There are parts of the world where people in the building and construction trades will say ‘Hiab’ instead of ‘loader crane.’ This remarkable piece of brand recognition is thanks to the company’s long history – it will celebrate its 70th birthday next year – but anecdotally at least, Hiab does not seem to have the same iron grip on the markets it once enjoyed.
A combination of internal and external factors is to blame. From the outside, competition has improved in the sector, while a series of acquisitions and reorganisations at Hiab’s parent company, Cargotec, over the last decade or so have perhaps not served Hiab as well as they could have.
The recognition that Hiab needs to be more prominent and visible to its customers was one of the factors that led to Cargotec’s appointment in May of Carl Gustaf Göransson as senior vice responsible for Hiab's global markets business unit.
Previously with Volvo Construction Equipment as managing director of the Western part of the Europe, Africa & Middle East (EAME) territory, Göransson was brought on-board to improve the sales network and address some of these issues.
Indeed, when IC spoke to him, he identified this as a key priority. “We are working very much with how our brand is perceived. We have very strong brand recognition, and we want to build on that in the market and understand what the customer wants. We also see the need to adapt in some cases and we may consolidate our distribution to be more efficient in some markets.”
“That’s what I’m here to do. We have strong distribution in many territories and strong brands, but there is a clear opportunity to improve that around the world. We work with our own distribution and independent distribution. We will probably continue with that, but what I am doing now is looking at how we can use that to be as close as possible to customers,” he said.
Although Hiab is known for loader cranes, the business has a range of products in the portfolio, including log lifts, demountables for applications like waste collection, tail-lifts and truck-mounted forklift trucks.
It is fair to say that all of these are primarily sold in the richer countries of the world, but that is not to say the company is not eyeing emerging markets.
“It is a developed world product, but there are opportunities in developing markets for stiff boom cranes, with our joint venture in China for example. We are looking at Russia, and similarly in Brazil and the rest of South America, I think we can succeed if we have the right product,” said Göransson.
“If you look at the market for trucks in China for example, that is becoming more international, and they normally come with our type of products. We want to be a leader, so we need to be in those markets and we want to be local,” he added.
The joint-venture in China is a deal announced last year with China national Heavy Duty Truck Group Co. Ltd. (CNHTC), which makes products under the Sinotruk brand. The agreement will allow Hiab products to be sold through the Sinotruk network in China, starting with six models of stiff boom crane.
“It’s great access to distribution in China which we want to use to get our products out there,” said Göransson.
But he acknowledged that while emerging countries might be an opportunity for truck cranes, it would take a careful approach to succeed.
“We are looking at how comparable businesses have done it, and learning form that. The portfolio we have is strong. If the market wants a premium spec product, we will do that with the right distribution - if you look at the market for trucks in China for example, that is becoming more international.”
“What’s going on within the R&D process is us asking ‘What do we have within the portfolio, and what can we apply to these markets that maybe require less technology?’”
What will change?
In closing IC asked Göransson what changes customers would see following his appointment. “I have a fresh pair of eyes, and the immediate reaction from customers was that Hiab is a very good product, but it hasn’t been as visible or approachable as we could have been. Cargotec putting the business in three focussed areas is important for that. People realise that now, but we have not had that focus in the last decade or so.”
“From the basic position, we want to deliver our products more efficiently - to get them configured quickly and get them delivered on time. Stronger field support – we are good, but we want to become even better.
“In developed markets, I think there will be much better coverage for service and support. Those are concrete things that we are doing right now,” he said.