A willingness to listen to what the customer wants, coupled with a sure sense for the optimum solution – a hallmark of the KION Group, whether in Chemnitz or China. To achieve this, Chen Da is always prepared to go the extra mile.
Icy cold emerges from behind the raised shutter. An electric forklift truck whirs in and sets down a pallet of cardboard boxes full of eels. Large fish, loose or in boxes and deep frozen at minus 28 degrees, are piled up to the ceiling. The truck rolls back outside into the winter air of the port city of Fuzhou in southern China, where the temperature is a mild eleven degrees above zero. At Mingcheng, a firm that specialises in the cold storage of seafood, more than 100 Linde brand electric forklift trucks undergo this temperature change several times a day, which puts a severe strain on their motors and batteries. As a result, good maintenance is vital for durability, says Chen Da, a salesman for Linde in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province on the south-east coast of China. Chen travels to Mingcheng at least once a week to check the condition of the trucks.
“As well as talking to the managers, it is essential to speak to the drivers and the maintenance team because they are the only ones who know the trucks,” says Chen. The 32-year-old wants to identify potential problems before they turn into actual faults; that is what spurs him on every day. “I even like it when customers call me about minor things,” he says and grins. “No wonder my phone is always ringing.”
A skilled sales pitch combined with technical knowledge
This close contact with every customer is a hallmark of the KION Group’s brand companies. Around the world, 12,900 in-house and external service staff are in direct contact with product users. Chen Da is also able to answer technical questions on the spot, because he was a field service engineer for ten years before working in sales. He can also drive large trucks himself, so his skilled sales pitch is combined with a tremendous wealth of technical knowledge.
»Understanding precisely what our customers require, presenting them with a professional and tailor-made solution and, in return, earning the respect and trust of our customers – this gives me self-confidence and the feeling that I have achieved something.«
Close to the business: visiting a customer’s refrigerated warehouse in sub-zero temperatures
Technical expertise adds value
Sustenance: a freshly grilled snack after a long day spent in meetings with customers
Every month, Chen Da travels 3,000 to 4,000 kilometres by car – on congested urban ring roads, new flyovers and motorways, passing suburbs where it looks as if everything has just been turned inside out. Old residential districts and mills give way to 30-floor apartment blocks and state-of-the-art factories – Fuzhou is also part of the Chinese boom. Directly behind the densely populated coastal strip loom steep hills covered in lush vegetation. Barges and freighters chug along the Min river along which, like Mingcheng, many customers have their warehouses. The long hours on the road do not bother Chen, far from it: “I enjoy talking to customers and getting to know what they want. And supporting customers by phone alone does not work in China. You have to sit down together, have a cup of tea and create a pleasant atmosphere.”
There are tea sets on large wooden trays in every office in Fujian Province. Tea is a fixed ritual at every meeting. The first brew is poured out of the teapot over the tiny drinking bowls to clean them and it drips through holes in the tray into a basin beneath. Then the host infuses the fragrant leaves up to seven times and pours the tea. Whilst this is happening, Chen Da recommends a new forklift truck model, details prices or solves problems. Chen laughs a lot and skilfully combines everyday subjects with business.
The most important visit: delivery
If a customer is building a new warehouse, Chen visits at the planning stage and takes a close look at the specifications to enable him to suggest suitable trucks. “The first thing to do is to listen closely to what the customer needs.” The height of the doorways is crucial. If required, Linde can also help to design the warehouse. The most important visit, particularly for new customers, is when the first trucks are delivered. Chen Da is always on site to check the trucks or to train the drivers himself. He stresses that this visit is when the foundations are laid for future relationships with new customers, because “the first 30 to 100 hours that the trucks are in operation are crucial”.
Chen considers that one of his greatest successes was winning back a customer who had left and was regarded as difficult. The customer works with metal that is bent at a high temperature – which puts a great strain on trucks. He had tried out several brands until Chen, together with members of the company’s workforce, developed a strategy to ensure that the trucks run reliably despite the harsh conditions. Ever since, Chen reports proudly, the customer has only bought Linde trucks.
Attractive market with growth profile above GDP.
The KION Group operates in an attractive market that is growing faster than global economic output.
The worldwide market for industrial trucks grew at roughly 1.4 times the rate of the global economy between 1980 and 2013. Industry experts reckon that this pace is set to accelerate slightly over the period up to 2017.
