07/02/2022

7 February 2022
7 February 2022, Comments Comments Off on Fernando Ortiz – Benimar
Fernando Ortiz - Benimar

¡Gracias España! Next goal: Europe

While being at the helm of Benimar for 20 years, Fernando Ortiz has brought the Spanish brand to the standards of the best European manufacturers. Now, Ortiz is also engaged in a new challenge: to grow the production site of Mediterraneo VDL, a company created to produce Trigano Group’s mini-vans with pop-up roofs.

We interviewed the Spanish manager to talk about these issues. Here’s how Fernando Ortiz answered our questions.

Aboutcamp BtoB: In a European landscape dominated by German, French, Italian and UK manufacturers, a Spanish company like Benimar is certainly a rarity. How important was being from Spain – a positive or negative?
Fernando Ortiz: Spain is not considered a leading country for technology and production, but we must not forget that Spanish industry has played an important role in the manufacture of cars for many years now. Not only because there are good Spanish car companies, but also because there are German car manufacturers that produce in Spain. When I arrived at Benimar in 1996, the owner of the company, Geensen, had a decidedly export-oriented vision, as the Spanish market was very small. To obtain valid results abroad, we have always focused on product quality and customer care. If we have managed to sell a product made in Spain as far away as Norway, it is due to the fact that the company has always reacted when there was a problem, has always listened to the customer to develop the product, and has always sought customer satisfaction.

Aboutcamp BtoB: 20 years ago Benimar joined the Trigano Group. What has changed in those 20 years and how important has being a member of the Trigano Group been?
Fernando Ortiz: Originally, the company made a customized product, almost tailor-made for the customer: we made changes to the size of the vehicle, the number of seats, the layout. This line of business worked very well from the company’s foundation until 2002. Then, when Trigano bought Benimar, we agreed with Francois Feuillet to make a less customized, more standardized product, in order to better manage large volumes of production. Between 2002 and 2007 we worked to have serial production, with high volumes. Being part of a group like Trigano is always an advantage, in terms of purchasing, technical collaboration and know-how… Belonging to the group has allowed us to industrialize faster, which is why we have grown so much. Without Trigano’s support we would never have got to where we are today.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How long did it take to switch from the old, customized production to a truly serial production?
Fernando Ortiz: Basically, three years. We went through a period where we manufactured vehicles for Challenger and Chausson and this was an advantage in understanding how to work at a different speed and in a serial way. Then, after a few years, we finished working for Trigano VDL and therefore all the production capacity was destined for the Benimar brand.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What have been the fundamental stages of Benimar’s development over the last 20 years?
Fernando Ortiz: We have expanded the company since 2004, after starting series production. Then, after the crisis of 2010, heavy investments were made to bring the company to today’s level. We have expanded the manufacturing of sandwich panels, created a new carpentry section and a longer production line: there have been many changes, in fact, today, the company has nothing to do with the original one. We can say that 2005 and 2015 are the two most important years, the strongest moments in recent history. But we never stop…

Aboutcamp BtoB: For several years Benimar was a little known brand on the European scene, then the growth began and now it is one of the pillars of Trigano Group. Why has Benimar gained more and more importance?
Fernando Ortiz: Many years ago, together with Francois Feuillet, we thought about some projects , we tried to carry out. We decided to try to do one thing and see where we would go. And we have come further than expected! We are a Spanish company that wants to be an important part of Trigano, not a small company in Southern Europe. Perhaps it is also this pride that has allowed us to grow…

Aboutcamp BtoB: How much have exports changed? What are your main markets?
Fernando Ortiz: Benimar has always exported a lot of its production; when Trigano acquired us, exports represented over 50% of our turnover. We have always thought that exports are very important and that we need to be present on many markets. All countries are important, not just France or Germany, because when one market suffers, the other is fine and things compensate for each other. Today, exports represent about 80% of turnover. The main markets for us are Spain and France, then we have a very important presence in Germany, where we only started sales two years ago with excellent results thanks to the mix of quality and service. Then there is the United Kingdom, where we do well, and also Belgium, where we are often the second brand in terms of registration numbers. These are the five most important markets for Benimar. However, we are also present in Italy, the Nordic countries and Eastern European countries.

