Montracon: Quietly succeeding

Encompassing the spectrum of restraint and contemporary edge, Montracon is a private, unobtrusive example of England’s manufacturing landscape. Reticent about publicising past successes and future plans through the columns of the world’s transport journals, the company management prefers to maintain a low press profile. Instead, it has developed an active investment programme to fuel an equally active and on-going string of new products and developments that  speak for itself.

Operating three manufacturing plants across the UK, one at Belfast in Northern Ireland, one at Market Weighton and one at Doncaster – both located in Yorkshire, Northern England – Montracon can boast a vast portfolio including standard flat platform and curtain-sided models, dry and refrigerated vans, tippers, as well as specialised transport equipment like hook loaders and moving floor units, which are used in the fast growing waste disposal and recycling sector.

But, it’s not quantity that has safeguarded on-going growth despite a picture of doom and gloom across Europe – it’s attitude. According to Global Sales Director, Roy Rogers, Montracon’s philosophy is based on a simple truth: “It's an old business platitude that any company should follow – look after your customer and they will in turn look after you. In fact, many customers have bought their first Montracon trailer as the result of recommendations from fellow operators,” says Rogers, a man who can reel off the names of those who, having bought for the first time, return to Montracon time and time again. “There’s nothing better than word-of-mouth recommendation.”

According to Rogers, Montracon has long taken the lead in Great Britain’s trailer market, but to the experienced industry veteran, the ranking is not wholly relevant. As for him, the key to success is being able to stay ahead of market demands while providing a good return on investment (ROI). “A good return ensures continuing investment and vice versa. It’s that simple.”

The company’s success over the past three decades – weathering more than one economic crisis along the way – is proof that this strategy is still paying off. “Our historic stability is definitely a plus point for many customers,” he says. “They prefer to deal with a reliable company, one that is financially sound and will continue to be around to provide product support for a long time to come.”

Despite that historic advantage, or maybe just for that reason, the company is investing heavily to maintain its reputation as a future-proof and innovative brand. The company’s most recent novelty is a range of aerodynamic features designed for its curtain-sider, van and refrigerated series. Montracon’s global clientele can now opt for the full Fuel Saving Technology (FST) package, which is available for new and used trailers alike. “You can also call off selected key components from the package for retrofit, either by Montracon or by any reputable workshop, to existing trailers of any make,” says ex-Arvin Meritor manager Rogers.

According to Montracon data, the full FST package can achieve fuel savings of up to 10 per cent. “One operator has even quoted savings of close to 11 per cent through the simple step of converting a high, 4.8m-roof to one that slopes down at the front bulkhead. The roof now meets the cab mounted air deflector to provide the continuous ‘slip way’ needed to generate and direct a flow of attached air front to back along the trailer roof,” Rogers explains.

However, Montracon did not choose the classic R&D way backed up by an expensive lab and wind tunnel testing process to develop the FST range. “We did not want to re-design the wheel or to turn our back on the wealth of aerodynamic knowhow that is already available.” In the end, the company turned to the US, where the use of vortex technology that had already been tried, tested and documented was turning in notable results when applied to every day business. Operator reports pointed not only to a saving in fuel consumption but also to improved trailer stability on the road, hence Montracon decided to import and adapt the tried and proven US technology.

Just like the new FST range, much of Montracon’s development and innovation is up front and plain for all to see. A portion of it, however, is to a large degree unsung. Build quality, for instance. “We are quietly proud that our products have forged an enviable reputation for longevity and, when the time comes to replace, for high residual value,” says Rogers, pointing out that much of this reputation is borne by the high level spec and build quality, even though it may appear to be over-engineering.

Critics have also raised concern that Montracon’s vast portfolio may be a step too far to those who mass-produce thousands of similar specification trailers, but again, Rogers does not see a disadvantage. “Our forte is that we not only produce a wide model range, but can also offer an equally wide selection of variants in each range. So, the customer has the choice of a standard trailer plus the option to tailor the standard spec to meet specific requirements,” he says, praising the ‘ex stock’ strategy as a two-fold one uniting custom building and volume production under the one roof.

