In a material handling equipment market that has never been more competitive, Linde finished 2012 as Australia's fastest growing IC forklift brand. Now the German manufacturer is poised to take its local success to the next level, capitalising on a seven year build-up which has given it the resources to service customers like never before.

Linde Material Handling Australia's CEO, Carl Smith, believes customers have recognised his company's efforts to improve its customer focus and have reacted accordingly.“Buyers recognise that we have the range, resources, systems and personnel to be the ideal material handling equipment partner for any business,” he said. “They've seen us evolve to become a genuine one-stop-shop for all the needs of customers operating a single forklift or several hundred. More importantly, they now understand that the key to successful forklift fleet operations is whole of life operating efficiency and cost minimisation. That's put us onto a lot more tender invitation lists than previously. Decision makers are now much more likely to look at ongoing costs and that's where Linde can demonstrate its advantages.” Carl Smith was asked how Linde had achieved its recent success and what 2013 might hold for the highly regarded euro brand.

Business conditions have been tough for many of your customers. How has Linde managed to succeed in that climate?

Our growth in tough times has been remarkable and put down to a few key actions. Firstly, despite the tougher economic conditions, we continued to invest not only in our people but also our infrastructure. In addition, we also maintained the focus on our core values, principles and behaviours. This I think is the main reason we have continued to flourish and grow during tough times.

Buyers recognise that we have the range, resources, systems and personnel to be the ideal material handling equipment partner for any business. They've seen us evolve to become a genuine one-stop-shop for all the needs of customers operating a single forklift or several hundred.

Sales success is one thing, but how have you scaled up the business to support your new customers?

In the past two years we have employed in excess of additional 25 Service Technicians nationally and continued to invest in our Fleet Management tool FleetFOCUS. In 2012 we launched the initiative Linde Power Solutions which in essence gives current and potential clients access to total battery power facilities and expertise. Last year saw the appointment of a National OH&S Manager at Linde, which again reinforces Linde's commitment to safety in the workforce.

You said some time ago that Linde had become better at listening to the market and understanding its needs. What has the market been telling Linde recently?

From all quarters of the market we have been hearing that Linde have made terrific improvements in its service level to the market, however we still need to do more. We listened closely to the client base in Victoria, and as a result of the feedback we received, we invested in a new state of the art facility, which is now seen as industry benchmark in facilities. We also learnt that clients expectations of their partners are growing and that just providing a cheap price and hollow promises is not something that will be tolerated. Linde Australia learnt this lesson many years ago and so aligning our performance with our clients' expectations has been easier for us than others in the industry.

One other important message we received from the market was about culture. Today's buyer is not just interested in the value and benefits your product will bring to their business, they also want to understand the suppliers' culture and the fit with their own organisation.

Linde has always made claims about the efficiency of its forklifts, but then so have your competitors. Who is the customer to believe?

I don't envy the customer with so many claims being made. What I will say however, is that Linde have always and will continue to stick to the FACTS. Only Linde trucks have been independently tested both in Europe and locally by operators. Perhaps testament to our claims and tests was our performance in 2012, when we were the fastest growing engine forklift company in Australia.

Aside from operating costs, what are the main concerns of forklift buyers?

In no particular order I would say safety, quality, after sales support and relationship.

Safety and quality have been at the forefront of Linde DNA since its inception, so meeting the clients' requirements has not been hard. We see ourselves as industry leaders in the area of safety along with our quality product. Commitment to service is what lifts us above our competition. Relationship and rapport with clients is also a key factor. Clients want to know that you care about their business and success and that they are just not a client, they are a partner.

Already this year there have been several reported serious incidents involving forklifts. What is Linde doing on the safety front to protect forklift operators and warehouse staff?

There are both local and overseas activities being conducted by Linde in the area of safety. The Linde product has more primary safety features than any other fork truck, which supports the claim that Linde places the safety of operators at the forefront of its design philosophy. Locally we have introduced a robust familiarisation and handover procedure, which is supported with ongoing refresher courses. In addition, Linde have partnered with an industry leading driver training company, specialising in operator training and licensing.

Linde has just announced a new range of EVO 2 to 5-tonne diesel and LPG counterbalanced trucks in Europe. Will we see those in Australia this year and what are their main advances on what is already available here?

The EVO 2 range will be available in Australia in the first half of this year, which is very exciting news for our market. The main differences on the current model are, improved ergonomic and operator comfort, which is incredible considering the current Linde design already leads the market. Secondly, the increased fuel efficiency of the EVO 2 range, which in initial trials, is producing 20% improvements on the current series, which as we know was 22% more fuel efficient than our competitors' trucks.

What are your expectations for the local market this year? Are any trends emerging and how will they impact Linde?

I think the local market will continue to grow in 2013. There is no reason to think it will slow and regardless of any outside negative influences we may encounter, we have the maturity, ability and resources to overcome any obstacles. At Linde we will continue to take a point of difference to the market and we continue to promote the Carl Von Linde philosophy of “How can we do it better” and “How can we help our clients do it better”.