If there was a textbook showing how to expand a company globally, Hangcha could write that textbook, and Hangcha Forklift Canada would make a perfect case study.
Hangcha was founded in China in 1956, and in 1974, its first forklift rolled off the manufacturing line. Since then, the company has become an international leader in the industry. Figures from Modern Material Handling (MMH) magazine place the company eighth worldwide in sales volume. Today, that market leadership continues, with over 80 subsidiaries in countries around the world and industry-leading technology.
Hangcha forklifts have been available in Canada for some time but, in 2019, the company deepened its footprint here. Robert Pitzul, Vice President of Sales for Hangcha Canada, was the catalyst. At the time, Hangcha forklifts were entering Canada’s dealer network through an importer. Pitzul approached the company about putting facilities on the ground in Canada, and with a U.S. expansion just under their belt, Hangcha Group agreed.
Hangcha Forklift Canada was incorporated in 2019—just in time for COVID to put a damper on its plans. The delay was only temporary, and the team picked up the keys to the warehouse in the fall of 2020.
Today, most of the company’s 35 employees are located at the headquarters just outside Montreal, in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec. That first location was only one piece of the puzzle: the company also has a 30,000-square-foot warehouse showroom in Mississauga, Ontario and another 14,000-square-foot warehouse in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Louanne Rioux, Sales and Marketing Director, explains that the locations are strategically chosen, as is the inventory. “We wanted a presence from the West Coast to the East Coast because there are different applications and needs from one region to another. This way, we can provide the units best suited to the market.”
That line of units is broader than most, offering forklifts from Class I to Class VII, all manufactured by Hangcha.
The distribution facilities are a key differentiator between Hangcha and its competitors. The Mississauga warehouse has over 300 units on display for its customers, representing its full line of products. With that volume of inventory on the ground and a robust distribution system in place, Hangcha can offer customers much faster access to needed equipment. “Our lead times are second to none,” Rioux says. “Even if we have a factory order for a unit that isn’t already here, it only takes 16 to 20 weeks to deliver on average. Waiting periods of 12 to 24 months are more typical [in the industry].”
Randy Thistel, Regional Sales Manager for Hangcha in Ontario, points to that investment as an indicator of how Hangcha Group approaches its international expansion. “Hangcha has invested in the warehouse and put product on the floor. They made that commitment to have the units available for the dealer network and the end users. This is essential to what our success is going to be,” he says.
When it comes to forklifts, Thistel has “been there, done that.” He has worked in every corner of the industry for 30 years, from service to operations to sales. The decision to join Hangcha was an easy one for him. “I had known Robert for about 10 years. When he talked to me about Hangcha, how they were investing so many hours in development, taking a top-notch product to market at an affordable cost, I couldn’t say no.”
Rioux may be newer to the forklift industry than Thistel, but for her, Hangcha completes a circle. “Previously, I’ve worked in international shipping and logistics. My role here is closing the loop from ocean freight to logistics on the road to forklifts. It’s an exciting industry; it’s challenging, it moves fast, and it’s necessary.”
Working to establish Hangcha’s presence in Canada has been a whirlwind. “I was employee number three. It’s been an interesting ride. I worked with Robert to develop the structure, the dealer network coast to coast. Then we worked to build the sales team, starting with inside sales first, then the outside sales territories.”
The company has grown quickly in a short period, and it is intentional about the culture it is building. “It took some trial and error over the four years, but we have a dream team now. We’ve got over 100 years of combined industry knowledge and history on our team.”
Both Rioux and Thistel stress that the values of the company are not just words on the wall. The values of integrity, teamwork, responsibility, and sharing are embedded in the way the company does business, and decisions are made collaboratively.
“We’ve got a great foundation with our people,” Thistel says. “Every puzzle piece makes us so much better, and we make key decisions together, as a group. We’re creating things the right way.”
One of the challenges involved in expanding the company’s business and presence in Canada is introducing a technology that is still relatively new to the market: lithium-ion batteries. Traditionally, forklifts have been operated by either diesel, propane, or lead-acid batteries.
“With lead-acid, the more the battery drains, the less power you have,” Thistel says. “Your lift speeds will slow; your drive speeds will slow.” Lithium batteries, on the other hand, deliver full power continuously, and they are designed for what Thistel calls ‘opportunity charging.’
“With lithium technology, the battery wants to be charged all the time. The operator can charge them when they’re on break or at lunch, and you’ll never run out of battery. We have them in 24-hour applications, which would have been impossible for a lead-acid battery.”
What about durability? “We have some units with 4000 hours on them, and the batteries are still running perfectly. We stand behind them. We offer a 10-year warranty on larger units, five-year on the smaller units. It’s a strong warranty, and I believe we’re changing the industry for the better.”
Thistel and Rioux are clear: for Hangcha, the future is lithium. “By the end of 2024,” Thistel says, “we’ll have lithium in every unit, from a 100,000-pound capacity forklift right down to a 2,000-pound walkie. We’ll have lithium technology for it all.”
One reason this technology makes sense is cost savings, and for owners, those savings add up. “We’ve done the research,” Thistel says. “Over the first 10 years, between the purchase of the unit, charging, fuelling, and repairs, the cost savings amount to about $150,000 per truck.”
Although relatively new technology to the forklift market, lithium is catching on. In fact, Hangcha is putting these batteries into service with forklifts from other manufacturers.
“With our universal lithium battery system program, we can put lithium technology into any brand,” Rioux says. “If someone has a forklift with a lead-acid battery that’s no longer useful, we can install a lithium battery to replace it. The owner can keep it running, instead of scrapping the whole machine.”
“We’re even doing that for new trucks from other brands,” Thistel adds. “Dealers are putting our lithium batteries into new forklifts with lead-acid batteries because the technology is just better.”
For Thistel, the support Hangcha Canada receives from the manufacturer is key to the company’s continued growth in Canada. In addition to supporting its dealers and end users through the adoption of lithium battery technology, the engineering team in China also responds directly to input from this market. “We can take something to the manufacturer, and they’ll implement it immediately if it makes sense. We don’t have to wait until a whole new line comes out.”
How can a company respond that nimbly? The scope and scale of the facilities in China are part of the answer. The company has one million square metres of manufacturing space there and is continuing to grow and expand. If you are having trouble imagining that, it is understandable, and Rioux has a helpful parallel. “It’s the equivalent of 633 arenas,” she laughs.
“When we took our dealers there,” Thistel adds, “it helped them understand what Hangcha is doing and how they’re doing it. They saw the quality of the facilities firsthand and the sheer professionalism of the people.”
Hangcha Group’s expansion into Canada is a textbook example of how to do it well, and it is all about commitment: investing in the right spaces, putting quality products on the ground, and hiring and empowering a ‘dream team’ of the right people. This approach is not a one-off, either; in the few short years since its Canadian expansion in 2019, Hangcha has employed the same principles and expanded to Mexico, Brazil, Australia, and the Netherlands.
“Hangcha has committed to be the best at everything we do,” Thistel says. “We want to have the best product, the best availability, the best parts department. We’re continuously improving. We want to be the best, to set the bar for the industry in Canada.”