Husqvarna sees wide scale potential in the concrete surface and flooring segmentsPublished 2/12, 2020 at 11:56
Husqvarna Construction is now taking a purposeful and massive grip of the global surface preparation industry. The company has gradually been increasing its presence in this area and now says its activities are at ‘full throttle’. PDi Magazine’s Jan Hermansson met with Husqvarna Construction’s Vice-President Concrete Surfaces & Floors, Stijn Verherstraeten, to discuss these developments.
It first began way back when Husqvarna acquired Australian floor grinder manufacturer King Concepts; this was followed by the acquisition of Hagby. At this point Husqvarna did not take a leading role yet in the floor grinding and polishing sectors, which were mainly seen as complementary products to its existing product lines in the sawing and drilling segment. In the past years however, the focus on surface preparation intensified as Husqvarna acquired the dust extraction manufacturer Pullman Ermator in 2016, closely followed by the acquisition of the leading floor solutions manufacturer HTC in early 2017.
Widening the product and application spectrum
When PDi Magazine interviewed Husqvarna Group CEO Henric Andersson at Bauma in 2019, it was quite clear which path the manufacturer intended to take when it came to the surface preparation, floor grinding and polishing segments. Its strategy was to provide the whole surface preparation sector with suitable products and tools, both for the planning stage of new construction and to widen its renovation offering. That is also why the Atlas Copco’s product lines for light compaction and concrete placement equipment were acquired in 2018 as well as the trowel series from Wacker Neuson in 2019. Husqvarna can now provide the entire value chain of products and services from compacting a soil, vibrating, levelling and surfacing freshly poured concrete as well as creating a finished floor by grinding and polishing it. The latest sign of Husqvarna’s decisiveness in striving to lead and further develop the surface preparation, grinding and polishing industries is the recently announced intent to acquire the Blastrac Group.
In order to further expand its position in surface preparation and to enhance market focus, Husqvarna has created an own internal organisation dedicated to this business segment, called the “Concrete Surfaces & Floors category” which is headed up by Stijn Verherstraeten since early 2019. Verherstraeten joined Husqvarna Construction as part of Husqvarna’s acquisition of the light compaction and concrete placement business from Atlas Copco. In Atlas Copco he gained a broad experience of working in different roles in distribution centres, sales companies and factories in several countries stretching a 12 years period. When transitioning from Atlas Copco to Husqvarna he was heading up the site in Bulgaria where a large part of the light compaction and concrete placement products are developed and assembled. Being a Belgian citizen he relocated to Gothenburg last year to take on his current role as Vice President for the Husqvarna Concrete Surface & Floors category, covering product management, product development and operations in this product area. Including the dedicated specialists in sales and service as well as the Blastrac employees which are expected to join by the end of the year - pending successful closing of the acquisition - Husqvarna Construction will have close to 800 employees working within the concrete surfaces & floors segment. “I find our work in this industry very exciting and I am happy to be part of leading Husqvarna into the future when it comes to new solutions for concrete surfaces and floors. It is a very competitive business though, so we can never lose sight of changing customer needs and preferences which we need to address with innovative product development in combination with operational excellence,” says Verherstraeten.
The concrete surfaces and floors segment represents a huge market, which so far has literally only been scratched on the surface, so to speak. It is actually still a relatively new market. The founder and former owner of HTC Sweden, Håkan Thysell, knew that in the mid 1990s when he developed the planetary grinding technique and later on the system for creating polished concrete floors as a final flooring product. Almost 30 years later Husqvarna Construction builds further on that legacy.
The same solution but with a new logo and colour change
In the last years, Husqvarna has intensified its efforts to streamline the product range, production and sales organisations and to reduce duplications. Gradually, the Pullman Ermator products were reshaped to fit the Husqvarna range, while the HTC product range largely remained the same still carrying the HTC brand name as well. After almost four years with the HTC and Husqvarna brands running side by side, Verherstraeten explains that “we have come to a point where we believe we can create higher customer value by a strong integrated surface preparation offering under the Husqvarna brand. It means that we can open up a broader variety of products to all customers while at the same time accelerating investment into product development and service.
Let me give you a concrete example: We have developed a tool selector app, allowing customers to enter specifications for a flooring job and getting a full recipe on how to take on the work, step by step, and the specific tools needed to carry out every step. This little app makes the planning process easier and more reliable for our customers. Instead of duplicating and maintaining two separate apps for two brands, we can with only one brand enhance the existing app and give customers access to a much larger portfolio of tools.
