Since Freddy Brown produced his first Bendi machine in 1982, Translift Bendi, the company he founded, has transformed the global materials handling market. Through continued innovation, its versatile Very Narrow Aisle forklift trucks have maximised operating efficiency in the increasingly confined spaces of today’s high-density, high-rise warehouses. Over nearly three decades, the Bendi has developed from a niche product for specialist use to a machine that now sells in the same numbers as conventional reach trucks, and has dwarfed the VNA market it set out to replace.
Bringing the story up to date, last November Translift Bendi was undoubtedly one of the stars of the IMHX 2010 exhibition, with an array of exciting new forklift products on its stand – the Mini Bendi, the Bendi B420 AC & B420 HL, the Bendi European Truck and the Arctic Bendi, all delivering the consistent Bendi promise of affordable narrow aisle lift excellence. And there’s more innovation promised in 2011. Warehouse & Logistics News went to Redditch to meet Simon Brown, Freddy Brown’s son and present Managing Director of Translift Bendi.
Last time WLN visited Translift Bendi, in May 2008, they had just moved into their new premises. Everything happens here: design, production, sales, service, rental and operator training. Now fully operational, Translift Bendi’s modern buildings and bold signage give the visitor the distinct impression of a confident company moving forwards rapidly, whilst remaining aware of its roots as the creator of the Bendi truck.
Translift Bendi holds worldwide patents on its rear wheel, front wheel and four-wheel drive trucks, all distinctly different and holding several competitive advantages over other articulated lift trucks on the market. Safety is paramount in today’s warehouses, and central to Bendi trucks’ design, as Simon Brown explains: “Always being first has its advantages. You get to understand the principles of what makes the idea work as you battle through the concept, and this allows you to patent the crucial issues that make it work, leaving only compromised ideas open for would-be copycats and followers to take up.”
Following a substantial growth in orders from major retailers, Translift Bendi’s factory has doubled in size in the last two years, extending into the next door building and over the yard, and now includes an open plan production hall equipped with overhead cranes. Simon and his team continue to make further improvements in their processes and work flow, and are currently in the middle of relaying and extending the production floor and adjoining fabrication shop, where they make many of the smaller parts.
Across the road from the factory, the impressive new visitor and training centres project the same modernity and confidence as the factory. The training centre is equipped as a live warehouse with APR, dynamic, pushback and double deep pallet racking to illustrate the Bendi’s versatility.
We spoke in the visitor centre, in the smaller of the two smart meeting rooms upstairs. During our visit, a national retailer was on site to discuss a major order for pedestrian trucks and Bendi trucks for their UK stores, and following the presentation was being shown a Bendi in action in the ground floor demo area. “Seeing is believing” is certainly true with Bendi trucks, hence the demo area has movable racking 12 feet high, and an aisle width reducing from 2.0m to just 1.5m in a simple operation.
APPROACHABLE TO EVERYONE
Before joining Translift Bendi in 1995, initially as a salesman, Simon Brown spent 10 years in sales at one of the major German forklift companies. He became MD of Translift Bendi in April 2007 and these days, rather than sit in a back office, gets involved in as much of Translift’s day-to-day operations as possible.
Translift Bendi has five regional key account salesmen, and supplies trucks direct and through local dealers. Simon likes to go out to see customers at all levels and understand their needs: “I like to be ‘fully rounded’ and aware of what drives our customers’ businesses.”
Simon’s co-director and fellow Translift Bendi shareholder is Paul Overfield, who Simon says “came to the company as a consultant and stayed.” Also on the management team are Donna Frost, Service Manager, and Dave Fletcher, Field Service Manager.
Bendi trucks have transformed the way warehouse operations work, says Simon: “There’s a misconception that Bendi trucks are harder and slower to drive. They can actually move an average of 35 pallets per hour versus the standard, generally accepted industry norms of up to 25 for other typical reach trucks.” Simon points out that the other big Bendi benefit is saving on working space: “If you have a warehouse laid out for reach trucks with aisles of 2.8-3.0m, and you put in Bendi trucks, you’ll see a minimum 30% improvement in space utilisation.”
Some 75% of Bendi trucks tend to get dedicated as warehouse trucks in bigger operations, but in smaller operations they tend to do everything, bringing pallets in from outside and stacking them in VNA racking.
Other forklift companies have been hit hard by the recession, but Simon has a different story: “We completed our MBO just before it hit but we’ve managed to do well enough through the tough times to completely pay off all our loans and have come out the other side as a healthy, debt-free company.”
Simon was in China in October 2008 and remembers watching the TV news about the mayhem in the financial markets. On his return, he and Paul took steps to streamline the business: “It was complex because we couldn’t just slam on the brakes and cut back. We had a huge order book to fulfil, which we worked through.”
Orders slowed in the first quarter of 2009, but by year-end were back to about 85% of peak, and 2010 has seen a programme of orders that instigated the expansion of the production facility to handle a 100% increase in volume.
HIRE BUSINESS GROWING AGAIN
Translift Bendi’s hire business is ramping up these days, and they are growing their hire fleet. They hire trucks to the whole market, from a week to a year or more: “People make last minute decisions to hire a forklift. The peaks are spring and Christmas for the conventional supplier, but for Bendi it’s a pretty even all year round demand.”
Translift Bendi recondition and sell some of their contract hire trucks at the end of their hire period, for between 40-66% of the standard new truck price, to suit the customers budget. In the recession, companies were downsizing and wanted used lift trucks – good news for Translift Bendi, whose machines’ lifetime can be up 20 years or more.
