Italian aerial platform rental company Nacanco is successfully negotiating a stormy economy and maintaining its track record of growth. Murray Pollok met the company's managing director, Marzia Giusto, in Rome.
It tells you something about a market when a company has to employ two full-time lawyers to help manage debt collection. "It made a very big impact", says Marzia Giusto, managing director of Brescia-based Nacanco, "It makes a difference having lawyers inside the company, it's another way of working."
The need to employ lawyers - who joined a year and a half ago - is one symptom of a market where economic growth is low and uncertainty high; Italy being one of the southern European countries at the centre of the Eurozone debt crisis.
Ms Giusto, a member of the family that has owned Nacanco since it was founded in Spain in 1982 and also a board member of the European Rental Association (ERA), says the current crisis has had a definite impact on its business; "The character of the rental business has changed in the last three or four years. In the past, we had long contracts for big projects, but now we have a lot more short contracts, especially for maintenance jobs. The customers are more or less the same, but doing different things."
Every year the company is carrying out 20 to 30% more contracts, and the average rental period had dropped from 15 days to eight.
"We have had to change the organization, using new IT processes, to produce more invoices and speed up processes, but without adding staff", says Ms Giusto, "Only we needed more salesmen.."
Nacanco has spent €1 million on its IT systems in the last year, part of a project that has seen more back office functions centralised.. "Before, in each of our  depots, we had technicians, sales staff and back-office people. Now it's only technicians and sales staff. The back office is centralised in Brescia and Milan."
The company has also managed to expand its footprint over the past few years, with new openings in Genoa, Florence and Treviso, as well as a larger location in Rome. "It has been a success", says Ms Giusto, "If we had more opportunities we would open more. The problem is the bureaucracy."
That strategy, allied to the investment in IT and sales staff, are what explain Nacanco's financial success. Revenues increased by 9% to €28.6 million last year and EBITDA profits by around 13% to more than €10 million. The fleet of around 2500 aerial platforms and telehandlers, although roughly stable since 2009, is almost double the size it was in 2007. The company also has a significant equipment sales business, representing Teupen in Italy among other brands.
Rhona Lombardo, the company's marketing manager, who has been active in promoting Nacanco not just in Italy but Europe-wide, tells IRN that a typical small location will have around 200-250 units, with the larger sites with 400 machines.
There are other strategies as well. Although continuing to focus on its domestic market, Nacanco has had a dedicated re-rental sales person looking for opportunities to supply platforms to rental companies outside Italy, or to act as a local supplier for rental companies in Europe who have customers working in Italy. A second re-rentals person was appointed in April.
"It's not a big part of our business", says Ms Giusto, "but we are trying to develop it. It's increasing, and it helps." Re-rental currently represents around €1 million in sales.
Also developing is a project to provide customers with different types of equipment, such as forklifts, lighting towers, generators and mini-excavators. "When customers ask for other equipment we try to find it for them, and we have two people doing this. It represents around 10% of turnover."
Ms Giusto says this operation is a good way of assessing what new equipment to buy in the future, with forklifts and telehandlers being two priority areas, and possibly also gensets; "We have statistics on lost rentals", she says, "and these figures speak for themselves."
With Italy in the spotlight in the continuing Eurozone issue, it is difficult to predict continuing growth. Ms Giusto says 2012 could be considered a success if it matched the business levels of 2011, with the first three months of the year ranging from good (January) to bad (February), with March somewhere inbetween; "It's very difficult to interpret, as was 2011", she says, "Really, 2011 was a great year for us - I would be happy to do the same this year."
That uncertainty is mirrored at the national level, with Italy now with a being governed by a group of technocrats, led by prime minister Mario Monti.
"I think the new government of Monti could do some good things", says Marzia Giusto, "For now the priority is get the accounts in order, and the second step will be investment and growth. But I don't know the timing - probably only Monti knows that."