EP’s presence in Italy is led by Franco Ruggiero, the CEO of KFE Srl and the exclusive distributor of EP products and spare parts across the nation. Based in Bologna, KFE distributes EP Equipment through a network of authorized dealers and workshops throughout the national territory and with over 40 years of experience in the forklift and logistics sector, KFE supports its partners with a high-level commercial, technical and after-sales service as offered by EP.
EP Marketing and Sales Director Bennit Schmieder speaks very highly of KFE and their reputation; “KFE is a very special company: with Franco, Giuliana and their team, you have the full force of 2 generations living and breathing forklift truck experience. The Italian market is unique within Europe and a strong local presence might be more important than in most other markets. KFE is a company that is trusted by dealers around the country. They have the necessary technical know-how, the infrastructure, stock planning as well as training ability to take care of a large market like Italy. The relationship between KFE and EP Equipment grew quickly in a business as well as personal sense. A real partner that we can trust. We are looking forward to plan our future in Italy together with KFE.”.
Franco Ruggiero spoke with EP’s Marketing and Community Manager about their experience so far and the success of the EP product in the Italian market.
Tell me about the KFE, what is your story so far and how didyour partnership with EP come about?
Over 40 years ago my family’s company LCE began as a Nissan dealer. Over time we distributed many other brands including some manufactured in China, but we were never fulfilled. Our EP journey officially began 2 years ago but our relationship extends many years prior to our partnership. Our interest in EP was sparked after Giuliana travelled to China and met EP Sales Director Ivone nearly 20 years ago, however, we didn’t start to distribute EP Equipment to Italy until 2019. Since starting with EP, we have built our own dealer network of around 20 Italian dealers that buy and sell EP and a number of end users that buy or rent EP machines from us and take advantage of our servicing and EP aftercare.
Why did you choose to partner with EP? What made us stand out?
From the first time Giuliana visited China 20 years ago forklift manufacturing has developed drastically. Areas that were once just beginning to become industrialised are now huge manufacturers, this just shows how the market and customer expectations have grown and developed. The first time we visited EP in the Chinese offices the company was so different. Now EP has grown with the market and offer a product that can meet these high customer expectations.
Just before we worked with EP we worked with other Chinese forklift brands importing directly but we were just not satisfied with the products or the support. When we visited an exhibition in Hanover, we saw the EP products for the first time and decided to go ahead with developing our relationship further. EP were had a great reputation in Italy for their class 3 warehousing equipment and after visiting Brussels a few times to see the trucks in action we realised that a partnership with KFE and EP could be mutually beneficial.
Even with COVID impacting the market over half of our partnership we have had great success with the EP products and our sales and rental contracts have been consistently increasing.
Can you tell me about the Italian material handling market?
The market in Italy now in 2021 is still experiencing growth similar to that seen in 2019 and 2020, even as it starts to see the impacts of Covid 19. The market is doing very well which is great news as like everyone else we were worried about how the pandemic may impact our business. Most of the market for us is class 3 products which EP has perfected and now we are seeing that diesel trucks are becoming less dominant as the popularity and demand for lithium grows. We mainly see sales of diesel in the south for the tomato industries but a huge tomato sauce brand ‘Mutti’ made here in Italy was KFE’s first lithium truck sale and they still use the truck to this day. They could replace the need for a diesel-powered truck because the EP EFL Series matches the capabilities and has a more positive environmental impact.
Why do you think EP works in the Italian market?
The first thing I immediately noticed about EP compared to other Chinese brands we previously worked with was the European qualities of the business. The ability to work with the European market was the first thing that stood out to us. The team in China are very active and on the ball with responding to any requirements we have. The company has an active team and is very innovative and adapts to the market as it evolves and grows. The marketing from EP is very strong and the resources they provide are very different to other Chinese companies and even other European brands.
What EP products do you find your customers are most drawn to?
Most of the sales at KFE were largely class 3 products to begin with. The quality and the lithium-ion battery were stand out features of a fresh and new product at the perfect price on the Italian market. For this reason, the EP Pallet trucks are a favourite of the team here at KFE and a favourite of our customers. The forklifts from EP again stand out with the Lithium battery and again a good price point and as customers become aware of EP through the class 3 products, they are often interested in operating an EP forklift. EP stands out because it is a leader in lithium and entered the market one step ahead of other brands that were only discussing lithium at the time. The lithium batteries were previously hard to sell as people were reluctant to choose something they were not familiar with. Now a lot of brands sell lithium-ion powered machines, so customers are confident, but EP has it at the heart of their brand and this is what makes them stand out. The best bit is by choosing EP we can now offer a complete range of material handing machines to our customers, ahead of many other businesses.
How is EP different from other brands you have worked with in the past?
When the market in Italy was experiencing the effects of the economic crisis from 2008-2011 the impact of this was that we saw Chinese products largely disappear from Italy. The forklift market in Italy saw decreases of 90% and starting to build up trade again with Chinese manufactured products was not easy. The problem we faced was convincing dealers that choosing a product that from China did not mean that they would miss out on the after care and support they experience with European brands. Working with EP helped us overcome this as they operate just like a European business with a great team based across the continent that provide access to spare parts, after care and training. EP has longevity that people are just not used to from Chinese brands.
Why do you think your customers are choosing EP?
We have no difficulty finding dealers that want to sell EP. KFE has a solid reputation in Italy, we can offer after care, service, and support to other dealers. When our dealers see the EP machines, they understand why we are so behind the brand. We chose to make EP our first choice of material handling machinery and created KFE as a separate business so we could focus on creating a reputation for EP in our company that promotes it as a first choice for our customers.
Our customers want the full lithium range once they have seen it, but before this the demonstration of the truck is the most important bit. Once the customers are educated on how to use a lithium powered truck and the benefits then they are sold on the machine and want to get their hands on one. Now the majority of KFE’s orders are for lithium trucks.
The price point of EP is a huge factor in the customer’s choice. They see the benefits; they see the quality but without the great price EP would blend in. EP’s ability to offer a premium quality truck at an affordable price means that it appeals to all customers across many industries. Customers can really increase their portfolio with EP as it can cater to all of our customer’s various needs, it is products such as those from EP that work well for our Italian dealers and their customers.
If you want to join the lithium-ion revolution and be part of our EP Global dealer network just like KFE, contact our team today: firstname.lastname@example.org