This scenario is being driven by three global mega-trends:
- the industrialisation of the emerging markets,
- the advancing globalisation of world trade and, as a consequence, the increasing transportation of goods around the world,
- the growing fragmentation of supply chains and value chains: just-in-time logistics and purchases from online retailers create demand for the KION Group’s products and services.
A global leader– strong home base ...
Measured in terms of new trucks sold, the KION Group is currently number one in the European market and number two in the market worldwide. And with a presence in more than 100 countries, the company is the world’s biggest specialist provider of materials handling trucks and associated services.
Our strong position in western Europe, where we have a market share of 35 per cent (2013), is the basis for the global expansion of the KION Group. The foundation of our business is stable in this region because of replacement purchases and a strong service business.
After plunging into a deep crisis, Europe’s market for industrial trucks is now recovering. Since 2010 the KION Group has benefited from this trend with a double-digit percentage increase in revenue in Germany and the rest of Europe.
... and well positioned in growth markets.
The KION Group’s leading position in emerging markets such as India, China, South America and eastern Europe means that it is excellently placed to fully exploit the growth opportunities available there. In 2013 the KION Group’s brand companies sold 35 per cent of their new trucks in emerging markets – and this proportion is set to rise sharply.
A case in point is China, which is the world’s largest individual market for the KION Group’s products. The Company has been firmly established here with its offering of development, production and services for more than two decades and is the leading non-domestic supplier. The KION Group is the third-largest player in this market, where it employs some 3,200 people. China is now the Company’s second-biggest market in terms of unit sales (behind only Germany).
Technology leadership drives premium positioning ...
The KION Group is right in the vanguard when it comes to technology and innovation. By spending in excess of €114 million on research and development in 2013, the Company is a leader in its sector.
Over 900 people work at ten research centres in Europe, Asia and the Americas to devise forward-looking solutions; more than a quarter of them are based in China so that they are close to their market. This continuous R&D investment means that clients in all markets and segments can expect to have a fully customised range of trucks and services to choose from.
In 2013 the KION Group launched more than a dozen new trucks and truck families in the market, thereby providing added impetus for 2014, and a number of new products and services are set to be introduced this year as well.
... and customer value.
Customers of the KION Group particularly benefit from the industrial trucks’ good handling capacity and very low running costs throughout their lifecycle.
The cost benefits for customers mean that the KION Group can set prices at a level that enables it to achieve higher margins than its competitors. After all, personnel expenses and the cost of operating a truck over its lifecycle constitute a significant portion of the purchase price, especially in highly developed markets.
The proximity of the KION Group’s brand companies to their customers also ensures a high level of availability for the trucks. Around the world, around 12,900 inhouse and external service engineers work for the KION Group. This business offers considerable potential also outside of Europe: in China, revenue from services has risen substantially in recent years.
Robust integrated business model with high contribution from services.
This provides the basis for the KION Group’s lasting business success. Customer services, truck rentals, used trucks and spare parts together contribute more than 40 per cent of revenue. This business is very resilient to fluctuations in the economic cycle. Moreover, it generates particularly good margins for the KION Group.
There are around 1.2 million KION trucks in use around the globe, forming a broad basis for a strong and integrated service business.
A comprehensive network of more than 1,200 sales and/or service outlets worldwide ensures that the KION Group is never far from its customers. This creates strong customer loyalty, which in turn offers more potential for growth and provides a lasting competitive advantage.
Strong profitability – well prepared for future value creation.
Constantly improving efficiency and profitability is a clear objective for the KION Group. Size and synergies – a combination that makes the KION Group stand head and shoulders above other truck manufacturers.
This involves collaborating on research and development, improving plant structures and fully exploiting the economies of scale created by a worldwide production network. Other areas of focus are the optimal use of shared, cross-brand modules and platforms and the ongoing expansion of the service business.
Highly motivated and qualified employees with proven track record.
International, highly qualified and highly motivated: the KION Group’s more than 22,000 employees, who demonstrate dedication and creativity day in, day out, are both the heart and the backbone of the company.
Their hard work underpins the operational success of the company and ensures a strong financial performance. This was one of the key elements in the successful stock market flotation of the KION Group in June 2013.
The company’s growth strategy is reflected in the structure of the workforce. In 2013, the Group recruited extra staff for its service and sales operations and notably invested in new employees in the emerging markets and growth regions. The KION Group is increasingly hiring local management in all its markets in order to utilise their strong market knowledge and expertise.