Service First

15 April 2008

Alexandre Saubot, Haulotte's chief operating officer.

Alexandre Saubot, Haulotte's chief operating officer.

Haulotte Group has made remarkable progress in the past 10 years. The clear world number three in the self–propelled aerials, it has simultaneously grown rapidly – 2006 revenues increased 34% to €519.3 million – and dramatically reduced its reliance on its domestic market, with sales in France now constituting just 12% of revenues, down from 80% ten years ago.

However, 90% of its sales are still generated in Europe, a statistic that Haulotte is now making a major effort to change. Alexandre Saubot, Haulotte's chief operating officer, says the goal is to double the proportion of sales outside of Europe this year to 20%.

What that means is an increase from €52 million in 2006 to something close to €125 million this year. The actual rise is more than double because Haulotte is hoping to increase sales this year to around €615 million (the official forecast is 15 to 20% revenue growth).

To achieve this much higher figure, Haulotte continues to invest in its sales and service facilities worldwide. New offices will open this year in Japan, Dubai (UAE) and Argentina, and the company says it will also strengthen in eastern Europe.

However, it is the massive US market where there is the greatest potential for growth, and Mr Saubot says the export growth plans will be “mainly supported by the US operation.”

Despite having been selling in the country since 2002, its sales there are still modest, and does not include any significant business with the major national rental companies who are the biggest aerial platform buyers in the world.

5000 machines

The priority being given to the US is not new, it's just that Haulotte's previous efforts there have been less than spectacular. An initial strategy of operating through independent dealers saw a fair number of machines enter the US – Haulotte says around 5000 machines since 2002 – but this has not led to continued or growing sales, and a succession of new management teams has not helped in terms of continuity.

The company is not giving up, however, and now has a new team in charge – led by general manager Chris Koch, appointed a year ago – and a plan to invest US$20 million (approximately €15 million) to develop the market over the next three years.

Much of this investment will be in new sales and service facilities. There is already a central office in near Baltimore, and a new facility in Atlanta has just opened. Three other new service centers will open this year – Los Angeles in May; Houston in July, and Chicago in September.

The 2300 m2 Atlanta facility includes a 24 m by 18 m parts centre. “Everything we need to service the south east is there, and it's the template for the other facilities,” says Mr Koch.

The LA facility is now a priority. “The idea is that if we have east and west coast facilities that will cover 90% of the market… and any customer calling us will hear a live voice,” says Mr Koch.

The focus on service facilities is very deliberate, and reflects issues with service in Haulotte's early years in the US. “The primary factor for buyers is product support services after the sale,” says Mr Koch. “Price is important, but not as important as after sales service.” To grow the marketplace, he says, Haulotte needed to expand its service facilities.

Of course, the dollar–euro exchange rate does not currently favor European products in the US. Would it not make sense to assemble or manufacture in North America – a strategy that another European player, UpRight Powered Access, is adopting? Alexandre Saubot says Haulotte already spends 10% of its equipment purchasing in dollars, which acts as a hedge against currency fluctuations, but it will resist a bigger commitment until sales reach a higher volume. “We need significant and sufficient volumes… we are quite competitive in North America already,” says Mr Saubot.

With the sales and service infrastructure now being bolstered, will Haulotte start to target the national rental companies? “We will certainly look at the mega players in rental this year,” says Mr Koch, although he tells AI that mid–sized renters are likely to be the key initial constituency.

One thing in Haulotte's favour in the US is its undeniably wide product range. More than 50 machines, covering everything from vertical mast push–arounds, articulated booms up to 134 foot (40.8 m) working height, telescopics up to 140 feet (42.7 m), as well as trailer mounts, electric and diesel scissors and electric articulating booms.

“Most of the [US] marketplace doesn't realise how big a product offering we really have,” says Mr Koch. It's a product line that will soon include its own telehandlers, following the ending of the joint venture with Italy's Faresin. The first two models from the new Spanish factory – 46 feet/3.3 tons (14 m/3 t) and 55½ feet 3.3 tons (17 m/4 t) models – will be launched at the Bauma show in Germany in April. These machines, although European in style, will also be available in the US later this year.

The key, though, will be Haulotte's success in translating investment in bricks and mortar in the US into meaningful sales. There is room for another major supplier in North America – of that there is no doubt – and if it has its strategy right, there's no good reason why it shouldn't be Haulotte.

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