two largest investments in 2015 and Jones also anticipates adding technicians throughout the year. Overall, Jones forecasts growth for the industry, based on the overall expansion of the economy. However, he cautions that things like a potential increase in the cost per barrel of oil due to the turmoil in the Middle East or Carbon Tax legislation could blunt 2015’s potential growth.
Price inflation, organic growth among existing and new accounts, product line expansion and acquisitions will all contribute to a 7.5% growth expectation in 2015 for Wisconsin Lift Truck (Brookfield, WI.) "In addition to the organic growth drivers, we continue to look for appropriate acquisitions that can increase our baseline organic growth goal," says President Jerry Weidmann. Wisconsin Lift plans to hire technicians and other staff to support its growth in 2015 and Weidmann expects to be in a continuous recruitment mode throughout the year. In addition to staff, Wisconsin Lift plans to invest heavily business accelerating technology. "We are investing moving our computer infrastructure to the cloud, implementing a technology called ‘virtual desktop,’ deploying tablet PC’s for our field sales staff and we expect to roll out a field service automation system. These technologies are all designed to make us more responsive to our customers."
"We noticed accelerated fleet replacement activity toward the end of 2014 that we expect to continue with 2015’s new budget environment," says Fallsway Equipment Company VP of Marketing and Sales Doug Carson. "We had a good number of budgetary exercises we performed for customers with large fleets in the fourth quarter of 2014 and rental fleet activity, both short and long term, accelerated throughout the year. We are planning expansions in these areas for 2015." This expectation leads to a 5% growth projection for the company this year. 2014 saw Fallsway add two buildings with an addition planned to be finished in the first quarter to a third building. While growth is strong for Fallsway, it could be even better. "We’re still be negatively impacted by EPA emissions dictates for Tier 4 diesel standards leading to rationing of engines, higher prices, hyper-extended lead times and ultimately pent up demand." Carson is hopeful that a new Congress will usher in a more business-friendly era with tax reform and a lighter regulatory environment.
AK Material Handling Systems (Maple Grove, MN) plans an increase to its marketing budget in 2015 which will contribute the lion’s share of the company’s expected 10% growth. The company is very heavily involved with social media and has seen tangible results from its involvement. "Social media is a cultural shift that provides multiple benefits," says CEO Al Boston. As E-Commerce continues to grow the storage and handling segment of the industry, Minnesota repealed the sales tax law that would have taxed all third-party warehousing services, which would have shifted all non-essential warehousing out of Minnesota. Says Boston, "This is a good time to be a MHEDA member so that we do not have to go through these uncertain times alone."
"We are as busy as we can be right now," says Container Systems Inc. President Mike Wall. "That’s been happening since the 1st or 2nd Quarter of 2014. So we have some momentum going into 2015." Wall sees momentum going into 2015 that didn’t exist going into 2014, which contributes to CSI’s expected 10% growth. That growth isn’t contained to only one or two markets either. "We are very diverse in our customer base. We’ve got different salespeople calling on accounts in all of our industries and they’re all busy. It’s really the economy in general. The sea level is rising." In addition to a generally strong economy, CSI spent 2014 revamping its website to move more extensively into E-Commerce, which should drive additional sales this year.
A 2014 acquisition combined with pent-up demand will lead to a 10% increase in sales for Storage Systems Midwest (Waukesha, WI). President R.J. Safranek plans to invest in a new CRM system as well as bring on additional project managers and system engineers in 2015 which will contribute to the growth as well. Though the company expects growth in 2015, customers are still in a constant state of unease due to the overall gridlock in Washington. "Uncertainty makes capital decision-making very difficult," says Safranek. Even with those concerns, though Safranek expects the industry as a whole to improve in 2015.
Northeast At 6.25% cumulative expected growth, the Northeast is the least optimistic about 2015 of all the regions we spoke to this year. However, that may say more about the booming economy as a whole than it does about the Northeast, as both the Southeast and Western regions of the country also expect less than 7% growth. Every company we spoke to in the region expects growth next year with Industrial Truck growth slotted for 5.83% and Storage and Handling expecting a 7.5% growth.
