Home: Issue 5 2008 Cover Story › BUSINESS ACROSS BORDERS

BUSINESS ACROSS BORDERS

BUSINESS ACROSS BORDERS

15/10/2008 | Channel: Hire & Rental, Manufacture, Equipment, Cranes, Lifting & Access shopterion

Håkan Dahllöf, president of TMHE, tells Libbie Hammond more about the group’s creation and success so far

His role as president may be fairly new, but Håkan Dahllöf has years of experience with the forklift truck business, as he began his career at BT back in 1990, and has remained in the industry ever since. He began his story by explaining in more detail how TMHE came into existence: “TMHE is the European regional organisation of the Toyota Material Handling Group (TMHG), which in turn is part of Toyota Industries Corporation (TICO),” he said. “To strengthen its position in Europe and globally, TICO bought BT Industries Group back in 2000 in the largest acquisition in TICO history.” Håkan was appointed TMHE president in April 2008, but before this he was chief financial officer (CFO) of BT Industries Group (2002) and it was at this time that he and a colleague in Japan discussed exploring more of the synergies between BT and Toyota. “Our idea was aimed at the front line with the customer, meaning we needed to integrate BT and Toyota’s distribution networks,” he explained. “We performed and submitted an analysis which turned out to be a good ‘teaser’ and were given the assignment to develop. As a result, Toyota Material Handling Europe (TMHE) began operations in 2006 to manage the Toyota and BT materials handling business in Europe. Since then, Toyota and BT operations have been integrated at the European level and in most local markets.

“Following the strategy and planning, I was asked to take on the responsibility for the implementation in Europe, which was actually the biggest area of restructuring. So I ran that for two years, and then I was asked to take on the role of president for Europe.”

Håkan made the integration sound quite simple but in fact, it involved some complicated decisions. “TMHE covers the whole of geographical Europe, and the areas were serviced by old sales companies from BT, sales and distribution operations from Toyota, plus a lot of independent distributors and dealers. This meant when we were doing the configuration, we had to decide how to create a united company. This could involve the merging of two owned operations or putting the whole area in the hands of one independent – this option may mean selecting one and cancelling another. Alternatively we could acquire the other independent and merge the operations - so there were many different solutions we could choose from. After analysis we made the decisions and now in more or less all countries today we appear as one Toyota Material Handling organisation and the customer is faced with one sales man and one service team.

“We are through most of the work from a technical point of view, but because we are dealing with people and cultures it will still take a couple years before we really are one truly seamless company.”

The market has responded very favourably to the changes that have taken place. “The reactions from both customers and our front end people have been very positive, because they feel we now have a much stronger offer,” he explained. “Now in most countries we have one point of contact through an integrated TMHE network. This brings us closer than ever to our customers, and broadens the offering by combining the full product line-up of Toyota counterbalanced forklifts and BT warehouse equipment in addition to our growing portfolio of services and business solutions.”

The construction industry is one of many industry segments that require materials handling equipment, and TMHE has a range of products and solutions to meet these needs.

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Håkan explained that the TMHE range has been designed to meet almost every conceivable need in material handling. “There is a product that can lift from a few hundred kilos up to multi- tonne loads, and they vary with the intensity that you need, so you can have a lighter version for occasional use or a more robust truck that is used all the time,” he said. “This is why we sell through salesmen rather than over internet, because we can then look at the application area in terms of use and pattern and so on, and offer experienced advice on what type of trucks a customer should have.”

Another benefit for construction customers comes from TMHE’s rental offer. Many businesses in the construction industry rent their materials handling equipment based on the requirements of specific construction projects. TMHE has developed its Toyota Rental Solutions to help ensure that customers have the trucks they need, when and where they need them. A range of rental solutions - including Toyota Short Term Rental, Toyota Core Fleet Rental and Toyota Flexible Fleet Rental, deliver a highly structured, cost-effective approach for managing the peaks and troughs in customer equipment needs.

In terms of products relevant to the construction arena, the Toyota Tonero engine powered forklift delivers class-leading performance in the areas of safety, productivity, durability, comfort and the environment. The Toyota Tonero features the Toyota System of Active Stability (SAS), which actively enhances forklift safety by protecting the operator and load when the truck is driving, turning and lifting. Particularly useful when handling large, awkward loads such as bricks and bulk bags, SAS provides advanced technological support for safe operating practices. Optional block clamps and hydraulically adjustable forks provide flexibility and fast adaptability in a wide variety of tasks.

