Combilift continues to lead the way when it comes to providing customised and innovative material handling solutions for a wide range of applications across varied industry sectors. As well as Combilift’s flagship product – the multidirectional C-Series trucks, the company’s range has expanded rapidly over the years and now comprises very diverse products. These include compact pedestrian stackers and powered pallet trucks, sideloaders, stand-on trucks as well as straddle carriers and mobile gantries designed to handle the most extreme and oversized loads. And of course, the world’s biggest selling narrow aisle articulated forklift – the Aisle Master. From Combilift’s manufacturing facility and global HQ in Monaghan it exports its products to more than 85 countries and over 55,000 units have been produced since the company was established.
Martin McVicar, CEO and co-founder of Combilift spoke to Warehouse & Logistics News.
What products or services does your company offer?
Since we were established in 1998 we have moved on considerably with our product offering and our range of services. I like to think of the present day Combilift as not just a supplier of forklifts and handling equipment but a company that enables operations of all sizes to optimise one of their most valuable commodities – space. All our products are designed to work in the smallest possible footprint according to their design, which saves space, makes for more efficient and productive procedures and ensures the safest possible working environment for all employees.
Our free logistic and warehouse layout design service also sets us apart from other manufacturers and is now a major aspect of our business which drives sales forward. Our team of highly experienced engineers design, plan and produce material flow analyses and 3-D animations for our worldwide customers, which illustrate the capacity potential as well as the optimum material flow of materials on site.
Which industries do your customers operate in?
It’s hard to think of industry sectors that can’t benefit from our products to be honest. From aluminium to zinc coatings and every letter of the alphabet inbetween, we have customers worldwide who rely on our range for their day to day handling and storage operations.
How did the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown affect your business?
We closed the factory for a few weeks in March and April but when we reopened we implemented wide ranging measures to ensure social distancing and the safety of staff. Travel restrictions have of course altered the way we do a lot of our business, which was very much focussed on personal interaction with customers. We used to welcome visitors from all over the world to see our manufacturing processes and in some cases customers could watch their trucks come off the production lines. But we have adapted and moved to online communication for as many activities as possible. One example is our free layout service This was previously done though site visits but has been replaced with video calls with customers. They can walk around the premises, take shots of specific areas or point out any problems. This enables our design engineers to get a good overview of requirements and they can supply designs within a very short time frame.
Did Covid-19 have a negative impact or did the increase in online shopping actually result in a boost to your business?
The growth in e-commerce over the last few years was already having a very positive effect on sales, particularly of our warehousing range of trucks such as the Aisle Master articulated forklifts and our pedestrian stackers. The impact of Covid-19 and the resulting upsurge in online retailing has meant that warehousing space is now at a premium, so demand for our space saving handling solutions is greater than ever before.
A further consequence for the manufacturing sector in particular has been the challenge to get back to normal output levels whilst creating extra space in production areas so that employees maintain social distancing. Our layout service has been more in demand than ever to help companies overcome these challenges by maximising the production areas – which is where profit is made, whilst reducing the space for storage of raw materials and finished products – which engenders costs. By optimising both these areas we enable companies to comply with safety requirements whilst maintaining output.
Is your business back to normal following the Covid-19 outbreak?
With the ever changing situation it’s hard to define what normal actually is so I think this is a question that needs to be revisited this time next year! But our order books for the past month are actually stronger than for the same period 2019, and with this growth we are on target to match 2019 turnover.
Going forward, will the industry be permanently changed as a result of Covid-19 or will it return to how it was pre-Covid?
I don’t think life after the pandemic will ever be exactly the same as it was before and this applies to business practices too. The ability to interact online – although not always perfect, has shown shown that certain meetings and travel may be viewed as less of a necessity. Certain issues that have had to be addressed, such as supply chain resilience, will become the norm as businesses want to keep higher volumes of stock on hand.
What products or services will you be introducing in the next year?
As ever, there wil be plenty of innovations from Combilift next year, but you’ll have to wait until we are ready to unveil these!
What industries do you believe offer your business the most potential over the next year?
Online sales are unlikely to drop back to pre-Covid levels, so logistics companies are looking to operate smaller distribution hubs near urban areas. This offers great potential for products such as the Aisle Master, Combi-WR and Combi-CS. Manufacturing is buoyant in certain sectors such as pharmaceutical and packaging which have experienced increased demand. The modular building industry is also growing as this allows for greater automation and improved quality control in the construction process. Our straddle carriers and mobile gantries are increasingly replacing other handling equipment as they have proved to be safer, more cost effective and efficient
How future proof is your business?
Due to the many and diverse industry sectors we supply and our geographical reach, our business is solid and future proof. Our policy of heavy investment in R&D means that we are continually coming up with new solutions that customers need as their handling requirements evolve.
Will you be exhibiting at any major trade shows over the next year?
The biggest issue at the moment is whether trade shows will actually happen next year and in what form. I am cautiously optimistic that those planned for later in 2021, such as IMHX, may go ahead, but the outlook for some of the very large international shows that rely on visitors flying halfway around the world to attend looks bleaker. We exhibited at 92 shows around the world in 2019 as these are a major vehicle for us to get our products out to the potential customers. In spite of the attempts to stage various digital events as alternatives this year, actual shows which allow personal interaction are always going to be preferable. So if event organisers can come up with a formula that works for exhibitors and visitors alike, then we’ll be back!
How would you sum up your company in three words?
Innovative, customer-focussed solutions – I am counting customer-focussed as one word!
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