The lone Canadian respondent this year, Hewitt Equipment Limited (Pointe-Claire, QC, Canada) expects slight growth in 2015. "We depend a lot on growth in the United States, so as long as that is sustained that would drive growth and our business exports," says Vice President and General Manager of Material Handling in Quebec and Ontario Robert Lebel. Hewitt added two stores in Ontario in 2014 and that combined with plans to update one of the company’s websites to start driving business on the web will contribute to growth in 2015. "We’re seeing a continued conversion from IC to electric trucks, especially in counterbalance," says Lebel. "That’s an important aspect of the business and it changes our approach to product support because we’re moving on to more of those electric products."
Though the New England economy still isn’t firing on all cylinders yet, M & G Materials Handling Company President Ken MacDonald is optimistic for 2015. "The good thing is that energy is down to $85 per barrel and that should get some consumer spending going again," he says. "Companies may reinvest that capital in industrial equipment." MacDonald sees automation, specifically, as an area that will grow next year. Another growing trend in the industry is Omnichannel retailing. "I think facilities are going to become less and less required as Omnichannel starts to come into play," he says. "Speed to the end user will increase and we need to be quite flexible. We must enjoin the technology that provides direct link from the end user to the supplier and we will need to invest in people that can recognize the critical and actionable data. Facilities may become considerably smaller and more regionalized to central markets." Overall, MacDonald expects to see a 7- to 8% increase for M & G this year.
Liftech Equipment Companies CFO Mike Vaughan expects to see modest revenue growth across every element of the company’s business in 2015. "My good feeling about the business environment was reinforced after participating in MHEDA’s October webinar – Economic and Financial Market Outlook 2014-2019," he says. "Several economic indicators such as the PMI index, the spread between the 10-year treasury note and the 1-year treasury note, trend of jobless claims and unemployment rates are indicators we can track that currently do not show any trends toward concern for the 2015 economy." In 2014, Liftech made comprehensive improvements in technology to improve operational efficiencies, an effort that will continue in 2015.
Continued growth of oil and natural gas across the country is a primary financial driver in western Pennsylvania and will play a large role in Cranston Material Handling Equipment’s expected 5- to 10% growth in 2015. "It’s having a very positive impact on manufacturers in our market," says President David Cranston. "For example, there’s a company in Pittsburgh that makes railroad car wheels that hasn’t invested much money in that business in decades. They now have a four-year backlog of orders because of all the needs for rail cars to move oil around the country." With the company in growth mode, Cranston is investing in an upgrade to its customer relationship software. "That will allows us to create additional KPIs that will help us make business decisions and we’ll be able to have a better handle on things than we do now just from a tracking standpoint," says Cranston.
Southeast The largest pool of respondents came from the Southeast region of the country and every single company interviewed expected to see growth in 2015. Overall, the Southeast projects to see a 6.9% increase this year. Again, those companies with Diverse product mixes pace the region with an 8.33% growth expectation, while Industrial Trucks comes in at 7.28% followed by Engineered Systems at 5% and Storage and Handling at 4%.
"The Southeast continues to attract new business because of the friendly business climate," says Southeast Industrial Equipment President Cory Thorne. "We expect to grow beyond the industry because of business advantages we have implemented in the last 24 months." SIE’s rental market has continues to be very strong, especially with the logistics companies in the Charlotte area. Also, Thorne sees port cities starting to staff up for the widening of the Panama Canal. "This is going to bring business that has typically gone to the West or East Coast," he says. "This growth is expected to help with the continued growth in the Southeast."
Jefferds Corporation (St. Albans, WV) saw substantial growth in 2014 and while President and CEO Richard Sinclair doesn’t expect substantial sales growth, he sees continuing opportunity in the aftermarket side leading to an expected growth of 5- to 7% in 2015. In the heart of coal country, Sinclair hopes that the more conservative Congress at both the state and federal level will reverse environmental regulations that have put a severe damper on coal permits in the state. The company added 12 new employees in 2014 and will continue to add staff if the aftermarket is as strong as Sinclair anticipates.
