Meet the Parents
UK manufacturer Douglas Equipment has seen its fair share of owners over the years and recently entered a new chapter in its history following the company's acquisition by the Hong Kong-based trading group Aquarius
By Michelle Garetson/p>
By Richard Rowe
The news that the ownership of Douglas Equipment, one of the UK's most prominent GSE suppliers, has changed hands was perhaps no big secret in an industry that usually has at least one ear to the ground. Much less is known, however, about its new owner, the Hong Kong-based Aquarius Group. Essentially a holding company, Aquarius is active in several industries from manufacturing office furniture and motorcycle parts to aviation interests such as running duty free concessions at airports.
The company is also no stranger to GSE, albeit on the marketing side rather than pure manufacturing. One of the Group's many subsidiaries, the GSE marketing company Denson Enterprises, has operated as a distributor for Douglas in Asia for 20 years and has also run the UK company's Far East and Southeast Asia field service support facility in Hong Kong since 1993.
The origins of the acquisition date back to the first quarter of 2002 when Aquarius first approached the Belgian venture capitalist Vehicle Solutions, the previous owner of Douglas. Vehicle Solutions itself had acquired both Douglas and German GSE manufacturer Schopf three years previously.
Timing is often crucial in such deals and this was no exception. In this instance, Aquarius made its approach at a point when Vehicle Solutions was in something of a quandary: what to do with two GSE businesses both operating in the same traumatised market?
Although separate, the two manufacturers had collaborated on specific projects for some time; SCHOPF, for instance, marketed the Douglas range of towbarless tractors in Germany, while Douglas reciprocated on the SCHOPF range of conventional tractors elsewhere.
Taking the next step forward, however, was proving more difficult for Vehicle Solutions; the possibility of merging the companies, with the manufacture of Douglas products moving to Germany, was just one option considered.
So, when Aquarius came in for Douglas, Vehicle Solutions found an answer to the conundrum. "I think the state of the industry presented a good opportunity for Aquarius to seek acquiring Douglas from a group that owned two tractor manufacturers and which was then looking at rationalising the product ranges of the two businesses," confirms Mike Doane, Sales Director and the public face of Douglas for so many years.
Certainly, given the long history of partnership between Denson and Douglas, Aquarius knew what it would be buying: a strong business with a recognised brand and a global customer base of airlines and handling agents.
On paper, the deal looks like a win-win for both parties. Aquarius adds an industry leader to its portfolio, while Douglas secures what most companies look for in a parent: financial stability and long-term commitment.
"The acquisition certainly provides us with membership of a large, financially strong and privately owned group that has a long-term interest in developing and growing Douglas, especially on the GSE side," confirms Doane.
Perhaps the biggest challenge now is managing the gradual withdrawal from the past relationship with SCHOPF. Both camps are cagey about how this will happen and the exact timetable.
"We are still working on a number of joint projects and will continue to provide ongoing after sales support for each other's equipment in our home and selected markets," explains Doane. He admits, however, that the end result of having separate parents "will inevitably take us along different roads" as the two companies seek alternative solutions to meet customer needs.