Finding the right combination of a Distributor and customers in new countries to accept a new concept can be time consuming, as Managing Director Simon Brown and his colleagues found out to their expense in the early years. But in recent times Simon believes they have been “incredibly fortunate,” as in each new country where they have set up Bendi sales offices they have found the partners best placed to suit their mutual needs.
From Bendi South Africa, Bendi Australia and New Zealand to Catalunya, and soon to be Bendi Europe, Translift Bendi have been courted by the crème de la crème and have welcomed them on board as sole distributors of the Bendi range. Simon Brown spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
Warehouse & Logistics News – Simon, you’re clearly succeeding spectacularly in a global fork truck market place that’s dominated by very much larger companies. What’s your secret?!
It’s quite simple – we sell something that increases profit for any business. Over and above saving space, they can use our trucks to reduce their building costs and store more goods. It’s an easy decision, not a sell; once it’s explained and understood, the commercial decision is made to invest a little money to save a lot, year on year.
WLN – Presumably you and your export partners work closely with the big fork lift OEMs and their dealers around the world, and you’re happy to sell them your VNA trucks as part of their fleet solutions?
Almost! It happens that way here in the UK, but elsewhere in the world we’ve actually attracted the key market leaders in each region, offering an additional product and solution to their current brand(s). Our export partners are importers and distributors so we are forming important strategic partners that can develop a national market in their given territories, whether that be direct or through sub distributors in very much the way we work in the UK. Our distributors don’t have similar products to ours in their portfolio: they don’t see us as competitors, more like an added value partner as we don’t compete with them.
WLN – How is the new Euro Stacker Truck doing?
The Euro is doing very well: we’ve just finished off the file for the patent as we have been honing in on it over the last few months. There’s no one else offering anything like this. In terms of targeting sales we’re sandbagging it for the moment. We have lots going on at present with the Mini Bendi, the Cold Storage truck and other new machines, and we don’t want to dilute our future efforts with the Euro by giving it a false start as it’s potentially huge.
WLN – Given its name, presumably the Euro Truck won’t be available under that title in the rest of the world. Will you be offering the same technology under another guise in those countries?
Yes, we will. The applications for this machine are wider than purely moving Euro pallets. It can also be used for stillages and in engineering applications. It’s a truck with support arms which add stability to the load. A key part of the patent is securing stability at height: the Euro delivers full stability at nine metres with a one tonne load in 1.8m at a much reduced cost– imagine its potential!
WLN – How are the new cold store trucks and the Mini Bendi pedestrian trucks doing in the UK? Are they available elsewhere?
The cold store trucks will be only sold here in the UK initially; we’re not exporting them until we’re fully ready. We believe it’s prudent to keep sales on our doorstep. However, the Mini Bendi is now in full production, it’s ready to roll across the world and we’re all set to push it. Andy Higham, our Export Director, will be out there to release it. We’ve done a lot of learning about the readiness to accept this truck, as every day someone brings a new use for it and we’re continually finding new applications.
WLN – Similarly, how are the B55 “Duo” and the new counterbalance Stand-on’s doing?
We’ve got a few interested parties doing tests on the performance of this new machine and we’ll soon be ready to take it to the drinks manufactures and distributors en masse. The B55 is a bulk mover, ideal for picking up double pallets, two at a time from lorry to rack in one movement in 2.6m aisles, vastly reducing handling times. We’re targeting the high volume end of the market, which takes in 3PL’s as well. The B55 has the advantage of stacking in half the working area of existing double pallet handlers.
It’s too early just yet to talk about the new counterbalance stand-on trucks. We have some demonstration models here at Redditch, and expect to start selling these products over the next few months.
WLN – Do you have any more new trucks in the pipeline? Can you tell us about them?
We’ve got a parallel product to the Bendi that adds abilities to the truck, called the Longloader. This truck is capable of handling pallets in the same small aisles and retains all the features of the Bendi whilst having the ability to handle long loads too. This type of machine appeals to handlers of extrusions, wood and building products that traditionally need a dedicated piece of kit. The Bendi Longloader differs as it multitasks as a narrow aisle machine, counterbalance and now longloader. Recent developments in this truck have provided international sales as well as exciting growth in its UK sales.