Record growth in 2014 will propel PeakLogix (Midlothian, VA) to double digit expansion in 2015. "Many clients have been sitting on the sidelines in recent years waiting to see if the economy was going to stay solid," says Principal Bob Giberson. "It has and they have begun to invest in improving their businesses. Also, our clients are seeing their supply chain as a competitive differentiator which can improve their operations and bottom line." The company plans to add an industrial or mechanical engineer in 2015 to work with the existing team in Virginia and is renovating its office to accommodate the additional staff. Giberson concludes, "We continue to see business acquisitions and consolidations drive a certain amount of our growth as clients expand or combine facilities or close redundant operations."
Gregory Poole Equipment Company’s lift truck sales increased more than 22% in 2014, giving the company momentum moving into 2015 where Executive Vice President Richard Donnelly expects to see another 8- to 10% increase. "The economy is clearly driving sales," Donnelly says. "In our area it’s very strong. Housing has picked up and there is highway work going on. There are large distribution centers moving into our territory and our agriculture business has been very good." In 2014, Gregory Poole added an engineered systems component to its offering with the acquisition of AHS, Inc. "Now we can really walk into a customer and offer them that total package that very few other companies can offer," says Donnelly. "We see it as a very good merger of the two companies working together to go into the market place."
After a record year in 2013, Advanced Equipment Company (Charlotte, NC) experienced good but not great growth in 2014. However, President Daryle Ogburn expects sales to cycle back up in 2015. "Business is there and we must win our share," he says. "We are spending a lot of time promoting a relatively new line and I believe next year we will reap the rewards." The line, which AEC has had for only a few years condenses storage space requirements and is ideal for manufacturers or distributors who must store large quantities of slow moving products. All of this will contribute to an expected 5% expansion in 2015.
Though Atlantic Coast Toyotalift President Jay Williford expects the economy in the Winston Salem, NC, market to be slightly down, he still projects a 5% growth in sales for ACT. "We feel that we have created a focus and momentum internally to capitalize on our core competencies despite the slight down economy," Williford says. A major area for emphasis for ACT in 2015 will be marketing and within that an expanded social media presence. Williford expects to add technicians in 2015 but sees the same challenges that many in the industry are facing in finding experienced techs. Finally, Williford has seen a trend of customers doing more with less. "We have to be more responsive, more professional and provide accurate and concise information to help them do that," he says.
Growth across all segments leads to an expected 10% expansion for Atlantic Lift Systems (Norfolk, VA) in 2015. Says President Allan Haynsworth, "Clients have three basic needs. To improve safety, productivity and profits. It is our job to find solutions that drive those needs." A strong rental market and increase in new sales will buoy the company’s bottom line next year, though growth could be even more robust if offshore drilling is approved by the new Congress. In all, 2015 looks to be a successful year for Atlantic Lift as part of an improving market industry-wide.
"Economic conditions are good and companies are spending dollars on capital equipment that needs updating to fuel their growth," says Carolina Handling, LLC President and CEO Dave Reder. That environment has the company projecting an increase of 10% this year. "We have seen a large growth in the North American ITA market in 2014 and I see the market continuing to be good as a whole in 2015 as well." The company plans to add key management positions as well as technical positions to keep up with growth projections.
Trends toward new distribution methods and more automation in the supply chain will aid Carolina Material Handling Services (Columbia, SC) in achieving a projected 6% growth in 2015. "We see continued expansion from our customers as they enjoy the positive business environment since the recession," says CEO Buddy Smith. More and more, Smith sees customers looking for more flexibility with equipment. He says, "They want to be able to turn equipment back in if their business goes through a change." Overall, Smith sees a robust market in 2015 for the industry and expects that to continue through 2018.
LiftOne President Bill Ryan expects 2015 sales to be up 5- to 6%. "Lease end replacements that were delayed and continued growth in small manufacturing sectors along with a modest rebound in the housing and building product sectors will be the primary drivers," Ryan says. The company will be looking to increase the size of some of its shops in 2015 as well as recruit, place and train new sales people and technicians. He concludes, "The biggest impact factors on our business for 2015 will revolve around our ability or lack thereof to adapt to the customers’ unwillingness or inability to commit to long-term obligations. Customers today are looking for short-term commitments at long-term rates."
