DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY (Dec. 4, 5:30 p.m. EST) — Conair Group Inc. is setting the stage to make Europe fertile ground for growth again by opening two new sales offices.
“We know we haven't been as aggressive as we could be in Europe,” said John Vandenbergh, the Pittsburgh-based company's new managing director of Conair Europe Ltd. “We've concentrated our efforts to let potential customers know what Conair can do for them.”
Vandenbergh, formerly a Conair vice president for business development, moved this summer to the company's European headquarters in Winnersh Triangle, England, not far from London's Heathrow Airport. The 2-year-old facility, a 20,000-square-foot manufacturing and sales center, is the seat of Conair's attempts to expand its once-mightier European base.
The company had about 100 employees in Europe in the mid-1980s but has seen that number fall to about 36 European employees today, said Vandenbergh, interviewed Oct. 18 at K 2001 in Dusseldorf.
About 4-5 percent of Conair's sales come from Europe. The auxiliary equipment company would like to multiply that business during the next five years, Vandenbergh said.
“I'm thinking in terms of 5-10 percent of Conair's total business coming from Europe,” he said. “It will take a major focus, and we're confident that we're shifting in the right direction.”
Overall, Conair reports sales of about $160 million annually. The company is owned by Sewickley Capital Inc. of Pittsburgh.
Conair's focus will emphasizes its line of auxiliary products for heat transfer, temperature control, blending, material handling and drying. Many of those products have gained CE-Mark approval in Europe, generally regarded as the continent's product safety standard.
Some of its products differ across the pond, where European customers are more prone to use stainless-steel housings for its closed-circuit temperature controllers, Vandenbergh said.
But while new products are coming out, greater service has been Conair's target, he said. The company has just added two-person sales offices in Kleinostheim, Germany, and in Bourron-Marlotte, France.
In England, Conair plans to add three to four sales people as the company shifts from using outside sales representatives to an in-house staff.
The European marketing strategy will help Conair reach more customers and give the company more access to different regions of Europe, Vandenbergh said. Its sales people plan to cover individual territories and assist with technical support.
To that end, the company also is increasing the amount of standard products available in its warehouse in England. For instance, about 30 temperature controllers will be available on the shelf at any one time, Vandenbergh said.
“When the market is down like it is now, long lead times are no longer a luxury,” he said. “We're responding to that.”
The company's overseas strategy is working in Asia, an area where Conair has prospered. The company has seen sales in China grow by about 7 percent in 2001. A major shift has taken place in sales to China, Vandenbergh said.
“Two to three years ago, it was Malaysia and Thailand,” he said. “Now, it's China.”
The company's Singapore office is having one of its best years, he said. Conair also has offices in the Philippines and Taiwan.
Conair hopes to equal that sales effort in Europe with a revamped, in-house sales team and fresher products available to customers.
“We're building our business,” Vandenbergh said.