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“It certainly has because now we have a presence in it where previously there wasn’t very much at all. So certainly it has given us an extra string in the bow,” said Stewart.

While the main facet of Contractor’s business – the repair and maintenance of cleaning machines – is something that other manufacturers may not be too interested in, Stewart revealed that Nilfisk have had previous in this department, something that may have helped in the build up to the acquisition.

“One of the reasons why we might have known a little bit more about the appeal of Contractor than our other manufacturing competitors is that we were already running something called a rainbow service,” he said.

“We already had a small part of our service business where we were looking at ‘sweating’ other people’s assets. It was something that we took a risk on, and we made no money on this at all when we first started it, but then over a period of time, it’s proven that you start to get the sales through.

“So it’s that long game, if you like. We played it once to a level and saw that it works and brings in results, so it wasn’t so much of a punt to us. We could see immediately what would satisfy us, and it satiates the customer’s need to not go anywhere else.”

But as a manufacturer of cleaning machines, surely focusing on repairing and maintaining current machines contradicts the manufacturer’s traditional role of supplying new machines?

“I do think that it does contradict it, but it was a different take, and the good thing about it was that it was a bite-sized piece” Stewart admitted. “I’m not trying to make ourselves out to be leading strategists – it was an opportunity that we were given that enabled us to do a small piece of business. Albeit it didn’t make that much money at the time, but over a period of time we showed that it worked, and that gave us confidence going forward.”

This focus from Nilfisk on providing more in the way of after-sale service could be seen, from a manufacturer’s perspective at least, as being quite innovative. Indeed, innovation in

service is something that Stewart feels could be the way forward in the industry, but he does still think that continuous research and development into new technologies is important.

He said: “We have very strong research and development teams across the world; we spend 3-4% of our annual turnover on research and development. We have already brought out Telematics, we’ve got robotics on trial in the US, battery technology in our vacuums is a very key area of research as well – making sure that you’ve got a vacuum that’s relatively inexpensive that people will still use but with a battery that will last for 40 or 50 minutes or an hour, so that you get a decent usage out of it. All of this research is going on all of the time.

“I think innovation is still needed, and the market sort of calls out for it, but it also calls out for other things that I don’t think manufacturers respond to. I think we can get too wound up in technologies and our machines, and don’t really think from a customer- centric point of view.”

This is where Stewart feels that innovation in service can prove to be beneficial for the whole industry, particularly in building relationships with clients. He explained: “For me, I think innovation is in service because I think it’s the area where customers are most suspicious of the manufacturer. They think you’re there to nail them to some kind of horrible, longwinded and expensive process, and probably once upon a time we were.

“But that’s not the key anymore. To me it is that longer game of creating a relationship where there is that mutual trust. It’s still a financial one and there still has to be profit in it for both sides, but they know that they don’t have to necessarily buy a machine from us next week – they can do it in two years time instead.”

It’s a bold move to make, especially for a machine manufacturer, but for Nilfisk, it looks like it was a move well worth making.

Tomorrow’s Cleaning January 2016 | 41

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