Interview: Time Manufacturing - on the aquisition trail
By Euan Youdale15 December 2022
Time Manufacturing has been on the acquisition trail in recent times, seeing its European employee numbers rising more than four-fold in a couple of years. The president of Time’s Europe wing explains the company’s vision for the future and the plans it has in place.
With a raft of acquisitions under its belt in Europe, Time Manufacturing Company has global growth and product development in its sights.
Such a fast expansion requires a calm pair of hands to steady the ship, and Kim Bach Jensen has been chosen to take on that role.
Kim Bach Jensen: A career in the access equipment industry
Jensen joined Versalift, part of US-based Time Manufacturing, in 2009 and since then has been in a range of roles at the company.
Based in Denmark, over the eight years before taking on his latest post, Jensen was managing director of Versalift International, concentrating his efforts in Denmark, the UK and France, which were the key markets of the utility-based van and vehicle mounts that the company produces.
One of the key achievements that Jensen oversaw in this period was the introduction of the VTL-Series in 2018, produced primarily in Denmark, whereas in the past much of the lifts had been brought in from the US.
In less than three years, production was increasing tenfold annually, and in 2021 Versalift celebrated the production of 1,000 units.
The VTL-series was designed to push the boundaries of the industry and provide the best possible vehicle mounted platform, tailored specifically for the European market.
Time Manufacturing’s acquisitions
Since then there has been a flurry of activity, which saw Time complete the acquisition of Germany-based Ruthmann in early 2021, along with its Bluelift spider lift line.
Then in June 2022 it was announced Time had acquired FE Group, which incorporates France Elévateur and Spanish producer Movex, along with subsidiaries FE Benelux and FE Deutschland.
In conjunction with this latest buyout Jensen was named as the president of Time Manufacturing Europe, a role in which he is now responsible for the management and oversight of European manufacturing and distribution for the group, including Versalift, Ruthmann, Bluelift, France Elévateur and Movex.
Rapid business expansion
The changes at Versalift have come quickly, with the number of employees at the company rocketing from 350 - before the investment in Ruthmann, to 1,300 after taking on the 500 employees at the company, plus France Elévateur and Movex’s combined 400 workforce.
It also means that between 50% and 60% of Time’s business now comes from Europe, while the US branch oversees its own Versalift, Aspen Aerials and BrandFX products.
As fortune would have it, Jensen describes himself as a people person. “I love the people management side of things and a lot of this is about management of people across countries,” he said.
As Jensen points out, even though the company is owned by the ‘mother ship’ in North America, geographically speaking the European enterprise is a long way from the US, and therefore it is a relatively standalone entity.
Growth in international equipment markets
Developing existing major markets, like France, where Versalift now puts itself as third behind Klubb and France Elévateur, is important and not aided by a current drop in the core market there.
“There’s a downturn to the [France] telecoms market, so the competition will not be less in the short-term.”
However, it is the long-term goal to grow international markets that will be key to the success of the group’s growth.
“With these acquisitions, our route to growth will not be France, but the possibilities in the export and new markets.”
While one might imagine that many of the products brought together by those recent acquisitions are quite similar – for example a significant part of Versalift, France Elévateur and Movex’s output is van mounts, Jensen explains that in fact each brand has a unique place in the market.
“There are some overlaps in the van markets, but they are different products. The features are different and some are more cost effective to gain market share in different markets.”
As Jensen explains, with Versalift being a premium product and attractive to certain European markets, it may be easier to bring France Elévateur products into a new market, where customers would not choose to invest in a Versalift at this stage.
One thing that unites the group is its quality levels. “All our brands are synonymous with quality and reliability, and all the brands have a long history, and the overlaps of the brands are pretty strong.
“When you look at those brands together with their solid distribution, not just in Europe but globally, you have a good footprint to be the preferred choice - the one stop shop.”
As part of the move to adopt that one stop shop strategy, the group will revise its infrastructure, starting in Germany and France, so that all the brands are integrated into the same distribution network.
“When we spoke to major customers this is what they want in the future,” Jensen says.
