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From its beginnings, Manutan Group has been recognised for its entrepreneurial, innovative and pro-active leadership, as well as for the valued know-how of its 1,106 employees. In doing so, it confirms its mission as privileged partner of business customers for their non-strategic purchases.
Manutan International S.A. is a specialist mail-order business providing industrial and office equipment and supplies to the business-to-business, collective, and public sectors. Based in France, Manutan has built up a pan-European network of 23 subsidiaries in 20 countries, as well as through 18 e-commerce Web sites. Manutan's more than 200 catalogs feature over 350,000 items and serve more than 600,000 customers throughout Europe. Manutan operates under its own name as well as a number of other well-known European names, including Overtoom (Netherlands and Belgium), Bott (France and Germany), Plus (Poland, Czech Republic), Key (United Kingdom), and Witre (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland). In 2004, the company posted total revenues of EUR 338 million ($442 million). The group's Southern division (France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, as well as Manutan Belgium) accounted for 50 percent of that total. The Central division (Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Overtoom in Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Slovakia) added 35 percent to sales, while the Western division (United Kingdom and Ireland) produced 11 percent of group sales. Manutan's Northern division (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland) remained its smallest, at just 4 percent of sales. Listed on the Euronext Paris Stock Exchange since 1985, Manutan remains controlled by the founding Guichard family at nearly 76 percent of shares. Founder André Guichard and son Jean-Pierre Guichard continue to lead the company.
Mail Order Pioneer in the 1960s
While mail order houses had been in operation in France for many years, these businesses focused primarily on the consumer market. In 1966, however, André Guichard, joined by son Jean-Pierre, set up a company dedicated to providing mail order services to the business sector. The company's major innovation came with its choice of goods, that of industrial equipment, especially materials handling equipment. The French word for this product segment, manutention, provided the basis for the new company's name, Manutan. Guichard set out lining up suppliers and within a year had shipped the company's first 24-page catalog. The company later credited the new catalog with generating some FFr 48,000 in sales.
Manutan grew strongly in France and quickly exerted its dominance of the business-to-business market. The company began expanding its catalog, adding a variety of industrial equipment and later office equipment and supplies. The expanded product offerings enabled the company to begin marketing to municipalities and public and private collectives, such as schools, hospitals, corporations, and the like. Over time, Manutan develop a number of specialized catalogs targeting each of its business segments.
Manutan also quickly recognized the potential of entering other European markets. The company's first choice was the United Kingdom, where, as in France in the 1960s, the market for mail order materials handling, lifting, and storage equipment was more or less nonexistent. In 1973, Manutan became a partner in the creation of a British subsidiary, Key Industrial Equipment Ltd., which, despite the later entry of competitors, was able to maintain its leadership in the U.K. market into the next century. Like its parent, Key later expanded its range of products to include workshop equipment, signage systems, and office equipment and supplies. Manutan gradually built up its stake in Key Industrial, reaching more than 65 percent in the 1980s and over 81 percent at the beginning of the 1990s before acquiring full control.
Manutan's success in the United Kingdom led it to move into a new foreign market in 1974. In that year, the company set up a subsidiary in Belgium, Manutan NV. The company also continued to seek to extend its range of operations, and in 1977 Manutan established Bott SA, which specialized in providing modular technical furnishings and equipment for workshops and utility trucks and vans. Bott itself has been founded in the 1930s in Germany as a small mechanical workshop before growing into one of the European leaders of its category.
By 1984, Manutan sales had topped the FFr 200 million mark, and the company began preparing its second expansion drive. In order to fuel its further expansion, and especially in order to provide a solid foundation for its future European expansion, Manutan went public in 1985, listing its shares on the Paris Stock Exchange's Secondary Market. The Guichard family nonetheless retained tight control of the company, holding some 85 percent of Manutan shares. That holding was later reduced to just under 76 percent by the early 2000s.
European Mail Order Growth in the 1980s
Manutan's success in Belgium led the company to expand its operations there, adding a new warehouse and logistics platform in 1986 that would also provide support for the group's entrance elsewhere in the Benelux and German markets. Also that year, Manutan made a brief attempt to enter the consumer market, establishing a consumer goods mail order house, Temp.L. That experiment proved short-lived, and Manutan once again focused its efforts on its core business-to-business markets.
The year 1987 marked a turning point for Manutan as the company launched a new growth strategy targeting a number of new foreign markets. The first was Italy, where Manutan joined with subsidiary Key Industrial formed a joint venture with a local partner, creating Veico SpA, based in Milan. Manutan and Key both initially held 25 percent of Veico. In 1988, Manutan bought out Key Industrial's stake before taking full control of Veico, which was renamed Manutan Italia in 1990.