The decision to consolidate has been made for the HTC brand, yet, we are ready to offer products in different brands as long as there is a specific desire from customers or value to customers to do so”, says Verherstraeten.
“Speaking about digitalisation, we are excited about the opportunities we can create for our customers, for example when it comes to managing a fleet of machines, getting intuitive feedback from the machine during operation or getting support in service matters. The goal is to make it easier to own a machine and to maintain it with a minimum of stops or breakdowns. Basically, more value to the customer,” says Verherstraeten. “We also strive to offer multiple solutions to a wider variety of users. A good example of that is our Hipertrowel floor solution, allowing customers to polish a concrete floor with a ride-on trowel, simply by attaching special diamond pads instead of blades or pans. This method is very convenient for polishing of large surfaces and much faster than using traditional floor grinding machines, for those jobs where flattening a floor and exposing aggregate is not required. We are very glad that our experience in developing and manufacturing our own surface preparation tools allowed us to adapt the technology for polishing with a trowel. Depending on the type of job, the floor attributes and the customer’s preference we now offer solutions for polishing concrete both with a traditional floor grinder as well as with power trowels.
We strongly believe in the benefits of polished concrete floors and want to help our customers win interesting flooring projects – probably the best way to do this is by providing competitive solutions and by offering hands-on support of our application specialists before and during a project.”
Creating new markets is the way to grow
Now Husqvarna is not only trying to grow by increasing market share and expanding the portfolio in established markets, but also wants to accelerate growth in markets where today it has no or limited representation. India is one such market where Verherstraeten sees great potential, as well as China and South America. “We are of course represented in many of these markets already, but we can grow much more. Besides having production plants in Europe and USA, we also have two plants in China and in 2021 we will inaugurate a new plant in India, in Nashik, North-East of Mumbai. We will co-locate an own R&D department with the production unit there with a clear focus on developing products and solutions for the local Indian market.” He further believes that in Europe and the USA the majority of the growth in the industry will come from renovation projects while in markets like India and China, the installation of new concrete floors will still dominate. Here, the previously described polishing method with ride-on trowels also opens up new opportunities to grow the preference for polished floors as larger projects can now be completed in a shorter period and hence lower cost. “In the future, I also see that placement and renovation of large industrial floors will to a certain extent be done by automated grinding and polishing robots,” says Verherstraeten.
Verherstraeten is excited by what is to come as there is so much opportunity ahead, both in the near and distant future. At the end of February 2021, the implementation of the HTC brand consolidation will be completed, but the majority of today’s HTC offering will be kept under the Husqvarna brand. It is only the colour and the logo that will change. Both the HTC and the Husqvarna tool systems with their respective attachment systems will remain side by side, so there will not be any significant change for customers. In the more distant future, we will certainly see more change, as Verherstraeten hints that new products and concepts are in development. A particular focus lies on specifications for polished concrete and other floor solutions – ensuring that the attributes of a floor are clearly determined and the floor creation processes include surface texture measurements in each and every step to ensure that the desired end-result is achieved. Typical attributes are Ra (Roughness average), gloss, DOI (distinction of image) and slip resistance – just to name a few.
“We are also working to improve our sales and service organisation, both by strengthening our own organization as well as by adding more certified dealers. Service and support in the field is very important for us, as is easier maintenance and use of the machines. I would say that reliability and support is almost more important than the product itself,” says Verherstraeten. He also adds that supporting the customer during projects is very important, but also developing competence through training and education. This is why Husqvarna has invested in its own academy for floor grinding and polishing.
The question arises how much Husqvarna can grow per year in this sector going forward? “It depends a little bit how it is calculated, but right now our Concrete Surfaces & Floors business is clearly smaller than Husqvarna’s market leading sawing & drilling business. We have high expectations and I’m confident we can take market share in the surface preparation industry. Moreover Concrete Surface & Floors is a segment where we can grow by creating new markets instead of only developing existing ones. In a normal business cycle after the Covid-19 pandemic I believe this category can definitely grow above 10% per year while growth for other construction equipment would probably be less than half of that. Surface preparation is an industry where we will see a continuous tightening of regulations which plays into our hands as well, as we clearly intend to stay ahead of the regulations and help our customers complete their work in the most productive, sustainable and safe manner”, concludes Verherstraeten.