In addition we’re working on some innovative battery technology. Originally conceived as a ‘special’ for one of our customers, we have devised a flip-flop twin battery system, combining a duty battery and a charging battery. The system is ideal where trucks are in use sporadically over 24 hours each day and for maximum productivity are required to opportunity charge during shifts. The problem is if you put a truck with a standard single battery on opportunity charge in between moving pallets, the battery can overheat, shortening its life and potentially invalidating the product warranty. To overcome this and deliver the power output required, we have come up with the system where there’s a duty battery and a charge battery, and a charger that recognises each battery and picks up where it left off. Over a period of “opportunity charges” the battery receives its full charge and is then ready to take over as the drive battery, once the other battery is discharged. This solution prolongs both batteries’ working lives whilst delivering constant power. Having patented it, it’s now on extensive test, and we’ll be reporting back on our progress in due course. I know its patented, BUT, are you giving too much information away here?
WLN – Have you changed your export strategy in recent years?
Yes, we have changed our approach. For years we skirmished with some happenstance exports, and had some success in certain areas of the world, but in other places it was incredibly hard work! Too hard in fact, as articulated trucks were unheard of and the time that I spent out of the country only served to dilute the market dominance we enjoyed in the UK. At the same time the UK market for articulated trucks was still growing. So to win very little abroad at the cost of the home market reasoned itself out.
WLN – So what’s changed?
Between 2005-7 we had a surge of UK customers who, after been exposed to the benefits of Bendi trucks here, wanted to replicate the savings when they opened operations in Eastern Europe. That was the catalyst to getting us established in an export frame of mind, combined with the recent years’ increase globally in web activity, which saw us getting more interest from abroad. In late 2009 we took the decision to expand our already stable UK sales growth, despite the recession, with the internal reappointment of our then Regional Sales Manager Andy Higham as Export Manager to handle the growing volume of overseas enquiries.
WLN – Which overseas countries have shown the most interest in Bendi trucks? Why do you think this is?
Historically we’ve stuck to common wealth countries, but recently we’ve been doing well across Europe in places like Portugal, France and Spain as well as many of the eastern European countries. The strength of interest in other countries comes down to the passion of the people we work with as much as the local markets – our partners tend to be Bendi enthusiasts first and foremost. Other potential dealers can be blinkered by the pressure to shift the big brands.
WLN – We mentioned a region called ‘Catalunya’ in the introduction. Which countries does Catalunya take in?
Catalunya is an autonomous community with the status of a nationality within Spain. However the Catalan language is spread through to the French department of the Pyrenees Oriental, who consider themselves Catalan too. The importance of this is that it’s the industrial region of Spain.
WLN – You’ve established your worldwide presence through distributors. Are you looking for any more overseas partners, and in which parts of the world?
There’s so much out there for us to go after. We’re doing very well in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Europe is boxed off, and we have a partnership with Landoll in North and South America. That still leaves plenty for us to be targeting. We’re taking new representation in new countries as and when we get enquiries and it all falls into place. We never sit twiddling our thumbs, for example took on a new partner in Turkey just recently with truck orders placed already and we have a new Slovakian partner ready to come on board next week.
WLN – You mentioned there were a number of UK companies who have ‘taken Bendi with them’ when they opened up in Eastern Europe. Can you name any of them, and say which countries they are in?
The list includes UTi, the worldwide freight company, Emerson, the energy technology company, who have gone into Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, and a UK Bendi customer, Terasaki, has replicated the solution in Barcelona with great success. We work with their previous truck suppliers in these countries and engage them as our local partners to carry out the servicing.
WLN – Are you producing Bendi trucks outside the UK now?
We manufacture in Kansas in the US, in our partnership with Landoll. We were doing our subassembly outside the UK, but we’ve now brought it back here. Britain has now become a competitive place for manufacturing once again: production is much cheaper for us than Europe, and the shorter distances mean shipping costs much less for the UK market whilst the weak pound is good for us abroad.
WLN – 2010 was a momentous year for Bendi, with the launch of the five new trucks at IMHX. How’s 2011 shaping up?
We’re now concentrating on delivering what we promised last year. We have a very healthy order book, and we’ve been taking on staff. We’ve recruited shop floor people and service staff, and we’re expanding the sales team by 30%. Our sales turnover is up massively, along with our service and rental business.
WLN – What percentage of your sales are exports?
During the recession the dealers we had overseas were only doing a small amount of business, but since 2009 our overseas partners have gone way beyond our expectations. We have gone from almost a standing start in just under two years to achieving 22% of YTD sales as export, and we hope this figure will be closer to 30% by the end of the year.
WLN – Can you tell us about the strategic tie-up with the US-based fork lift company Landoll? Which countries do they market Bendi trucks in?
Landoll currently operate in North and South America and Asia. They’re a large agricultural and industrial manufacturer. We’ve been partners with them since 1990. They’re like a big sister, as we share product knowledge, suppliers and also share market places with them if required: if they have difficulties in a country and we can help, we cover it. For example, Bendi New Zealand services the Bendi trucks that Landoll supplies to the US military base at the South Pole.