Aboutcamp BtoB: For some years, Benimar has had strong manufacturing links with Challenger and Chausson. Most of your models were very similar to those of the two French brands from Trigano. Is there still this link?
Fernando Ortiz: For a while, we had common products and we also built vehicles for Trigano VDL, then gradually we decided to create a different product. The construction technique was very similar, but today it is less so. We had similar products to Challenger and Chausson, especially between 2005 and 2008, then we differentiated, and in 2014 we concluded the collaboration, taking our own path. We wanted to create our own personal style, a “Benimar style”, with even more “lively” colour combinations than those adopted by our French partners.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Are you working on the eco-sustainability of the product and internal production processes?
Fernando Ortiz: Today, we are looking for materials that are recyclable, not only in the vehicle walls, to create a product that leaves less residues in the environment. Concerning the chassis, Trigano is working on energy transition projects at group level. At the production level we try to use less water, we use less contaminating products and for the generation of electricity we have self-generation projects with photovoltaic solar systems.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How did you experience the difficult period of the pandemic and how are you living with it now?
Fernando Ortiz: The pandemic had a major impact. It was very difficult, especially, when at a certain point, there was no end in sight. Then we began to work gradually with the staff, and took all possible measures to minimize the risk. Obviously, we must also consider the problems related to the supply of materials: the last two years have been complex and it is not over; we still have supply problems, like everyone else, for the frames, the microchips and various technical components.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What measures are you taking to solve the problem of the shortage of frames and other components?
Fernando Ortiz: In this sector there are few suppliers, which is a reality we have to live with. We have entered into a flexible agreement with our employees: when the materials are available, we work, otherwise we stop production for half a day, a day, or a week, depending on the situation, then we recover.

Aboutcamp BtoB: As for the chassis, will you continue to focus on Stellantis and Ford?
Fernando Ortiz: The idea is to continue like this with Fiat/Stellantis and Ford who are the two brands we have been working with for years and we have a good relationship with them. If there are interesting proposals for a new chassis in the future, we will evaluate them, but today the idea is to continue with Fiat and Ford. Certainly, today it is difficult to decide, and I think it will be useful to see how supply stabilizes after the emergency.

Aboutcamp BtoB: The development of Benimar also took place thanks to the expansion of the product range: more types and more layouts. How has this been done over the years?
Fernando Ortiz: Thanks to an agile structure and a very collaborative team, we have tried to do attractive and innovative things, and this has improved the perception of the company by dealers. We always listen to the requests and advice of dealers; we evaluate every contribution. In Benimar, we have a team that works horizontally with various groups within the company working together with other departments. The commercial division tries to understand what the production problems are, the purchasing department tries to understand the commercial problems, and so do the administration and the after-sales department. We are united, we work together, we are connected: our strengths are the people and the team.

