The Long View: Italy's GSR explains its long term apprach to customer care
By Maria Hadlow05 September 2011
GSR has over 100 years history in access, Maria Hadlow finds out a longterm view translates into product innovation and customer service.
When I visit companies, it is not dissimilar than trying to unravel the personality of a new acquaintance. Every business has a character and, I believe that most companies like to do business with companies with similar values and attributes.
The Italian truck-mounted specialist GSR has deep roots. That may be the result of its being located in Rimini, where residents can hardly plant a rosebush without uncovering a roman artefact, or because the company has been in access since 1890. Either way this company takes a long term view of both market and machine development.
The company specialises in truck mounted machines in the 10 to 32m working height range and currently has around 6000 machines in the market. Business is based on long, close relationships with its international dealers and GSR sells into most European countries and into the Middle East and Far East.
In Italy the company has 25 aftersales service centres with workshops, distributed throughout the country. GSR looks for long term relationships with its export partners, which are prepared to invest in training spares and machine stock.
The origins of GSR are in wooden ladder manufacture, later mounted on turntables on trailers and trucks. The company grew its expertise in hydraulic machinery and lifting (crane) technology and a merger in 1976 with Gentili Hydraulics Scalificio Rimini opened a portal into the world of access equipment.
GSR (the name was adopted after the merger) produced its first aerial work platform at the beginning of the 1980s, by 1986/87 the company was manufacturing 200 units a year.
At the end of the 1980s the company opened its export division and by the end of the1990s was exporting all over Europe. GSR now exports some 80/85% of its output through distributors most of which are longstanding 10 to 15 year relationships- in France and the UK the same distributors have been in place for almost 20 years.
GSR's president, Vincenzo Gentili is a modest man - so modest in fact he wouldn't even let me take his photograph - but he has absolute conviction in the importance of establishing the right kind of long term relationships with distributors. Mr Gentili's roots as an entrepreneur go back to the mid sixties when he set up his own company as dealer and service workshop for lorry loader cranes and forklifts.
"The working relationship with the dealers is rooted very deeply, with a lot of effort from those dealers - but also through decades of cooperation," said Mr Gentili
This belief extends to customers, the market and the GSR workforce, "During the crisis we kept on investing in projects, we also retained the workforce of 60 peopleand never reduced working hours more than 25%. This way we have kept the skills within the company ready for the recovery," explained Mr Gentili.
Stefan Weber GSR's sales manager continued, "The major characteristic of our partners is their reputation in and around the industry - they must know their market inside out.
"There are lots desk sellers out there who do not care about aftersales and looking at long term business. The key to opening up the market is a partner which understands the culture, language, manners and the market's evolution. It's fundamental.
"GSR is recognised through our strong identification with the market, says Mr Weber, "The product is such that dealers are happy to put their name on it. We never cut out the dealer - personal relationships are an important core - this is a very niche business where GSR and the dealers are acting together for the benefit of their customers."
Customisation for particular geographic markets and for individual customers is often carried out at the dealer. The boom arrives in kit form so the dealer must be highly competent to both mount the boom and carry out any customisation.
Luca Santolini GSR's export manager gives the example of the company's UK dealer, SkyKing, "Our relationship with Skyking is based exactly on that principal. It is a locally supplied vehicle, customised by them and they provide all aftersales care and the warrantees."
The relationship with Skyking is one of the longest standing and input from dealers and customers does vary from country to country - outside Europe all booms are installed at the point of sale
In tune with the rest of the company product development is carried out with care and consideration for long term use. Piero Palmieri, product manager says, "New products are simple, easy to use and reliable in the field, we think about how new machines should be introduced, managed and supported as well as about innovation.
"GSR chooses principals in line with long term use, which is why residual value of the machines is high. It is simple equipment with a fair selling price low cost of ownership.
"Every market has a different level of sophistication, and the machines must be translatable taking into account local regulations, aftersales support and the high or low specifications required by each market or user."
He added "One mechanic must be able to manage the whole range and technical training must be carried out easily."
Mr Weber says, "We offer ease of handling, hydraulic controls, a control box layout, which is the same across the range, a stiffness machine structure and a good price/quality ratio. We pay a high regard to high return on investment. Machines are designed for a long and this means distributors and customers save on components and spares and need to carry out less retraining."
Feedback on machine design comes from all markets and Mr Palmieri says that to satisfy all the needs and then manage the variations could be very complex, which is why this is better managed by competent distributors. It is the company's policy to keep the machines as simple to understand as possible and train customers in their proper employment.
"What doesn't exist cannot fail," said Mr Palmieri, "Some manufacturers like to use technology to overcome risk but we prefer to not over-complicate the machine so users understand what they are doing - there are different levels of expertise between markets and even within users in that market."
There are currently 10 engineers working at GSR working with modern design and development software, "This way," says Mr Palmiero, "the hydraulic, electronic and mechanical competence is kept in-house."
The manufacturing facility has capacity for 600 units a year and is currently operating at about 400. The plant includes some equipment developed specifically by GSR for example the machines which help in boom assembly and the welding technology GSR has developed in conjunction with a specialist.
Machines are manufactured to order and every boom is fully tested before dispatch.
Mr Gentile says that the market is cyclical, particularly rental - boom then investment stops. "However, demand is picking up all over Europe -more or less. We can protect against the cyclical nature of the business by developing new projects and having a customer centred approach we are able to take quick action even when the market is rising.
"Flexibility doesn't mean we change our ideas every day but that we are ready to change our ideas if we need to."