Manitex has its roots in the deals that made Manitowoc a global crane builder. Rooke explains, “In March 2002, Manitowoc acquired Grove. As a result, the competition authority required them to divest one of their boom truck operations. Manitowoc divested Manitex in January 2003.

“Manitex was acquired by a group of private investors in January 2003 and in July 2006, merged with Veri-Tek Intl, which had interests in testing equipment design and assembly. Veri-Tek Intl brought access to the stock exchange; Manitex added scale to the operation.”

With Manitex on the stock market, the investors moved to develop the range of products it built. Since 2006, the company has acquired Liftking (a forklift manufacturer based in Toronto); Noble (lift trucks); Crane & Machinery Inc. (a Chicago based Terex dealer and parts supplier); Schaeff (lift trucks); Loadking (a Terex-owned trailer manufacturer); Badger Equipment (cranes, excavators, and, newly, rough terrains) and CVS, an Italian manufacturer of container handling equipment. Rooke says, “We were trying to build a core of lifting equipment specialised businesses.”

At the same time as building the company, Manitex’s board has kept an eye on the company’s profitability. Rooke says, “Our performance on a financial basis has been good: we’ve remained profitable and cash generative.”

Looking overseas
While Manitex has worked to build the range of products it offers, it has also looked to expand the geography of its sales network. Rooke says, “If you go back to the roots of Manitex, all of these businesses (before CVS) were North American centred. Liftking had sold some products overseas, but generally Manitex looked to North America for products and dealers.

“I came out to the US in 2002. I was working for the British company GKN, in the automotive sector. They wanted me to work for a division headed in Michigan. Later, I saw an opportunity with Manitex; I came on board with them in 2006.

“Russia was the first market we aimed at. The boom truck market there is twice the size what it is in North America. Our focus on product development has been to increase the capacity and reach of our boom truck. We’ve aimed at demand in the oil and gas sector, and Russia has a lot of demand for that type of equipment.

“In May 2007, we launched our first 50USt boom truck, and sold 140-150 of those in one year. But, for us, the timing in Russia was not good. We’d attended ConExpo Russia, and been the only American manufacturer of boom trucks there. In late 2008 though, the market there began to go, just as it had around the world.

“The second area we focussed on was the Middle East. Our dealership in UAE has been great, one of our strongest distributors.

“One focus of development has been to place the crane on international chassis: MAN, Mercedes Benz, and Volvo. We’re not just entering new markets with our existing product, but becoming an international product.

“We’ve strengthened Liftking’s focus on international and military distribution and recently signed a five-year contract to supply a US agency that works internationally. Getting the first contract is, in some ways, often the easiest. It’s when they sign up for subsequent contracts that you feel the product has been out in the field, it’s been well tested, that people like it. They’ve got the equipment shipped out to them on schedule, the parts orders have come through.

“CVS’s principal product, the reach stacker, has similar attributes to our existing product lines. It brings a great brand and legacy, in a niche market with not many players. Like any market, it has seen declining demand recently, but we anticipate higher growth here than in markets like general construction.

“Globally, CVS is historically strong in EMEA, Asia, Latin America, but not in North America. It will allow us to move our products where we haven’t been strong, and to move their products here.

“The first thing we have to do is to get CVS operating as it once was. We have to win back the distributors and end users, and convince them the product is there and can be supported.

“The general direction of the business is to focus on specific key uses, both in terms of end use and of product. We don’t have the desire or capability to be on the same global scale as the big manufacturers. What we do have, is the ability to focus on niches in key end use markets.

“We think Russia will come back, and the Middle East will continue to be strong. We will continue to develop internationally.

“We’ve consistently increased the lifting and reach capacity of the Manitex crane product. We launched the 50155 early this year, targeted at utility, power and grid maintenance. We’ve added a new version of the 50USt crane, and a shorter boom version of the 50155. In the oil and gas sector, we are looking to their special requirements. This month, we’re launching our first trailer-mounted crane.

“We will continue to develop our core product line, increasing lifting capacity and reach capacity, ensuring our cranes are up-to-date and meeting end user requirements.”