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Designs on growth

Viessmann plans not only to shake up the display cabinet market but also to be the first firm to really exploit integrated heating and cooling. Andrew Gaved hears how

When you ask anyone in involved in the HVACR industry what the name Viessmann means to them, it is a pretty fair bet that most of them will reply “heating”. Those that don’t will probably reply “coldrooms”.

But Viessmann Refrigeration Systems is offering much more than that and its management are on a mission to change the perception.

The refrigeration division of the German manufacturer was established as a separate entity when it bought Finnish refrigeration specialist Norpe and seized an opportunity by merging it with its coldroom business to be more than the sum of its parts.

To target the UK and northern Europe, Viessmann lured ex-Carrier boss Jim Whelan to head the cold side and industry veteran Steve Steadman to be its sales director for UK and Ireland.

Viessmann Refrigeration certainly has some resources to draw on, since the 98-year-old Viessmann group has 11,500 employees, 26 different manufacturing plants in 11 different countries and a turnover that skirted €2.2bn last year.

That is quite an operation, but the firm is distinct in still being family owned – now on the third generation of the Viessmann family.

But while the company is best known for heating systems, the direction of travel is towards more integrated activities, with terms such as “holistic energy management” and “total building solutions” being used.

Lest anyone imagine that the cold side is just an add-on to the heating, Mr Whelan shares some of the strategy of the current chief executive. “A few years ago Dr Martin Viessmann undertook a strategic review of what the key trends were in the industry.

He came to the conclusion that the opportunities in the cooling side were much greater over the next 50 years than they would be in the heating side – especially in southern Europe and other warm parts of the world. So logically, the company should get more involved in cooling.”

Building up from the coldrooms business and an in-house pack  building operation in 2012, Viessmann then set about looking for strategic acquisitions.

In 2013, it bought 60-year-old Finnish refrigeration manuufacturer Norpe, a company with a strong reputation in the Nordic countries, a good product reputation and strong engineering focus but a brand that hadn’t made a great deal of headway in the UK.

Structural changes

This acquisition put the company in a position where it could talk about “total refrigeration solutions”, Mr Whelan says. “We were then at a point where the parent company was keen to invest in cooling and to put it at the heart of the business, so a number of structural changes took place, such as international appointments like myself, along with investing in new manufacturing capability.”

And in time for Euroshop last year, Viessmann pressed the accelerator on new product development with a brace of innovative cabinets, in the shape of the Visio and the Iconic (see box), which will all now be sold under the Viessmann brand.

One of Mr Whelan’s key tasks will be to develop wider markets for the range. “If you look at our traditional feeding ground for coldrooms, you’ve got the grocery trade and the whole Hotels, Restaurants and Catering sector – anywhere where you may need to feed a large body of people, so that will include prisons, hospitals and schools. Within grocery, we are targeting very much the convenience and discount sectors.”

“We think our Tecto coldrooms are very much the gold standard, with their innovative cam-lock systems and the SmartProtec, an antimicrobial powder coating which guarantees the integrity of the food products.”

It is an innovation applied in the factory, which gives the customer peace of mind, Mr Whelan says.

“Lots of people just provide a box as their coldrooms, but we think we are offering far more, whether it is the cam-lock; or the fact that we don’t use any silicone; or our coldrooms’ ability to be moved relatively easily, if necessary, whereas our competitors are only put in one place and then it has to be disposed of.”

Viessmann is looking to offer its range of equipment in partnership with contractors who can both install and maintain.

And the good news is that the firm is looking to expand the template, to offer a national capability – providing opportunities for regional specialists. 

“We are looking for people who see themselves as an extension of Viessmann,” says Mr Whelan. “And who, in time, can translate the success of the refrigeration side into energy management and the total building solutions.”

Fundamental change

The potential for total solutions (and heat pumps are also within the Viessmann portfolio) or “holistic energy management” is something that excites Mr Whelan: “I believe the rules of the game have fundamentally changed. In the old days, the purchasing responsibility for heating and cooling was down to two different divisions, but now you are seeing consolidation at the end-user level, where they are realising it makes more sense to give the responsibility to one individual.

And from the supply side, if you believe that the way ahead is through leading-edge technology, which Viessmann does, then there is a lot of opportunity with the customer base.”

The challenge of course, is to build the Viessmann brand into a full-service offering. “The UK and Ireland has a number of mature companies,” he says.

”But that I think gives an opportunity for a new player, especially when there are resources to put behind it.”

“Ultimately, when you look at the success Viessmann has had on the heating side, then there will be opportunities to interest that customer base in cooling solutions.

It needs an innovator to show the customers how they can really drive energy down and reduce their carbon footprint by integrating heating and cooling.”

When it comes to the cabinet market, Mr Whelan acknowledges that the market is crowded, but maintains there is room for a new player. “We think we offer the ability to adapt to customer needs more than our competitors. Cabinets have become a bit of a commodity, but we think we can provide an innovative design that will appeal to the food retail customer, while meeting all the green standards that the end-user requires.”

Viessmann is currently trialling in Finland an intriguing vision of the future called Click For Food.

The concept is effectively an edible version of Click and Collect and envisages the staff of an office or other workplace ordering their food shopping for the evening while they are at work and then – the novel bit – being able to pick it up from Viessmann refrigerated lockers in the office foyer when they leave.

Alternatively, there could be a collection of the lockers housed next to a tube station, notes Mr Steadman, allowing the workers to order before they travel, and pick up their goods when they arrive – like a modern iteration of the left-luggage locker.

The concept would see Viessmann partnering with a range of food suppliers or supermarkets, who would manage the click-and-collect aspect – and it could reach the UK before the end of the year.

The design advantage

The design engineers at Viessmann Refrigeration have made it their business to reinvent display equipment.

One of the flagships is the Iconic freezer cabinet. Appealingly, the designers say they start from a point of view of “bringing creativity back to the freezer section”.

The Iconic’s major advantage is the way that its designers have wrought space from the standard structure – it claims 40 per cent more internal merchandising space than a conventional cabinet of the same footprint. That is closely followed by the energy consumption, which is best in class, Mr Whelan notes proudly.

The ‘semi-vertical’ Iconic seeks to optimise the ergonomics of reaching into the cabinet, together with maximising product display area and increasing the visibility of the merchandise.

Another highlight is the e-Visio chiller cabinet, which claims the distinction of being ‘two multidecks in one compact cabinet’ and claiming a 30 per cent saving on of the floor space against the conventional setup of two multidecks installed back to back.

At the same time, the extensive glass is claimed to afford the consumer a greater view of the merchandise than other cabinets.

And, being two cabinets in one, the company claims the e-Visio is 50 per cent faster to install than the alternative, too.

The cabinet features Norpe’s proprietary air curtain technology called e-ncore. To complete the credentials, the e-Visio is also CO2-compatible.

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