Moving on Uperio

22 May 2019

At Bauma, Arcomet and Matebat presented their new name, Uperio. Will North spoke to Philippe Cohet, chairman of Matebat and CEO of Arcomet, about the move.

The two firms have for many years had the same majority owners. Cohet joined five years ago, from Potain owner Manitowoc, where he spent a decade. At the time, Arcomet, like the rest of the tower crane business, was recovering from the painful hangover of the global financial crisis.

The new brand is the culmination of a long course correction. As well as giving the company a new identity, the structure relieves financial strains caused by the crisis.

It is well-managed, affordable, debt that allows owners to keep a fleet up-to-date. The creation of Uperio as a single business is in part tied to this. Cohet says, “Behind the scenes there is a full restructuring of the ownership and the balance sheet

“The way we are organised around the world will not change. But even though we have good cash flow, we were still carrying expensive debt, coming out of restructuring terms we were forced to during the crisis."

But the new business is not an accounting sleight-of-hand. As well as allowing the company to get better terms from lenders, it positions Cohet to offer a premium rental solution, in a market where manufacturers like Liebherr and Wolffkran have their own rental fleets and support.

Cohet says, “Uperio’s strategic position will be as a tower crane solutions provider. This includes rental, but also distribution, as we are a dealer of Potain in France, Terex in other geographies, Zoomlion in the US. The three activities—rental, distribution, and service—are very much linked together.”

Cohet has a keen eye for gaps in the market where supply doesn’t match demand. This means both offering a range of additional equipment and services, and moving his fleet where it is needed.

He says, “Construction companies are sometimes reluctant to rent because they don’t have an offer of a strong, well-organised, disciplined tower crane rental company. Tower crane rental is still very much an entrepreneurial family-type business. Some companies, especially when you look at the challenges of BIM and so on, want to rent, but they want to have a specific crane, and a commitment to service, and this is something I can offer.”

Citing increasing demand for cameras, anti-collision systems, and operator elevators—all of which Uperio can supply, alongside expert service and support—Cohet says, “Tower cranes are very often the basic component of a job site. From that we can create a lot of ancillary business. That will be one of our growth plans.

“My shareholders are financial guys. They’re not romantic about cranes. One key element of creating Uperio, is to be cycle-protected. We are in a very cyclical business: Arcomet was a very strong company, and almost died.

“We’ve very carefully optimised our cost structure. For example, maintenance is a big element of the costs of a tower crane business. We try to have a disciplined preventive maintenance programme. We manage spare parts very carefully. We want to ‘industrialise’ the tower crane rental business.”

“Every week, I receive a utilisation rate. When we see a market going down, we move towers. I don’t want to lower my price to get a higher market share in a particular geography. I’m watching the price I get for the same crane in different parts of Europe, and I’m moving cranes around. It’s expensive, as it takes 7-10 trucks, so I don’t do that very often, but I try to manage offer versus demand very carefully.”

Cohet’s fleet investments are largely focused on replacement, not on expansion. He points out it's not worth investing in expanding a fleet by 10%, if that increased supply pushes rates down by the same amount. And, with 2,200 cranes, keeping to his target age for cranes means buying around a hundred a year: a substantial investment.

While the company is expanding in key markets, through P&J Arcomet in the USA and Skyline in the UK, and a new partnership in Sweden, and buying some new cranes to fit, Cohet is focused on having the right cranes in the right market: he says moving a crane from France to Sweden can in some cases double rates achieved.

The Arcomet name will remain, as the well-established brand name for its high capacity self erectors. Here too, Cohet takes a cautious approach, but still looks for new opportunities.

“We'll upgrade the existing range. The A50 Eco [shown at Bauma] is the more advanced in terms of controls, telematics, and so on. That will be next, to put those telematics and controls in the other models.Then we'll work on a new crane that will come out maybe a year from now, maybe the year after. We’re not going to develop 20 models: we want to stay in our niche of high capacity models.”

The new A50 Eco. While the parent company, and tower crane solutions business, is now known as Uperio, the Arcomet name will still be used for its niche range of high capacity self erectors.