By then, Manutan had also expanded into Germany. In January 1988, Ernst Ziegler had founded E. Ziegler Direkt-Marketing GmbH in Leonberg. By May 1988, Manutan had joined Ziegler as a founding partner, again in a joint venture involving Key Industrial. The company then became known as EZ Direkt Marketing, launching its first catalog by September of that year.
Manutan next looked farther north, acquiring the Witre group of companies serving the Scandinavian markets in 1989. Witre International A/B had been founded in Sweden in 1981 and by 1983 had added a subsidiary in Norway. Under Manutan, Witre continued to develop its Scandinavian operations, launching subsidiaries in Denmark in 1995 and in Finland in 1999. These companies came to form Manutan's North division.
Manutan sold off Temp.L in 1990 as it refocused its efforts on its international business-to-business market. In that year, Manutan also reorganized its shareholding structure. As part of that process, the Guichard family created the shareholding company Manupar, which acquired 55 percent of the family's shares in Manutan. The following year, Manutan began building up a war chest in order to fund its future expansion. The company's efforts in this respect were aided by the continued growth of its annual sales despite the difficult economic climate. By 1992, the company's sales had topped FFr 1 billion (equivalent to EUR 150 million) for the first time.
Jean-Pierre Guichard took over as the company's executive chairman in 1994, while André Guichard remained active with the company as chairman of the board of directors. The following year, Manutan entered a new market, acquiring the Netherlands' Overtoom NV. That company had been one of Europe's pioneering business-to-business mail order houses, set up in 1946 on Amsterdam's Overtoom, a major avenue in that city. The company later moved its operations to Utrecht in 1960, developing into the Dutch leader in its market. In 1974, Overtoom had expanded into Belgium, setting up a subsidiary there. Ten years later, Overtoom was acquired by global trading company Koninklijke Borsumij Wehry. Under Manutan, both the Netherlands and Belgium businesses remained in operation under the Overtoom name.
Pan-European Leader in the 2000s
Manutan boosted its Southern division in 1996 with the opening of an office in Portugal. That operation later became the subsidiary Manutan Unipessoal Lda. Through EZ Direkt, in the meantime, Manutan had expanded its operations to include a number of new offices in Germany, including in Berlin, Rostock, and Hamburg, as well as a new logistics center in Leonberg, opened in 1995. In 1999, EZ Direkt provided Manutan an entrance into the Eastern European market through the acquisition of the Czech Republic's Plus. The following year, EZ Direkt also added operations in Austria, acquiring that country's Dr. Hans Kraus GmbH, which also operated a subsidiary in Slovenia. The company also expanded into Poland in 2000, establishing the Plus brand in that market.
By then, Manutan itself had added operations in Switzerland through the purchase of that country's Fabritec and boosted its presence in the United Kingdom through the purchase of Euroquipment. That purchase was followed by a move into Ireland with the purchase of Metro Storage Equipment in 2000. By then, Manutan had restructured its operations, creating a new holding company, Manutan International, as a reflection of the company's now pan-European presence.
Manutan had focused on its mail-order operations until the early 2000s. In 2001, however, the company expanded established a presence on the Internet, launching its first e-commerce-enabled Web site. That site later provided the platform for the rollout of 18 Web sites targeting each of the company's markets. By 2005, the company had posted more than EUR 1 million in sales through its e-commerce sites.
Into the mid-2000s, Manutan continued to fill in gaps in its geographic coverage while expanding its range. In 2004, the company established Manutan operations in Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland. Then, in 2005, Manutan entered Spain for the first time in an extension of its French operation. The company also expanded its Overtoom operation, establishing a subsidiary of that company in Germany in 2005. Manutan continued seeking growth opportunities with a clear objective of claiming leadership in all of its geographic markets and achieving sales of more than EUR 500 million by the end of the company's 2005 fiscal year.
Principal Subsidiaries: Bott SA; Dr Hans Kraus d.o.o (Slovenia); Dr Hans Kraus GmbH (Austria); Euroquipment Ltd (U.K.); EZ Direkt Marketing GmbH (Germany); Fabritec GmbH (Switzerland); Key (U.K.); Manutan (Spain); Manutan Hungary; Manutan Italia Spa; Manutan NV (Belgium); Manutan Polska; Manutan SA; Manutan Slovakia s.r.o. (Slovakia); Manutan Unipessoal Lda (Portugal); Metro Storage Systems Ltd (Ireland); Overtoom International Belgium; Overtoom International Nederland BV; Plus s.r.o (Czech Republic); WITRE A/S (Norway); WITRE AB (Sweden); WITRE Danmark A/S; WITRE OY (Finland);
Principal Competitors: Bertelsmann AG; Otto GmbH und Company KG; GUS PLC; Littlewoods Ltd; Neckermann Versand AG; Stockmann Oyj Abp; Wenz GmbH.
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