Birmingham, Alabama’s Springer Equipment Co. opened a new facility in Nashville in the 4th quarter of 2014 and has tentative plans to add a new line to its offering in 2015, contributing to 3- to 5% growth expectation this year. The outcome of the midterm elections could lead to the company actually outperforming its projection, as President Ted Springer says, "There is an abundance of capital being held onto until after the elections. Hopefully we will see the outcome stimulate business spending." The company added staff throughout 2014 and is prepared to add more if growth dictates it. For the lift truck industry, Springer sees a continued trend toward electric with steady and sustained growth expected.
"Thankfully, we were fully able to recover from the recession in 2014," says Garrison Service Company President Stuart Thompson. "Looking forward, we expect to see an increase in overall sales between 12- and 15% in 2015. A big contributor to our recovery was new equipment sales." Thompson sees companies starting to have more optimism in the economy and combined with a need to replace and add to their aged forklift fleets that should spell robust growth this year. "All trends in our market are extremely positive," he says. "We’re fortunate to be in a state that has an interstate system that supports those companies that want to expand their distribution network." Garrison has a plan in place to add additional service technicians every 90 days to support its IT growth.
Southwest After the Midwest, the Southwest region of the country expects the largest growth with an expectation of 9.25% expansion in 2015. Once again, Diverse companies led the way with a whopping projection of 13.33% growth next year in the region. Industrial Trucks expect to see a more modest 6.5% growth while Storage and Handling expects 2.5% growth.
"We expect to grow by 10% based on the current positive trends in our market area and forecasted needs from key customers," says Cisco-Eagle President Darein Gandall. "We continue to see growth in both our project and systems area and our storage equipment customer base." Customers that may have delayed projects the last few years are now executing those projects now and into the next few years, according to Gandall. Cisco-Eagle saw three prominent trends emerge in 2014 that are expected to continue this year. They are: safety products continue to develop and sell strongly as companies take strong steps to reduce workplace injuries and their associated costs, security is another strong market and the energy industry is growing and becoming increasingly important.
A strong Texas economy, especially in the oil and gas market will spur a 7.5% growth for Brenham, Texas-based ESS Group. In 2015, the company plans to provide a product line consisting of heavy duty workstations, carts, pallets and other material handling and storage products that are engineered for specific manufacturing applications. ESS also plans to add manufacturing space by the 3rd quarter of 2015. This year’s biggest investment will be in human resources. Says President Jeff Ross, "Texas has a very low unemployment rate and people are our most important investment. We are very fortunate to live and work in Texas which has a very strong and growing business environment."
"We have seen improved confidence in our customer’s businesses," says CE-DFW Warehouse Solutions President Brian Hoffmann. "Texas continues to see improvements in almost all industries, most critically the energy industry. New construction continues to grow in our market. New distribution, road infrastructure and retail all will contribute to growth in our forklift rental and dock and door business." Large growth in new equipment sales as well as an expansion of parts, service and rentals will all contribute to an expected 20- to 25% growth in 2015. "We will be expanding our rental fleet with new equipment offerings with the recent addition of Doosan’s Narrow Aisle machines and burden carriers," says Hoffmann. "The ideal customer for this product is anyone interested in increasing the storage capacity of their existing facility by narrowing their aisles."
As a growing company, Lift Parts Service LLC COO Kyle Free expects company growth to outpace the regional economy. Free anticipates a 10% increase in sales in 2015 compared to an expected 3- to 5% growth in his territory. "The prediction of market growth is a prediction based on what capital funds I see companies starting to let go of for new purchases," says Free. One trend Free has observed is customers using 3rd parties for tasks they used to complete themselves. "Customers seem too busy to take on everything that they used to and are starting to farm out tasks more. This has led to more of a need for us in the mobile service department to have good quality people and equipment to handle these needs."
Pent up demand will be the primary driver behind an anticipated 3% sales increase for Sunbelt Industrial Trucks (Dallas, TX). "After a few years of putting off replacing new equipment, we are starting to see companies replacing equipment," says President Bill Rowan. The company has momentum coming into the year after a second half surge in 2014. "The second half of 2014 was more active and saw a much higher quote level. The election results could add to that activity if perceived as favorable for business." Employee training will be an area of emphasis for Sunbelt in the new year. "People are still our most valuable asset and the better educated and trained they are, the more valuable they are."
