A strategic step with which Clark wants to expand its market position in France and prepare for future growth. We asked Olivier Bellissan, Branch Manager of Clark France SARL about the market situation in France and Clark's goals in France.
Mr. Bellissan, how would you describe the current market situation in France? What challenges do you see yourself facing at the moment?
At the beginning of 2020, the French market was also down significantly due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, this did not affect our supply chain. The Clark factories worldwide were able to make their deliveries as planned. In addition, we have stockpiled a high number of available machines, so we did not experience any supply bottlenecks. Due to the recovery of the market in the second half of the year, we were ultimately even able to sell more vehicles than in 2019.
For us, 2021 has started well. In 2020, the French government took the right measures to allow the industry to continue operating. Despite the restrictions, we are still facing due to the pandemic, demand for Clark materials handling vehicles is extremely good.
Among the challenges we still have to face in 2021 is the need to maintain close contact with our dealers despite the restrictions. They require our support so that they can continue to be a good partner to their customers. They must further on be able to provide their customers with the optimum solution for their intralogistics requirements. This means we must provide our dealers with market-driven, high-performance and reliable vehicles and ensure that they can continue to offer expert advice and excellent service through regular product and service training. Our focus is on high customer satisfaction. We are very confident that we will master these challenges also in 2021.
What successes were you able to achieve in France in 2020?
Firstly, we were able to move into our new premises in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier last year. This was an important step for us in order to be prepared for future growth. On the other hand, we have once again significantly expanded our product range. With the new electric low-lift pallet trucks of the WPio series with load capacities of 1.2 to 2 tons and the new PPXsio20 low-lift pallet truck with a folding operator platform, we have expanded our product portfolio in the area of vehicles with Li-ion technology. We also introduced two new hand-pallet trucks with a load capacity of 2,500 kg, the HPT Eco and HPT Premium, and launched the COP1 order picker, a true all-rounder that can not only be used extremely efficiently for picking goods, but also – thanks to an elevating work platform – as a rolling ladder or working platform. For the diesel-powered counterbalanced trucks of the C40-55sD and C60-80D900 series with load capacities from 4 to 8 tons, we also offer a new Kubota Stage 5 diesel engine – equipped with a diesel particulate filter and diesel oxidation catalyst. So, you see, despite the aggravated situation caused by the pandemic, we have done our homework.
What distinguishes the French market from other European markets?
The French market is increasingly a market for warehouse trucks. With the new low-lit pallet trucks, we are therefore on the right track. We are also aware that this is not the end of the line. That is why we will continue to focus on expanding and improving our product range so that we can always offer our customers the best solution for their internal material flow.
What role do environmentally friendly drive types such as lithium-ion technology or electric drives play in the purchase of industrial trucks in France?
Some manufacturers are massively pushing lithium-ion products. There is no doubt that materials handling vehicles with Li-ion batteries are interesting for some logistics applications – especially in multi-shift operations. For this reason, Clark has also launched further trucks with Li-ion technology. However, it must always be weighed up whether the application cannot also be handled with vehicles with lead-acid batteries.
How do you assess the economic situation in 2021 for your country, and how do you think the market for industrial trucks will develop in France?
The Covid-19 pandemic is far from left behind. The first vaccines against the virus are on the market and drugs to cure it are in development. However, no one can make a concrete statement about when we will be able to return to normality and what special challenges we will still face as a result of the virus mutations. Too little is known about the virus for that.
Some sectors of the economy, such as the tourism or leisure industries, have had to shut down completely – tourism alone accounts for about 7.4% of GDP in France. Since logistics is one of the system-relevant industries, we are starting the new year with much more confidence.
What are your goals in 2021?
It is our goal to further increase our sales at least at the previous year's level. We are currently preparing for another year with Covid-19. This means that there will be no face-to-face events, such as trade shows, at which we can present new products in 2021. It will also be a long time before we can train our sales partners face-to-face again. Digital platforms will have to step in here. We already implemented the first virtual product presentations last year with great response, and service and sales training sessions via video conference are also being held successfully. As already mentioned, the training of our sales and service staff is an elementary building block for professional and targeted customer advice and is therefore a top priority at Clark.
Thank you very much Mr. Bellissan for the interesting interview.