However, while distribution will be brought together, the brands will remain separate in their offerings in the foreseeable future.
Jensen provides an example, “What surprised me with FE Group is that I thought Movex was a small company making 50 units a year or so, but was surprised to learn they sold 400 units in Spain, and history shows that neither FE or Versalift have sold much in Spain historically.
“Spain is a big market so we now have the opportunity there with people who understand the Spanish market.”
France-based FE Group acquired Movex in 2021 as part of its own goal to move into the Spanish market.
There are also opportunities internationally with individual brand recognition, says Jensen. “They all have a strong and robust history in their areas and we could make them even stronger on a global level.
“So, we can take Movex and introduce it as a global product with Movex specification and features. We will retain that brand strategy.”
Likewise, all the existing production facilities, including in Denmark, Germany, France and Spain will be retained. “And we are looking to expand our facilities in all the manufacturing bases,” says Jensen.
“We need all the capacity that we have at present. Of course, we also have the new products coming online and we have to continue our business development.”
Impact of the supply chain crisis and the war in Ukraine
As with every manufacturer, the supply chain crisis has been a thorn in the side for Time with microchips being a common issue, alongside the availability of chassis.
“The main problem has been the delivery of trucks and chassis. Every week it’s the same, all over Europe and the US as well.”
In addition, says Jensen, the war in Ukraine long-term has uncertain implications. “How long will this affect us, alongside the rising energy costs? We are all affected at different levels in Europe, some more, some less.
“However, every month we look at our cost base, and some of these extraordinary expenses will end up with the customer in the end - I’m sorry to say it but this is the reality.”
Growth potential in the US equipment market
A very interesting export market for Versalift Europe is North America.
Describing the US as an export market when your parent company is based there, might seem like an anomaly, but all those who deal in vehicle mounts will know that the product types vary greatly between those in Europe and their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Nevertheless, the potential of Ruthmann truck mounted products and its Bluelift spiders have shown significant potential in the US, with spider lifts seeing major growth there.
Both product types have been represented in the US by distributor ReachMaster for a number of years - ReachMaster was also acquired by Time in early 2021.
“The market is very different but we have looked to implement growth through ReachMaster. And we are currently focused on Ruthmann and Bluelift in the US.
“The new (US) ANSI standards are now closer to the (European) EN280 standards but we need to be sure we can meet requirements.
“Bluelift is a big success in the US, we want to bring in more products from Europe but want to do it in a smart way.”
Further to this, Jensen believes Europe can bring a lot to the US market through Versalift’s other products, even the compact 3.5 tonne GVW truck mount, which has traditionally been set at that weight to allow people with standard European driving licences to drive the vehicles on the road.
Time Manufacturing’s strategic plan
Looking ahead five to ten years, Jensen says, “The main target in Europe was to get a lift on a 3.5 tonne.
That has not been an issue yet in the US but in states like California and New York they have started to look at these things and Europe has a lot of good solutions to bring to the US market.”
The one arguably standalone product type in the Time portfolio is the Bluelift spider range, which is obviously different to the rest of the group’s range of vehicle mounted products.
Nevertheless, there is a tradition for truck mount OEMs to offer spiders as a complementary product and the same is true at Time.
“It’s still new for us but we would like to expand this area. Five years ago Bluelift was an Italian company, (before it was acquired by Ruthmann), now the Ruthmann team has gained it more market share across European markets, including Scandinavia and UK and hopefully we will expand that business.”
Gaining market share from competitors
Ultimately, Jensen would like to see the company focus on all areas of potential, including taking the initiative in its traditional core markets, “In European markets that includes gaining market share from Klubb in France and CPL in the UK.”
And apart from the premium products that Versalift traditionally makes, along with its global ambitions, there is a realisation that gains can me made in the lower cost vehicle mount sector.
“There is still room for new models in the markets where we are not today,” says Jensen.
“We may use the low cost model but rather than calling them low cost, start using ‘smart cost’. This is a new area to develop but we will do it.”
Of course, Ruthmann already has the Ecocline, which was introduced by its Italian subsidiary some years ago and the plan is to develop that.