Industrial gases: the invisible ingredient in everyday life
Messer Polska, in line with the overall Messer Group, specializes in technical gases which are used in a wide range of applications and are as important in production processes as water and electricity. The company produces acetylene, oxygen, nitrogen, helium, hydrogen, argon and carbon dioxide as well as many specialty gases in numerous forms and combinations.
They are used in such diverse activities as welding and cutting, electronics, food freezing, preservation and packaging, medical and pharmaceutical uses, and dry ice production.
“On product alone, it is impossible to differentiate ourselves from the competition,” notes Dirk Fünfhausen, who has been working for the Messer Group since 1987 and is Managing Director of Messer Polska as well as Senior Vice President for the Messer Group’s Central Europe region covering the Baltic countries, the Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. “However, through our exceptional service and our extremely motivated and focused employees, we have succeeded in setting ourselves apart. We really prioritize customer relationships. Each client has a direct contact partner who supports him and coordinates all his needs.”
The company supplies technical gases to a very broad range of sectors, among them the steel, chemical, automotive and electronics industries, food and soft drink manufacturing as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.
“Technical gases feature in every area of life,” points out Mr. Fünfhausen. “In the food branch there is an increasing focus on frozen goods - gases are required to successfully freeze foodstuffs - and most soft drinks contain CO2.”
Customers access Messer Polska’s products in different ways, depending on their size and needs. It goes without saying that the company serves large customers individually according to their requirements. In 300 or so cases this involves telemetry - usage of gas tanks is monitored and they are automatically refilled when necessary without the customer having to complete an order.
Messer Polska undertakes the whole logistics process. Customers of cylinder gases, of which the company has around 5,000, are served by sales partners located in large towns across Poland. The company also has many small customers, such as local locksmiths, who can carry out all their transactions themselves through the online shop or via apps.
The Messer Group, headquartered in Germany, had a long and successful history in industrial gas production and had already set up a number of overseas ventures when it identified huge potential in the Polish market. This led to the creation of the Polish subsidiary, Messer Polska, with its head office in Chorzów.
More recently the company has invested heavily in further manufacturing facilities in Rybnik and Turek. In particular Rybnik was selected for its proximity to the borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which means it is ideally situated to additionally serve customers in those countries.
These premises are located in special economic zones which qualify for tax incentives, which has contributed significantly to the company’s success; currently turnover is in the region of 75 million EUR per year.
“We serve many industries with fluctuating fortunes,” explains Mr. Fünfhausen. “Therefore our growth is heavily dependent on the economic situation of our customers’ sectors. In the steel branch for example, the current situation is very unclear and the chemical industry also faces challenges. We anticipate growth in the region of 3% for 2017, but we are actively working on broadening our customer portfolio to avoid dependence on one sector. That said, due to our breadth of coverage, we do not experience the ups and downs to the same extent as some of our customers and we remain relatively stable. ”
The company culture contributes enormously to its success. “We believe in hiring many young people and developing our own talent internally for the future,” points out Mr. Fünfhausen. “This applies not just to management positions, but is the model for our entire business. Unlike our competitors, we are owner-led and not listed on the stock market, and can therefore drive a very different strategy that is not focused on quarterly figures; we can take a longer term and more social view. We have a flat structure and openness and constructive communication are key. We give our employees the autonomy to make decisions which creates a productive and positive working environment and results in low staff turnover. I always say that those who identify with our culture can grow old with the company.”
Since many members of the management have been with the group for 25 years or more, this philosophy is clearly successful. It is unlikely that the technical gas industry will see dramatic changes in the future.
However, developments in the food industry and also, due to the ageing population, the medical sector offer particular opportunities for further growth. Mr. Fünfhausen sees significant ongoing potential in the Polish market.
“We aim to increase our market share which currently stands at 20%,” he concludes. “We will do this through broadening our client portfolio into other sectors, working with customers on specific projects and possibly making some strategic acquisitions. There are many interesting possibilities to tap into additional production facilities through partnerships.”