“In the past you could say that BT targeted retail and logistics, primarily electric and indoor, while Toyota was targeting a variety of customers in industrial, and had a much better feel for outdoor materials handling, with its counterbalanced business,” Håkan commented. “But now we’re offering a combined range we try to meet the materials handling need of any customer.”

In order to meet these needs, TMHE has an ambitious development programme underway, that looks to review and renew the range. Over a two-year period, TMHE will be introducing all new counterbalanced and warehouse models addressing 70 per cent of the European market potential. This process started in 2007 with the launch of the Toyota Tonero engine-powered forklifts, and in 2008 TMHE used the CeMAT exhibition as a launch pad for the all-new BT Levio pedestrian powered pallet trucks and BT Staxio pedestrian powered stackers, as well as a variety of other new products.

“These were very well received,” said Håkan. “Levio and Staxio are interesting concepts because we have the ability to adjust the specification to the customers’ needs, and both ranges have been engineered for easy, intuitive operation, which in turn helps to optimise customers’ safety and productivity.”

Alongside Levio and Staxio, CeMAT also provided a preview of the new BT Reflex reach truck and Toyota 48-volt electric counterbalanced models that will be introduced later in 2008, as well as the Toyota Hybrid Concept Forklift, which had previously been displayed only in Japan. This is a hybrid forklift model featuring technology inspired by the Toyota Prius. It has been designed to cut CO2 emissions and fuel consumption significantly while delivering the same performance as conventional IC forklift models. Håkan said: “One of our main reasons for showing the new concept truck was to get some feedback from customers on how much they value the environmental approach, and if it’s enough to encourage them to pay for a somewhat more expensive truck. So we used CeMAT to look at their willingness to adopt a hybrid concept, and it was quite successful, as we learned there is a genuine interest out there.”

This sort of hands-on research with customers is typical of the TMHE approach, and the organisation has R&D and production facilities close to its European customer base, while drawing on the global knowledge and resources of its parent organisation. Håkan explained: “That is what we see as one of our strengths - we have sales companies in most countries, and through them we have a direct dialogue with customers and a systematic approach as to how to catch customers’ demands. If we decide to launch a new product we take them into account, and there are also some point of reference customers that we work with during development and some will also run a pre-serial trial, so that we get that feedback, which is also very important.”

Another way that TMHE reaches its customers is through its comprehensive services and solutions offering. Håkan emphasised the importance of services to TMHE. “Half our business is comprised of the services around the products, and that is where we can differentiate ourselves,” he said. “Our services and solutions include structured service programmes, rigorous performance standards, and highly trained service engineers, and this means customers get the quality and reliability they require. We can offer simple maintenance all the way up to full service contracts - there are a variety of solutions depending on the customers’ needs. Sometimes the service business of TMHE can be overlooked but is in fact very, very important to us – of our nearly 9000 staff in Europe, almost 5000 are in the service area.”

Given the current economic outlook in the UK, I asked Håkan if TMHE felt confident moving forward into the future. “We have seen a constantly growing market for almost a decade now, and under such circumstances you start to believe that it can’t continue,” he said. “I will admit that this year we have seen first signs of this growth rate slowing down, so we feel although there will be a flattening out, we will see some growth because the expansion and opportunities in Eastern Europe will balance markets such as Spain that aren’t growing.”

He continued: “Western Europe will see a decrease but not as deep as that in the US and maybe not for as long, so we are expecting a little bit of a downturn and then for it to pick up again.”

Håkan went onto explain other changes he foresees for the market. “I think that the consolidation in the industry has had a clear affect as we now have three players  leading the market with a distinctive lead from the rest, and I think consolidation will continue. Similarly to that we have a consolidation going on with our customers, with; for example, logistics companies are acquiring each other and creating larger companies. This means there is a lot of European business that is growing across borders and I think that will continue.”

TMHE has already seen some very exciting developments in the short time it has been in existence, and the transition into one seamless organisation has been handled skilfully by Håkan, right from the initial strategy to overseeing the company’s future. I asked him if he still enjoyed the business after nearly two decades? “Oh, yes,” he said, “many people might say ‘forklift trucks, what’s fun about that?’ but I do find it really enjoyable! When you consider what’s driving the business development, you realise it is all connected to transportation and logistics and the movement of goods, and there always incredible innovations in these areas. Plus we have our own very successful brands, we develop products ourselves, and we manufacture, distribute, and service them, plus we offer training and finance. So some may doubt it could be fascinating, but it’s a core area of importance for so many sectors, and it has all the ingredients of a perfect job for me.”