I recently traveled to Spain for a dealer conference organized by Manitou for Manitou, Gehl and Mustang dealers the world over. Also attending were a variety of suppliers, customers, analysts, bankers and journalists. That in itself is another topic I'll get to, but I spent 24 hours in Seville prior to the conference and had some interesting conversations with the residents of that fine city — which is well worth visiting if you are in Europe. Being as I speak fluent Spanish, I had the opportunity to converse with a number of people about Spain, Europe and the world economy.
It's been my experience that some of the best experiences traveling are places you see or people you meet on the way to where you are going. Sometimes chance conversations with people you meet on a plane, or a bus, or in a restaurant or bar or conversations with taxi drivers are the best ones. A couple of different taxi drivers, after finding out where I came from, asked me about “the crisis” and how it is in the United States these days. The past two years when I visited Russia for the Russian rental conferences, the world economic situation also was always referred to simply as “the crisis.”
I'm not sure that in the U.S. we referred to the recession as “the crisis,” and most people in the rental business would not still be referring to it in that way, although to people who lost their homes, jobs or businesses, it was all that and worse. However in Spain, as in quite a few other countries in the world, “the crisis” is still an apt description.
This particular “taxista” told me he has an engineering degree. That right there is a disconcerting sign, the fact that a trained engineer is driving a taxi. I'm not casting any aspersions on the taxi profession, but obviously that's not what he went to university for. This wasn't the first time I'd encountered that phenomenon and in a country with unemployment exceeding 27 percent, I'm sure this particular driver was not the only engineer driving a taxi or waiting on tables or whatever. In fact, he said, he considered himself one of the lucky ones because at least he had a job. He said that among young people unemployment topped 50 percent.
There probably aren't many trained engineers working on construction projects in Spain right now because, as this driver put it, there is no construction. The construction industry in Spain is, he explained, dead. “There is no construction,” he said. “There is no credit, the banks won't lend money, everyone is afraid to spend anything, or they have nothing to spend.” In reality there is some construction, but it's not much at all.
Well, we went through some rough times in 2008-2010 and in many parts of the U.S. it's still not a whole lot better, although there is certainly more optimism. Then again, that optimism is tempered when we read about the possibility of Greece defaulting on its debt or pulling out of the Euro. For better and for worse, the world is a lot more connected than it used to be.
To many in the equipment rental business, the crisis was indeed a crisis and it's not completely over yet.
As far as Manitou is concerned, the crisis has apparently passed, as it posted record revenue of €1.13 billion last year (about U.S. $1.41 billion) and its CEO Jean Christophe Giroux said the company expects to double that in a few years time, with its access products leading the way and sales to emerging markets expected to significantly grow. He also expressed confidence in the North American market as a significant contributor to that potential growth.
Manitou has long been known for its fine engineering quality and I was also much impressed with some of its upcoming technological developments. For example, a hydraulic starter, which will go into production on some of its telehandler models next year, is said to be twice as fast as electric starters and includes a “Stop & Go” system whereby the engine shuts down during idling and re-starts automatically when it perceives a command to do so. Considering that about 30 percent of the time a machine is in use on a construction job it is idling, that could result in significant fuel savings. We'll have more to report on Manitou innovations in upcoming issues.
In the meantime, take a deep breath and remember that whether or not your business is still in crisis mode, it could be a lot worse, so stay optimistic and appreciate the opportunities you have.