"Continued investment in the material handling industry due to steady economic growth, pressure on labor expense and expansion of speed to end-user deliveries," will all drive a 2- to 3% sales growth in 2015 according to WW Cannon President Greg Brown. An increase in large orders from distribution centers in 2014 set the tone for growth this year. The company will focus heavily on dock and door service and specialty doors in 2015 as an area with potential to grow. A potentially business-friendly Congress could improve Brown’s outlook in 2015 as he says environmental laws and the Affordable Care Act have dampened the business climate in recent years.
West Respondents from the Western United States see a 6.42% cumulative growth in store for 2015. Diverse companies expect 8.2% growth while Industrial Trucks expects 7.33% growth. Engineered Systems on the West Coast are expected to rise just 2%.
McKinley Equipment Corporation (Irvine, CA) works primarily in the dock and door segment of the business and President Greg Larsen expects strong growth to continue into 2015. "We’ve increased our coverage area as well as the number of technicians that we have on the street, so we’re anticipating significant growth there," Larsen says. "I would say maybe 5% growth on the sales side and closer to 15% growth on the service side." Pent-up demand will play a large role in that projected growth. "As companies begin to do a little better, while they might have tried to maintain the equipment they were using, now they consider replacing it," Larsen says. "Previously the capital just wasn’t there to replace. Money was just spent on band-aids to maintain until it could be replaced."
"In 2015, Arizona will be hosting the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl and the Phoenix Open, all in a matter of two months," says Dunn/Powers Material Handling Vice President Dan Powers. "We are expecting to see an increase in sales from this alone. We will continue to look at opportunities to take over market shares, expand our product offerings and expand our web presence." Dunn/Powers is looking at a projected growth of 6- to 7% in 2015. Says Powers, "We are very diverse. We made it through the last recession due to the diversity of our customer base. While some industries were hit very hard, some were not." The company is also seeing the continuous benefits of the lean models and kaizen management that it has in place.
"We are focusing on improving customer service, signing every new truck on PM the moment we deliver it and educating our customers to the true value of full maintenance," says Watts Equipment Company President and CEO Shirley Perreira. The company expects a 10% increase in 2015 based on sales staff goals for next year. "We have been steadily adding new technicians are currently interviewing for a totally new position of a service writer, which we are very excited about. In the last 12 months we have added 5 new employees and are currently interviewing for 2 other positions. You have to stay ahead of the growth or customers really feel it and employees start to get worn out." Watts has put a special emphasis on focusing on the entire warehouse as customers look to use every inch of their space. "Maximize space for maximum profit!" says Perreira.
Fremont, California’s Raymond Handling Concepts Corp. expects a 10% top line increase in 2015. Says President Steve Raymond, "Since the beginning of 2014, we’ve really worked on changing and updating our sales area. It started with our sales area and we’ve since branched to other areas of the company as well. The economy is strong here and by all measures that we use we expect it to continue." The company has increased its emphasis on its non-forklift offerings which has really contributed to the strong growth. Raymond has also seen an increase in demand in the rental business. 2014 also saw a revamping of the company website, which is more interactive now and has helped drive sales and recruiting.
Pape Material Handling (Eugene, OR) has also seen a growth in rental demand that is expected to carry into 2015. "We’re going to be even to slightly up in forklifts but I feel if there is going to be growth it’s going to be on the rental side," says President Chris Wetle. The company plans to upgrade or move two to three facilities in 2015 as well as build and consolidate additional stores in the first half of the year. "I think it will make us more efficient," says Wetle. Like many companies, Pape is really feeling the squeeze from the ACA. "We’ve seen a medical cost increase of 25- to 30% here," Wetle says. "We’re feeling the effect of that completely." Finally, Wetle has noticed a trend toward companies opting to lease rather than buy. He says, "It’s falling a lot more on dealerships to take the machines from the cradle to the grave. That’s a major thing. I think fewer companies are buying and there are more leases and more maintenance."
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