Aboutcamp BtoB: For many years, Benimar production was limited to overcabs and semi-integrated models, then you introduced motorhomes and campervans. Was this a winning decision?
Fernando Ortiz: Yes, it was the right choice. For campervans we rely on the Italian plant of Trigano Group. The motorhome, on the other hand, is made at our own production site. The expansion of the range was important in becoming a mature brand capable of competing at all levels on the European market. The demand for campervans was growing rapidly, while for the motorhome we intervened to give a solution for our most loyal customers. After owning two or three Benimars, overcabs or semi-integrated, many of our customers wanted to switch to a motorhome. In the past they had to turn to other brands, but the customer must be kept, so we also had to provide something for those who wanted a motorhome. This required an important investment in order to create a reliable and quality product as a motorhome is a more complicated product to manufacture: it took a lot of time and resources, but it sells well, even in the Nordic countries with Alde heating, in markets where usually only premium brand vehicles are sold. This gives us great satisfaction.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Special layouts, Alde heating … is it a return to origins, to a certain customization of the vehicle?
Fernando Ortiz: Years ago, when we industrialised and standardised production, we inevitably gave up some particular and valuable solutions. Now that product industrialization is an established fact, we can go back to doing something more for the customer. Obviously we are not talking about customization, we do not address every single customer request, but we can offer a range of choices, including particular solutions.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How does the new Mediterraneo VDL fit into a structured company like Benimar?
Fernando Ortiz: Mediterraneo VDL is a parallel company to Benimar. I have the role of CEO and part of the team is shared with Benimar. But we are talking about companies with different objectives. In Mediterraneo VDL, mini-vans with pop-up roofs are made, marketed by Trigano with various brands: Panama, Karmann Mobil, Font Vendome and Randger. For some time, the Trigano Group has been thinking about a new product that’s more compact and simpler than normal campervans on a Ducato base. During the period when companies were stopped during the most acute phase of the Covid pandemic, at the Trigano Group we decided to give life to the project by exploiting the plant where we once built mobile homes. We have decided to rethink the orientation of that company with a new business line that I think is very interesting because the products are in a market where there is a growing demand for compact campervans which establish a link between the world of car and that of the camper.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Is the new compact campervan factory already working at full capacity?
Fernando Ortiz: We started work less than a year ago and now the production is quite substantial, despite the known problems with supplies. We can definitely increase production. The dealers are interested and so are the customers and we are proud of the fact that Trigano Group has decided to implement this new project in our factory. The Benimar team collaborated on the initial development, then new professionals were introduced who are assuming all the responsibilities within the company. When fully operational, there will be a team that is completely independent from Benimar. The plant, however, is a few hundred meters from Benimar, so in the future, if necessary, there may be a collaboration.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What are the expectations for this new compact campervan?
Fernando Ortiz: Today, it is very difficult to predict the numbers. Of course, Covid has generated a change in mentality, and the way in which people understand tourism has changed. I believe that people today think a lot about the outdoors, about contact with nature, and I am convinced that this small campervan has a versatility of use that the motorhome cannot have, in fact it can be used both as a car and as an RV for the weekend.

Aboutcamp BtoB: The compact campervan produced by Mediterraneo VDL is a very simple product, so can we say that there was a limited investment?
Fernando Ortiz: No, the investment was important. The structure, the building and the machinery are an investment, plus the training of the staff. We have to work well and make a product that gives customer satisfaction.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the company’s relationship with trade fairs in the sector?
Fernando Ortiz: For Benimar, fairs have always been interesting, with a return on investment. Today, the idea is to continue, at least participating in the most important ones. Some companies believe that more should be invested in digital communication, and that is true, but one thing does not exclude the other. Both have to be done. Fairs are very important for communicating with the end customer: finding all the brands and the various innovations gathered in the same place stimulates the customer. I think that a national trade fair does not represent just a commercial event, but something more, it is “culture”.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Two years ago you entered the market in Germany, starting from Caravan Salon Düsseldorf: it was a strategy that paid off, so were you satisfied? Did the lack of your competitors in Düsseldorf that year give you an extra opportunity?
Fernando Ortiz: We decided that we absolutely had to enter the German market, because our industrial capacity had grown and was enough to enter such a market. Furthermore, the German market could have compensated for any possible difficulty in other markets: it was the critical period of Brexit, for example. We had already decided to enter Germany starting from the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf, even before knowing that some competitors would not go to the fair.

Aboutcamp BtoB: There are RV manufacturing groups that buy OEM suppliers, accessories distributors and even dealerships. What do you think: is this the future?
Fernando Ortiz: I do not think it is wrong for groups to buy outlets. Dealers are purchased which subsequently do not necessarily become monobrand. Trigano has its own dealers like Marquis in UK, L’Alliance Camper Team in France and Libertium in Spain. I think the advantage is the economic strength of the groups: often the family-owned company needs a significant amount of money, because the product costs a lot and often to get these sums the family of owners have to go to the banks and take risks at a family level. Speaking of suppliers, I don’t know, but it seems to me that it is more groups of suppliers who buy, rather than groups of manufacturers. I believe that, as in all things, the mix is ​​the best solution. Some suppliers remain independent, others join a group, but the business can continue.