Wielton’s plan of attack

From the November 2017 issue.

Polish OEM Wielton is on a mission to fundamentally reshuffle the European trailer manufacturing market. Global Trailer was granted a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s ambitious growth strategy.

The acquisition of long-standing French OEM Fruehauf in mid-2015 may have established Wielton in the top echelon of European trailer building, but it wasn’t until the surprise take-over of German company Langendorf in March this year that the Polish brand truly came out of stealth mode and revealed where the journey was taking it.

Despite happening less publicly than the Fruehauf deal, the Langendorf acquisition turned out to be the centrepiece of a strategic growth plan leading through to 2020, as Wielton Group CEO, Mariusz Golec, revealed in the wake of the announcement.

It was the first time Wielton’s Chief Executive openly addressed the company’s big picture strategy since he was elected to replace Andrew Szczepek in 2015 – marking the beginning of a new era for both himself and the Wielton organisation as a whole.
Having kept a low profile during his first two years in the role, Golec must have made a conscious decision to wait for the Langendorf deal to come through before sharing his future vision with the world – a vision that many in the industry may have anticipated, but that has hardly ever been articulated so clearly.

Wielton, he said, won’t settle for anything less than the number three spot in Europe. The fact that Golec chose Germany – Europe’s largest trailer market – for the announcement only emphasised the gravity of the occasion.

Langendorf is a key piece in Golec’s long-term plan, with the CEO expecting the German tipper expert to boost annual turnover from €50 million in 2016 to around €80 million come 2020. In line with that, he is hoping to increase the company’s production volume from 1,000 units a year to around 2,500. In 2017, the number will already rise to 1,100, he tells Global Trailer.

To get there, Langendorf will get full access to Wielton’s new R&D Centre in Wielun, Poland, with both companies expecting a “smart exchange” of parts and components to reduce purchasing costs across the group. In a move to complement the Wielton portfolio, not challenge it, Langendorf will continue to focus on the design and manufacture of tippers, glass transport trailers and low loaders, and use the parent company’s established network to expand eastward. 

Wielton, meanwhile, will make the most out of Langendorf’s existing network of service points in Germany, which will become sales support points for the Wielton brand, too – thus handing the Polish manufacturer a complete sales network at one fell swoop.
According to Golec, Wielton’s expansion across Europe won’t just be based on acquiring well-known names in the industry, though. A second focus area is “improving the core brand” by equipping Wielton trailers with the best possible components and keeping a close eye on production quality.

The company is already in the process of installing a new, 18m-long e-coating system next to the factory premises in Poland, he says, with a complete overhaul of all business units planned for the coming year. “Everything will change at the Wielton plant,” he says. “From internal logistics to the flow of production, everything will be completely reprogrammed. We’ll be able to expand our production capacity a lot once we have made this next step.”

“A lot” means almost 100 per cent, according to Golec. With Langendorf’s help, he says, Wielton is in a position to increase sales from 12,900 units today to 25,000 units by 2020 – turning it into a billion-euro entity with an eight per cent profit margin. “We intend to be the European number three, but with the best profit margin in the business.”

To facilitate such rapid growth, Golec’s focus is firmly on expanding the company’s sales network, with Langendorf being but one element of a large-scale service offensive. More has to come here, he says, just like in the east, where the company is finally ready to take on crisis-shaken Russia again. Having already established a presence in Ukraine and Belarus, Golec says Russia is the next logical step.

Beyond that, he shares, Wielton’s biggest target market is the African continent. “Africa offers so many opportunities for a company like Wielton,” he explains. “We have exactly the right range of trailers for it, so our goal has to be to become more active there. I’d like to see whether we can sell 1,000 trailers annually in African countries by 2020.”

In line with the Fruehauf example, Golec says any Wielton expansion, regardless of location, should be driven by local experts. “We will keep looking for trailer companies that do well in areas we want to improve on and see whether we can buy a majority share in them. That way, Wielton will be active all over Europe and beyond come 2020, but via brands that are already well positioned locally. Just like we did with Fruehauf in France.”

On the product front, Golec says he is acutely aware of the fact that the €570 million business does not have refrigerated trailers in its portfolio just yet – even though profit margins in the reefer sector are traditionally high. “Going into refrigerated transport is a long-term goal, but to achieve it, we need our own plant to produce our own panels. We will start investing in such a facility next year,” he explains, adding that Wielton will make use of the traditional suppliers of cooling engines instead of designing an in-house unit. However, he is not quite sure how much longer diesel-driven systems will be around. “There might be some clarity about this by the time we start producing.”

Golec acknowledges that the planned growth of the Wielton brand – with or without reefers – will only be sustainable if the company is able to provide the right level of service, too. “At present, we are only happy with our service in France, Italy and Poland. We have to do more, especially when it comes to the fast distribution of spare parts. Stepping up in Germany with Langendorf is an important move in that context, also from the perspective of aftersales.”

Golec and his team are confident that the European market will remain stable and healthy all the way through to 2020, even though there is no such thing as certainty anymore in global manufacturing. By insourcing existing market expertise and creating economies of scale, however, they hope to circumnavigate market fluctuations and create a new European powerhouse that is capable of challenging the big two – at least in certain segments. Golec for one, is so buoyant about the plan that he is now even willing to say it out loud. 

Fast Fact
Wielton CEO, Mariusz Golec, points out that only a strong and well-established parts and service network will allow Wielton to introduce additional services like used trailer sales and rentals across Europe. “There’s a lot that can be done, but it’s one thing at a time for us,” he says. “We are in no great hurry, especially with rentals. We see that there’s still quite some pressure on prices so we will focus on trailer sales and parts first.”

Fast Fact
Wielton has a current annual turnover of about €570 million, but is hoping to double that figure come 2020 – making for a comfortable nine per cent share of the €7 billion European trailer market.

Fast Fact
Wielton first made global headlines when it acquired French company Fruehauf in mid-2015 – placing the OEM firmly on the radar of the established competition. With access to production sites in the east and west of Europe, Wielton went on to evolve into a continent-spanning powerhouse – but it wasn’t until recently that the company itself confirmed just how ambitious it truly is. Wielton came in on tenth place in Global Trailer’s 2017 OEM ranking.

Fast Fact
A long-time Wielton employee, Mariusz Golec has led a range of key departments before ascending to CEO – including R&D and Sales. Internally, he is notorious for knowing every last detail about the organisation.

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