WLN – Presumably your sales in overseas countries are supported by tailored finance packages. Are these packages set up in the UK or arranged by the local distributors? Do local distributors take title to the trucks that they sell?
We sell trucks outright to the dealers and pass title to them, and they sort out finance locally in each country. It’s the easiest way to do it, for all concerned.
WLN – Do the local distributors handle spare parts and service packages, or are you (Bendi) responsible for them?
They do, but as orders come in we supply a recommended quantity of spares based on the local population of our trucks, so the dealer has first call on them as needed. We insist on this.
WLN – What is the lead time for getting critical parts to overseas countries?
Based on Bendi supplying a recommended quantity of spares, dealers should already have parts to hand as shelf and van stock, so it shouldn’t become critical, but if needed we can deliver replenishment stock by air freight in a day or so depending on the geography.
WLN – Do you export used trucks, as well as new ones?
No, we don’t. Used truck sales are an important part of Bendi business worldwide, but we have trained our overseas distributors to refurbish Bendi’s locally. This additional knowledge of the product helps them maintain customers trucks more efficiently.
WLN – How much time do you (Simon) personally spend in the development of export business?
Developing export business is a major part of the job. This year I’ve been to the USA, South Africa, France, Germany, Spain, India and China, seeing our partners. But everyone in the company plays a part in achieving export sales. My co-director and business partner, Paul Overfield, schedules the production side; the process also involves our sales admin, quality control and accounts people. In short, everyone’s involved, just as they are with every truck we sell.
WLN – With all this activity, have you invested any more in developing your Redditch factory? What changes have you made there recently?
As I’ve mentioned, because of our expansion in the UK, we’ve taken on people and equipped our factory for production with more cranes and other kit as we ramp up our output. We’re a bigger operation now, but we still do things in less space than you might expect – just like our trucks.
WLN – It sounds like you’re in the running for some more export awards. Are you expecting any?
We haven’t put ourselves forward for any awards in recent times. We’ll probably leave it for a few years; there’s plenty of more urgent work to do first.
WLN – Here in the UK you have helped Asda to save, on average 40% space in its ‘back of house’ high bay racking areas per store by reducing aisle widths to under 2m and operating VNA Bendi trucks. Do you have any similar space saving projects under way with other major retailers?
We’re currently working on four big projects in the UK, but I can’t reveal any details yet. We’ve had a big success in South Africa with Makro, who have rolled out Bendi in their club warehouses there. In all our overseas regions there are many retail companies watching our successes in the UK and already our distributors have advised us of huge interest from some household names; some are already evaluating our products so watch this (saved) space!
WLN – Do you have a dedicated design team who work on space saving projects?
We don’t specifically: the sales guys come back with a customer requirement and from there Paul and I and our colleagues generally have enough expertise between us to solve it. (That was how, for instance, we came up with the flip flop battery solution.) There aren’t that many people like us left in the industry, who can fix problems for customers as they arise. If you think about all the technology that’s gone from the UK, no-one here’s got this kind of inventiveness any more. The large corporates can’t come up with true innovation: yes they can do switches, seats, apply technology as it changes but no “Harrier Jump Jet” moments happen in our industry any more. Even after what is almost 30 years, the Bendi is still considered the new “niche” product.
WLN – You’re about to set up Bendi Europe. Who are your partners in that project? Which countries will you have offices in? When does it go live? What are your ambitions for Bendi Europe?
Bendi Europe is coming, but it’s under a confidentiality agreement until probably November this year. To start with, we’ll be in France and Spain (Catalunya), Germany, Belgium, Holland and Italy. We’re working with a single company, who have been involved solely in materials handling and have good knowledge of the Articulated market.
WLN – How is the financial instability across the Continent affecting matters? What effect are rising shipping and transportation costs having?
The sterling/Euro exchange rate has definitely helped us, but the current instability in Europe isn’t having much impact: all our business there has increased. France, for us, is unaffected in its expenditure on capital equipment in our sector. Transport and shipping costs are rising but we largely absorb them, as the market isn’t ready for price hikes.
WLN – Are you taking part in any overseas exhibitions?
We’ve exhibited at the French and German shows, and various exhibitions in Spain, Portugal, Australia and South Africa.
WLN – Finally, Simon, as MD of Translift Bendi, what are you personally most looking forward to as you roll out your export business?
The more we expand and increase our global coverage, the easier it will become to do business in different countries and the more fun we will have working with new customers and trading partners.
Tel: 01527 527411