Survivors: Spanish manufacturing emerges from long downturn – smarter and more strategic

Xavier Lecina
EMP Manager at Wheelabrator in Spain

It has been a long, long wait for the Spanish economy, in particular in manufacturing, but we’re finally emerging from more than seven lean years. My customers are looking ahead again: construction is picking up, car production is back, and those who survived the crisis have emerged stronger.

EMP_BlogYet, the recent past has left a legacy that is very much present in manufacturing today. People do things smarter, invest more strategically, plan well ahead. Service, maintenance and equipment modernisation play a key role in this.

The fighting spirit I’m sensing among manufacturers shows a willingness to make up for lost time – and work harder, better and more efficiently to make the most of improved operating conditions, while being cautious in terms of investment.

For us at Wheelabrator Plus here in Spain, this means we have to be even more conscious of the value we add and focus on making a genuine difference for customers’ operations. Here are my three rules for thriving in a survivor’s industry.

1. Be creative

At Wheelabrator, we offer premium equipment and service, which can be a harder sell when customers are spending cautiously. But what our customers here in Spain have found is that it pays to spend wisely.

Getting an expert in to look at a problem and find a creative solution that drastically improves production is usually preferable to identifying the problem yourself and buying a part that may be a bit cheaper.

What the crisis has taught our customers (and us!) is to be creative in how to achieve a desired outcome. That creativity requires an in-depth knowledge of equipment, processes and a customer’s overall operations, which is something our longer-standing customers value as an important characteristic of our team here.

2. Be honest

Honesty in a supplier-customer relationship goes both ways – but it goes a long way. A customer may say to us: “I know the machine is old and the current set-up is not ideal, but we don’t have budget to buy a new one until next year. What can you do?” – And we’ll appreciate this honesty as it allows us to understand the customer’s pressures and come up with a creative solution (see point 1).

Together with the customer, we look at the long-term plan for the machine, as well as wider operations, and are able to act strategically.

The flipside of this is us being honest in our assessment of what’s needed. So many parts and service providers across sectors are still tempted to just ‘close’ the parts sale. And it’s an easy trap to fall into.

But sometimes a problem just isn’t solved by selling six new blast wheels. Sometimes it’s a tweaking of machine settings or a few minor modifications to auxiliary equipment or layout – without a huge parts bill. Our team here will always say it as it is – and offer the best advice to the customer.

3. Be understanding

Finally, being understanding and having a sense of the context people are operating in helps us all navigate difficult times – or the cautious times that follow. Understanding why a customer or supplier may be hesitant, or knowing about pressures and priorities, is always the starting point for finding (and getting) the best solution.

The above approach seems to be paying off for Spanish manufacturers in 2016. In January, the Markit Spain Manufacturing PMI increased to 55.4 – the highest since May last year. Growth accelerated both for manufacturing output and employment, with the sharpest rise in orders since February 2007.

It’s still early days, but I’m being cautious when I say, I think we’ve made it through!

For more information about the Xavier and his team in Spain click here.


This post was written by
Xavier Lecina
EMP Manager at Wheelabrator in Spain
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