At a second glance, however, it actually is a three-fold approach. The most popular standard models are built for stock, ready for immediate delivery. Secondly, a range of much asked for “factory options” can be being fitted either retrospectively to a standard model that already on the parc or to a stock trailer that is currently on the production line.
Finally, Montracon also offers a complete custom engineering service, working closely with the customer to develop that ‘just right’ trailer that fits the bill exactly. These so-called “bespoke” trailers are built to order only.

This three-tier availability ladder goes hand in hand with an active and on-going investment programme, involving factory extensions, the introduction of new technology and equipment plus associated, more advanced manufacturing and assembly techniques. All are aimed at improving overall production efficiency while maintaining production line flexibility, which is a prerequisite for the ex-stock programme, more particularly the options fitted retrospectively on the line.

Regardless of the actual fitout, Montracon is the first to acknowledge that the vehicle itself is but an integral part of an overall package, one that must also include the ability to arrange finance to suit customer cash flow patterns; a part exchange programme; and most importantly, an established and comprehensive parts and service network to handle any problems around the clock 24/7.

Part of Ballyvesey Holdings, an umbrella organisation covering a broad spectrum of activities including road transport, vehicle distribution, construction and plant equipment and, indeed, finance, the UK brand is well set to cater to every facet of the overall facet. Due to Ballyvesey, Montracon has ready access to in-house funds needed for customer finance deals or, if conditions dictate, has the alternative of going to the open funding market.

Industry expert Rogers is well aware that part exchange may be the most vital part of the overall equation, “and when you talk part exchange you need a vibrant used trailer sales operation.” Far from allowing the tail to wag the dog, Montracon maintains a lively turnover of used equipment, a service enhanced by a full engineering/livery service that can re-build a used trailer to match the client’s individual requirements.

The brand’s in-house repair, conversion and refurbishment centre was created to handle the major jobs a local repair shop was either unable or ill equipped to handle. “When it comes to a major repair, the centre can often restore a trailer to ‘as new’ for less than an insurance company might otherwise provide as a write off settlement,” says Rogers, knowing that the Eurozone debt crisis has put a strain on investment. “A refurbished trailer can often be a cheaper alternative to a new replacement trailer, and we want to be part of that business, too.”

Increasingly, the centre is today being called upon to boost a trailer’s aerodynamic efficiency, either through the fitting of existing components from Montracon’s FST range or by sloping the roof at the trailer front end to improve its aerodynamic profile and thus save fuel.

Despite the brand’s strong UK focus – the bulk of Montracon’s production is destined for the domestic market – local engagement is only one side of the medal. Considering the company’s habitual restraint, it might surprise some that Montracon equipment is in service around the world, not least in Australia, where the brand is co-operating with local expert, Southern Cross. Montracon badged trailers are also in everyday front line service in Northern Europe, the former Eastern Bloc region, the Middle East and Africa.

Perhaps it is Montracon’s increasingly successful partnership with Southern Cross in Australia that has served as a catalyst for developing wider aspirations beyond UK shores, as it has demonstrated how to successfully engage in an existing market. To Montracon, forging a working relationship with a local partner, one who can best complement and exploit the Montracon manufacturing know-how and expertise is the only viable way to expand. “You need an affiliate like Southern Cross who fully understand the local marketplace and who can draw on established distribution paths and a strong support network,” says Rogers.

So, where does Montracon stand today? According to the Group Management, it is a major force in both Ireland and the UK, based on firm foundations that prepare it for future growth in the home market and abroad. But, there is a sense of change in the air as industry insiders are sensing an aggressive export drive since Roy Rogers has been appointed with the creation of a global dealer network. Mainland Europe, Russia and the Middle East are high on his list, and he is convinced that previous experience over many years in exporting UK-manufactured products will prove helpful on his quest for global leadership.

So far, most of Montracon’s international recognition is based on equipment that has been exported by trading dealers, so Rogers will have his work cut out translating the brand’s local service philosophy into foreign market lingo. On that account, the fact that most Montracon products have already gained type approval to meet the legislative needs of many European and Eastern bloc countries might prove exceptionally useful.

Although the company remains tight lipped – subject to stability in the Eurozone – its more-than-tentative moves to establish a network in Europe are closely monitored by the competition, who have long recognised Montracon’s potential to establish local assembly centres in key markets outside the UK. In that sense, the company’s flourishing partnership with Australian trailer brand Southern Cross may just be the final rehearsal for an even more ambitious plan.

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