Etanco Group has grown from a family-based business focusing on the French market into a privately funded international company that is setting its sights on further expansion. Here Editor Will Lowry speaks to Ronan Lebraut, CEO and president of Etanco Group, about the expansion of the business and the strategic plans it has for the future.
Etanco was originally founded as a family business, with Ronan’s grandfather and father establishing it as a key supplier for a broad range of fixings and fastening solutions for the construction market. However, the sudden and tragic death of Ronan’s father in 2003, followed by Ronan’s grandfather passing away only two years later, had a dramatic impact not only on the family, but also the business. “There was no succession plan in place, there was no general manager, and the family did not want to keep the company,” explains Ronan. “Etanco was a great opportunity, with sales of approximately €80 million – focusing mainly on the French market, with some shares in different countries. We therefore went to the private equity market and carried out our first LBO (Leveraged Buy Out) with a Swedish firm. Then, we did our second LBO with a UK firm. Today, the shareholding structure is shared between family, management and the private equity fund.”
In between the two LBOs, Ronan and Etanco had to deal with the two financial crises in 2008 and 2011, which made it a very challenging period. Even so, Etanco still doubled in size. “This year we should finish with sales around €200 million and with 800 people,” proudly states Ronan. “60% of sales are still in France, but exports now account for 40% of the business. We still feel we have been a bit slow expanding our markets, which is why over the next five years our strategy will be to develop our exports and expand rapidly in these markets, whilst still focusing on high-quality products.”
A key factor in Etanco’s expansion strategy is the acquisition of complementary companies and product ranges. “When I arrived at the company we owned 50% of Friulsider – one of the biggest independent anchor producers in Europe. I could see Friulsider was important because it included some leading technologies in its anchor range; it was also one of the best in class regarding European Technical Assessments; and supported our range of products and commitment to best in class service and technical support.”
More recent acquisitions were Gunnebo Fastening Poland and Gunnebo Fastening Romania – who both joined the Etanco Group at the end of 2017. “We acquired Gunnebo Fastening Poland, with its modern facility in Orneta, to expand our operations in new markets. The construction market in Poland is very attractive, as outlooks for 2018 and 2019 are very good, showing growth over 5%,” points out Ronan. “We visited the Gunnebo Fastening Poland facility prior to the acquisition
and we realised they had a similar DNA to us. They were also very strong in the coating and production of screws, and we could see the opportunity to optimise our industrial footprint and also introduce new products for Poland and for the whole Etanco Group.”
The Orneta site will serve as a platform for Etanco to not only enter the Polish market, but also to develop sales in the region, namely in the Baltics, Ukraine and Russia. “We plan to double Orneta’s sales within three years. Poland is an amazing, huge market with big growth, and of course there is also the growth opportunities in the surrounding countries. The costs of producing in France means we were not competitive within the eastern European market,” mentions Ronan. “However, with the production costs being cheaper in Poland, we can be a lot more cost-effective and provide good quality products, whilst also being closer to our customers. At the end of 2017, Gunnebo Fastening Poland changed its name to Etanco Sp.z.o.o. and Gunnebo Fastening Romania became Etanco Fastening Srl.
In total Etanco Group has five production sites – three in France, one in Italy and one in Poland – all focusing on specific technology. Etanco also has commercial offices in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the UK, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania. “Previously we had more production sites in France, but we have been looking to make ourselves more efficient and to be closer to the customer,” says Ronan. “We believe that if you want to bring service to the customer you need to have production sites close to their operations.”
To ensure a high-level of quality across its production sites, Etanco designs all its products in-house, giving it full control and traceability of everything it sells. Also, it is committed to having a streamlined and efficient production process, ensuring customers receive exactly what they need, when they need it. “Thanks to our branches across Europe we can stock all the best sellers close to customers. We are then able to deliver them to customers the same day or the day after. For special orders, we deliver them straight from France.”
Providing innovative products is important, but Ronan is clear that being an innovative company is not just about introducing new products. “Innovation means you have all the combinations and solutions that customers need and you are continuously developing your service. I really believe that if you want to keep your customers it is not just the product you supply, but the service you bring around it. You can have the best product in the world, but if you don’t visit the customers; spend time with them; understand their needs; explain why a product is suitable; you will not get the order. We are in an industry where there is not one miracle product, we are always talking about a range of products. Also, the accessories you can sell around your main products are just as important.”
Ronan continues: “Sometimes people look at the fastener industry as just large quantities, but at Etanco we look at it as a service business. We give customers the ability to buy a deeper and wider range of products, with a minimum quantity starting at just 100 pieces. We are also able to work with customers and provide them with answers for technical aspects of products. Just in France, we have over 30 people on the phone that help our customers every day to pick the right products, which meet specific regulations.”
Being originally founded in France has had both its challenges and benefits for which Etanco has been able to build a strong foundation. “France has always had very high regulation, which creates high market entry barriers, but has also helped ensure that we develop and sell the highest quality products as standard,” explains Ronan. “Of course, being a French company has also had its challenges, especially with the cost of labour and high production costs. However, thanks to our products and service we can be flexible and meet customers’ needs. The whole Group has been designed with flexibility in mind – from the sales force to the production site. We have drawn this strategy from the market and it has all contributed to us growing in the right direction.”
Ronan is optimistic for 2018, after a positive 2017. “From talking to our customers, we know the market is recovering quite fast for France, as well as in Poland, which has a good GDP growth forecast. We see Germany is still very positive, and the Benelux area is still good. Portugal and Spain are recovering, as is the rest of Europe. We are very excited for 2018. You are always going to face the same challenges – such as prices, as well as raw material costs and lack of supply, but it is how you deal with these which is crucial. Customers need to be aware that quality has a price, and that includes the product as well as the service. There are a lot of opportunities for us in the upcoming years. It is the same for our branches, which is why we are looking at acquisitions – without limitations on size. We want to acquire companies that are established and recognised in the market to help them become leaders in their markets. Being supported by private equity shareholders gives us a big advantage as we have the resources and the flexibility to develop.”
Will joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine in 2007 and over the last 10 years has experienced every facet of the fastener sector - interviewing key figures within the industry and visiting leading companies and exhibitions around the globe.
Will manages the content strategy across all platforms and is the guardian for the high editorial standards that the Magazine is renowned.