Rising above

24 April 2008

Vincent Dequoy, president of Hydro mobile

Vincent Dequoy, president of Hydro mobile

“ Productivity will be the main driver to wider uptake of mast climbers in North America, but safety is a close second,” says Hydro Mobile's Vincent Dequoy, speaking to AI at the recent World of Concrete exhibition in Las Vegas.

These market drivers are important, because, as Mr Dequoy acknowledges, “The mast climber market in North America is currently not as well–developed as it is in other parts of the world, such as Europe. But there is plenty of room for growth.”

The company is employing both productivity and safety arguments in seeking to expand its business, with training playing a significant role. “Mast climbers can only boost safety if they are in the hands of well–trained operators”, says Mr Dequoy.

To help promote the safe use of platforms, the company has established what it calls the Hydro Mobile University, based at its L'Assomption headquarters in Quebec, and it is training an impressive number of people. “More than 150 people underwent our three–day training course at L'Assomption last year and another 1500 underwent on–site training too”, explains Mr Dequoy, “We are hoping to repeat this during 2006.”

Promoting the productivity benefits, meanwhile, will be a key factor in reaching new market areas. “Around 80% of our F Series mast climbers in North America are currently used by the masonry sector, but the restoration, stucco and glass markets are ripe to benefit from wider use of mast climbers,” he says. “Most of these trades still rely on scaffolding for access, and for some work there will always be a place for scaffolding, but in many situations mast climbers offer significant productivity and safety benefits.“

“There are also some areas of the US where take up of mast climbers is quite low – in some areas, like California, this is because legislation limits their use. But in others it's just because scaffolding has always been used and there is a lack of knowledge about alternatives.

“But it's not just about finding untapped markets and doing trials to demonstrate the advantages, it's also important to offer customers a full range of services. This runs right from bespoke solutions and training right through to providing on–site advice.”

Hydro Mobile was originally set up in 1987 as both a manufacturer and rental company for mast climbers, serving just the Canadian market. However, the company started to expand into the US in the early 1990s when the Canadian economy went through a downturn.

Mr Dequoy and his three fellow shareholders – two of which also work for the company – bought out Hydro Mobile in 1994. One of the first changes made by the new management was to sell off the rental side of the business to focus on manufacturing. “We did not see rental as a core part of the business. Also, some of the company's dealers were involved in the rental market and we did not want to be directly competing with them,” explains Mr Dequoy.

He says the company underwent good growth between 1994 and 2000 as a result of its expansion in the US a growing dealer network. “Growth since 2000 has been slightly slower but we have broadened our market by moving into Europe.”

“Around 95% of our business is in North America, and while the construction market in this region is still growing, we will be looking to fully tap the potential before focusing on expansion overseas.” Nonetheless, Mr Dequoy reveals that he has recently returned from trips to Russia, Dubai and the UK.

The company, which recorded a turnover of C$30 million (US$26 million) last year, has a manufacturing base at L'Assomption, a sales office in Wisconsin, USA and 44 dealers, including four in Europe.

Since the takeover, Mr Dequoy has worked to develop the company's product line and has just launched the next generation of its F Series. The F Series was launched four years ago and uses a conventional rack and pinion climbing system, but can be either electrically or hydraulically powered.

“Most mast climbers in Europe are electrically powered but the hydraulic option widens the applications for which the equipment can be used,” Mr Dequoy explains. The company's other mast climber ranges – the M Series and P Series – are both ratchet climbing systems which are not as fast as rack and pinion systems but offer higher load capacities.

The company's manufacturing base is also home to both its in–house design team and its training facilities. The designers not only work on research and development for the company's new products but are also available to help design bespoke solutions for customers. The company has recently completed work on a number of specially–designed solutions, including one in the city centre of Quebec and another at the University of North Carolina (see boxes).

Mr Dequoy says he hopes to grow Hydro Mobile by between 15% and 25% each year. But he adds that without new products and a strong dealer network this goal cannot be achieved. “Our aim is to reinvest at least 3% of our profits in a continual research and development process,” he says. “We will also need to build on our existing dealer network, not just with new dealers but through improving our relationship with our existing ones, too.

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