Stearn believes that this is a strong selling point and not just in terms of the Vammas equipment. "We have a very good track record for our aftermarket support," he argues. "If you ask around, many will say that it's actually better than many of the major manufacturers."
Working with Vammas opens different doors and offers different marketing challenges. "It's a different customer altogether," adds Stearn. "It's the airport operator itself rather than the airlines and ramp handlers that are really GSE customers,
Stearn believes that the market for the big Vammas equipment in North America is probably between 30 to 40 airports. This equates to around 150 to 200 machines. More than 30 units of the large Vammas equipment are currently in use at six airports across North America, while Fortbrand is actively working with half a dozen other airports. This number jumped to closer to 40 as — went to press when the Port Authority took on another six units for use at JFK.
Fortbrand and Vammas are now working on introducing other, smaller products. A runway edge light cleaner is being tested by a handful of potential customers, while a smaller PSB 4500 unit — already used by the Swedish Civil Aviation Authority — is being looked at by a major airport for its high-speed taxiways. Finally, next winter is likely to see the debut of a Vammas friction-testing unit.
"The way our business has developed has been opportunistic and things that have been presented to us," says Stearn, hinting at embryonic talks with a security equipment company by way of example. "We know the value of equipment, so we are willing to make investments and to take some proven risks."
Together with LH Consulting, Fortbrand recently developed computer software to analyse airport flight schedules and the price of delays to help demonstrate the cost benefit of cleaning runways with the Vammas units.
"We could calculate savings for any time frame," explains Stearn. "As an adjunct to that, we also asked what the cost was for an airport's own equipment and operators and then made a comparison." The savings skyrocketed using the Vammas equipment even though the initial investment was greater. "We put in all the data on our 30 to 40 potential customers and it looked very good," adds Stearn with a smile.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Despite such positive developments and Fortbrand's ability to find finance where none was previously available, Stearn acknowledges that the company has suffered its own share of deferred orders. "Airports looking for new equipment or placing reorders have also been caught up in the deferral of capital expenditure," he comments. Meanwhile, ground service providers continue to cancel orders, with some leasing equipment on a short-term basis or for a particular customer or season.
Knowing that the slump can't last forever, Fortbrand's focus is on adding to the team — new representatives have already generated additional business on the west coast and in Florida — and continuing its "transaction oriented" approach.
In recent times, the military has proven a reliable, and growing, source of alternative business. Having already worked with German manufacturer Mulag on modified belt loaders for the US Navy, more units of the same product were recently shipped to a Navy base in Japan. Military equipment rentals are also up.
Like everyone else, Fortbrand Services is looking forward to the industry getting back on its feet. In the meantime, the company recognizes well the importance of the Vammas connection. "After all," Stearn comments wryly, "it's always going to snow."RESOURCES Fortbrand Services Inc.
www.fortbrand.com MULAG Fahrzeugwerk
www.mulag.de Patria Vammas
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