The world has changed and so have the dynamics of the cleaning industry. Speaking about cleaning equipment in particular, its demand has witnessed a drastic change from the beginning of the pandemic. At the outset of the pandemic, the regular demand for cleaning equipment completely vanished while there was a surge in demand for fogging solutions, sanitizers and hand dispensers.
Towards the end of summer, requests for regular cleaning equipment slowly started resurfacing while the demand for the sanitization-related equipment gradually started reducing. However, there was a change. The after-sales support, technical service, reassurance and effectiveness mattered more to the client than ever before.
During this time, ALBARIQ Group emerged as a success story for their strength has always been after sales-support and technical service. This month, we spoke to Joakim Franzen, Managing Director at ALBARIQ Group, to understand the challenges and possibilities surrounding after-sales service to the cleaning equipment in the market, and much more.
Products and technologies have been in demand.
ALBARIQ initially saw a surge in the main demand for the fogging and sanitizing equipment, which was in line with the directives from the Government. They also saw an increase in requirements for steam cleaning equipment. This was a positive sign since steam cleaning is a great solution both for cleaning related to COVID-19 as well as for traditional cleaning. UVC and other technologies were also requested but in many cases this interest was short-lived.
“Personally I am hoping we are towards the end of the fogging and spraying era and can refocus on the core of cleaning and bring that up to even higher standards,” says Joakim.
Overcoming supply chain challenges.
Supply chain issues came in waves The entire cleaning industry was struggling initially as almost the entire world was in lock down, and factories, especially in Europe, struggled to remain open. This was early on in the pandemic. However, ALBARIQ has always carried a relatively high stock level and could, to a large extent, absorb this disruption by allowing these stock levels to decrease. During the last 3-4 months, however, the company has had to face new challenges that are relatively more systematic. Franzen says, “There are significant delays in the full global supply chain affecting almost all ongoing manufacturing regardless of where the products are coming from. A lot of delays seem to relate to overbooked or late ships, lack of containers, etc., but it does have a significant chain reaction. Raw material costs are also increasing drastically at the same time, and it is difficult to judge if this is temporary or if we are going to see this continuing.”
He adds, “These disruptions are unfortunately driving up costs, and we see that from all our suppliers. Given the price pressure, our customers are experiencing here in the Middle East, these increases will be a challenge for all parties. It will be interesting to see how this price situation develops in the coming 12 months and also how factories can get back on track with their production without disruptions.”
Joakim believes that the only way to manage this supply chain crisis is to be brave with ordering to ensure that stock is being replenished. To do this, one needs to have cash flow under control to ensure that one can meet commitments that are being made to suppliers. He is glad that ALBARIQ was in a good financial position going into the pandemic, and this factor helped through the past year and keeps them healthy also in the coming time But, even with the best intentions of early ordering, ALBARIQ faces supply delays from time to time. There can be a 3-4 week delay in manufacturing, but once products are finished, the next challenge is to get them shipped. Sometimes there will simply not be any available containers to load equipment into, other times fullyloaded shipments are standing waiting at the factory but there are no transport options to pick them up. This really is an unprecedented situation.
Managing client expectations
Although there are positive signs in the economy, there is significant pressure on costs from the client’s end. This is natural in this kind of situation, at the same time a challenge with manufacturing and freight costs increasing. Another change ALBARIQ saw early on is a higher reliance on existing equipment instead of buying new. “We noticed this from the very on-set of the pandemic where we had a very high load on our workshop. This trend has continued and many projects re-using existing equipment for new projects in a way to reduce cost. After-sales support has therefore become even more important with an older fleet of equipment being used. Even if this does impact new sales, it is a more sustainable approach where equipment is being utilized for its full economic life. Good for both the environment and for our customers.”
ALBARIQ’s steps towards client satisfaction
Ever since ALBARIQ was founded 26 years ago, aftersales has always been at the core of its organization, and it is, by far, their largest department. During the last few years, ALBARIQ has continued to invest in both additional service staff and a new service center in DIP, Dubai. They plan to continue these investments for the coming year. To increase the quality of our after sales service, and at the same time improve the working conditions for our staff our new service center is now climate controlled. We have also invested in vehicle lifts, various working tables, cranes and other equipment to give our technicians a safer and more ergonomic work environment which hopefully is also more productive and leads to less mistakes.
In the UAE, ALBARIQ has a fleet of vehicles constantly on the streets to provide the most urgent support at the customer site and also to diagnose more complex issues. Their ambition is always to resolve as much as possible on site since this minimizes any down time. Bigger and more complex jobs are taken to the workshops that are equipped with equipment, tools and also part availability to quickly resolve them.
Apart from specialists in electrical as well as diesel/ hydraulic equipment, ALBARIQ has also added project management, training and engineering competency to better support larger projects where demands on service is very high and where end user training needs to reach a high level. The equipment giant conducts training of its bigger sweepers and scrubbers within its compound to ensure that operators get in--depth training in a safe environment.
“During the last 3 years we have also been building up some small manufacturing capabilities that allow us to fabricate parts and to do more advanced repairs on our bigger equipment. This has really helped in reducing lead time on some repairs where we often can fabricate a solution in our workshop,” says Joakim.
Challenges and possibilities surrounding after sales service
ALBARIQ works with a very wide product portfolio, which creates challenges both for the technical staff that need to be trained and be knowledgeable on many different machines. It also creates challenges with spare part planning, especially when you are a relatively old company with many legacy machines still being used that may have been discontinued by the manufacturer. It is also very different to maintain a big diesel-operated sweeper or scrubber compared to a vacuum cleaner or single disc.
Client training at ALBARIQ
Training has emerged as an essential factor for the cleaning and hygiene industry. With the pandemic raging, cleaning staff and even the clients had to revisit how they clean and how they should clean. And as always, the concept of training was being focused on by ALBARIQ. With any delivery of equipment, ALBARIQ offers training for the product sold. However, bigger and more complex projects have a much higher demand for training to ensure that equipment is handled safely and also that it is maintained and handled in a way to reduce the risk of damage and wear. For these projects, ALBARIQ has a dedicated training coordinator that works closely with the client to ensure that each operator is qualified and capable and often there is a certification test at the end of the training.
Many of the bigger projects are now conducting their training at the ALBARIQ facility where even bigger sweepers and scrubbers can be operated in a safe environment. Others prefer to have the training done at their site. “We have also seen an increase in the requirement to train the technical/service staff of our clients. Often, they spend a week together with our team in the workshop to get a good understanding of how to maintain our equipment. It might seem strange that we are training customer technicians so that they can maintain their own machines, but we see it as a partnership, and our ultimate target is to ensure that the downtime on the machine is as low as possible. Good technical staff at our client facilities end up acting as an extension to our own service team,” asserts Joakim.
The next 5 years
As one of the older companies within our field in the Middle East, we have always worked hard building long term customer relationships. The cleaning standard and professionalism of the customers in our region has improved significantly during the last decades and we constantly strive to improve and evolve our offering both in terms of service and with new products to support our clients. A lot of discussions right now surrounds the autonomous revolution and it will be interesting to see how that will progress. “Personally, I am still a bit hesitant since new technology has a tendency to increase complexity, and this often results in increased maintenance costs but this technology will mature with time.” says Joakim. Autonomous equipment does create new possibilities, and we will definitely see it coexist with traditional cleaning. Both now and in the future, professional FM and cleaning contractors are most interested in having their machines up and running, and they want any equipment purchased to last for as many projects as possible. This can only be achieved by working with partners that have the ability to support their equipment. ALBARIQ has proved to be one such partner.