The market for new machines has increased in recent months, which some observers say could spell disaster for severely cash-stretched companies without the cash flow to expand and fulfil orders. So can everyone survive? Simon is philosophical: “We’ll see the same people, but with different shirts on. The good ones will move around, and there are likely to be changed roles for distributors.”
Brown is relaxed about supplying trucks to other OEMs and their distributors as part of their fleet solutions for major customers: “The guys in the industry who understand we’re not competing with them are the ones who will benefit. We have good relationships with the big players.”
PARTNERS IN WORLDWIDE SUCCESS
Simon believes Translift Bendi have 65-70% of the UK and European market: worldwide, the figure is nearer 80%.
“For its first decade the Bendi was the only articulated truck on the market. When the first competitor appeared in 1992, the Bendi had already moved on and has continued to advance ever since, which is why today Bendi continues to be the best selling articulated forklift truck in every region of the world,” Simon explains. “Our product stands up on its own merits, and every facet is an improvement on the competitors, particularly our minimum aisle width of 1.5m, which other machines cannot match.
“In our environmental age, the concept of Bendi trucks is very ‘green’. Because our required building space is much smaller they save on concrete, heat and lighting by effectively compressing the working space in the warehouse into two thirds or less of its size.”
The sales figures speak for themselves. Brown says that according to published figures the Bendi has sold three times as many machines as its nearest competitor. Major Bendi customers include Asda, B&Q, Stobarts, DHL, Holland & Barrett and Nestlé Cereals.
Translift Bendi has strong, strategic overseas partnerships for both manufacturing and distribution of its products. Its Southern Ireland distributor is The Forklift Centre, in Dublin. In the 1990’s, Freddy Brown licensed the Bendi rights for North and South America to Landoll Corporation, and this highly successful relationship continues.
Bendi Australia and Bendi South Africa are regional franchises: Translift Bendi also has dealers in New Zealand, Portugal and Spain, and has just signed a pan-European deal to formalise a distribution partnership for the rest of Western and Eastern Europe. At the heart of all this is Translift Bendi’s Export Manager, Andy Higham.
A BENDI FOR ALL REASONS
The core Bendi range comprises the 312, 315AC and 318AC front wheel drive ‘artics’, which offer a more cost effective FWD solution, and the new 420AC and 420HL AC, which can lift up to 1 tonne to 12m. Also new at IMHX were two ‘baby’ Bendi trucks – the UK Mini Bendi pedestrian truck, which lifts 1200kg to 3m in a 1.6m aisle, and the European Support Arm (‘Euro’) Bendi. Launched at IMHX 2010, this lifts exclusively Euro pallets size 800mm x 1200mm in a 1800mm aisle, and is half the price of a traditional Bendi. “If you reduce the weight with a support arm, you reduce the build cost,“ explains Simon.
The Mini Bendi came about, Simon recalls, in response to a request from retailers for a pedestrian version of the Bendi, to work in a small warehouse with lots of pedestrians. “Using a pedestrian truck removes a number of Health & Safety issues associated with rider trucks,” he points out. Other customers to date for the Mini Bendi include a national wine company. The new trucks are also ideal for retail operations moving heavy items on the sales floor during shopping hours, and manufacturing operations’ production areas with high levels of foot traffic. Simon expects the Mini Bendi to widen the market for the company’s products, and bring new customers into the range.
Completing the innovations on show at IMHX 2010, Translift Bendi also launched the all-new Arctic Bendi, designed for use in cold stores. Simon sets out the rationale: “Cold stores are the most expensive form of storage: you have huge buildings which need to keep cold, but people put reach trucks in them and occasionally VNA ones.” The new cold store trucks are available now. Translift Bendi has an initiative planned to promote sales of these in the cold store sector: for the moment there is strong interest from IMHX.
Simon Brown is a firm supporter of trade exhibitions: “You have to be at the big ones,” he maintains. “These events are all about brand building: people get to see how an artic truck changes how many pallets they store and how they store them, and from there how they can change the whole business.”
With people these days looking harder and longer at what they need for their operations, ‘Specials’ are another important part of Bendi’s proposition. Bendi produces a special truck for B&Q, which replaces a four way machine and combines the job of a counterbalance, a reach truck and a side lifter, and is perfect for handling long loads and pallets.
Simon Brown recalls: “B&Q originally bought multi-directional EDVQ reach trucks on Health & Safety grounds, but recently they’ve been using the Bendi, and the others are gathering dust.” Bendi will happily look at specials for clients, but preferably if they also offer potential for wider usage.
Simon is sceptical about new trucks being promoted on the basis of their having sophisticated speed controllers and limiters, PIN user access, remote service monitoring and so on. “These things are bells and whistles, and a quick fix for operator safety problems,” he maintains. “We can fit them to Bendi trucks if customers want them, but ultimately you can’t beat good operator training and discipline to get the best out of a forklift fleet.”
Translift Bendi can also provide battery changing, charging and management systems if required. “At one customer we set up a battery room to run 60 Bendi trucks. We can also provide external truck management systems if required, but again it’s not our main focus.”
Translift Bendi has won various awards over the years for export and innovation, but in recent years the team have been too busy to chase for fresh accolades.
With the launch of the new Euro Pallet Truck, the cold store trucks and the Mini Bendi, and the core models going from strength to strength, Simon Brown is confident that Translift Bendi is in extremely good shape for the future: “Everything about our trucks and our service proposition is unparalleled. If we can get the chance to show the customer what we can do, we will win the order every time. It’s that simple.”
Tel: 01527 527411