Holland is a strange little place. Best known for tulips, windmills, and clogs, its people are almost universally liked, often speak English better than the English, and all seem to have a happiness inside--like they know something we don't, and boy, will we be angry when we find it out.
And then take trussing, a product that suffers from a complete lack of sexiness: speakers, microphones, lights (flashing and non-flashing varieties), and backdrops--they're sexy. Aluminum poles that hold things up? Different story.
So combining the two is--at first glance--hardly the most inspiring of stories. But you can't always judge a book by its cover.
Based in the Dutch town of Leek, Prolyte Products is a major player in the field of truss systems, with a broad enough range to ensure industries-wide use, but narrow enough to remain perceived as a specialist.
Originally founded in 1989 as a welding company, the first major change of the company's short life was two years later, when Prolyte was remodeled as a manufacturer of flight cases and trusses.
Today, the company is split into two divisions: Prolyte Products manufactures the trussing systems and then Prolyte Sales takes over, controlling stocking, sales, packing, and distribution--as well as handling the selection and support of the company's global dealer network. It's a simple idea, but one that allows each division to do the job it does best. And that's the main thrust behind Prolyte's growth: to do things precisely.
Highlighting this attention to detail, Fokko Smeding, CEO of Prolyte Products, says, "We started Prolyte Products with one brief yet complex mission: to make state-of-the-art truss systems, unrivaled at every possible level, and keep it that way. So that's what we have done and are doing."
Smeding says Prolyte did this by "hiring highly-skilled welders to produce a broad, flexible range of truss systems" and "hiring engineers to constantly improve the quality of the truss systems."
According to the company's head of marketing, Marina Prak, the turning point for the company was in 1994: "When we made the first conical coupling, we never realized we had such a smart product!" The coupler allows for the quick assembly of trussing--always important with vital deadlines hanging over a project or show--that provides a rigid connection between two truss elements. And, as the conical coupling has no distinctive male or female sides, the cost of specialized cornerblocks is greatly reduced as well. Not surprisingly, it's been a popular, and much copied, system; it's now used in every product from the Dutch company, which was propelled into the international spotlight by the system.
Prolyte's product range is expansive--a truss for all seasons if you will--and covers the whole gamut of needs, from shop fittings and interior design (20 series); a light-duty, multipurpose truss system combining triangular and square parts (30 series); a larger version of this (40 series); and the long-life, rental-friendly S-series. Add a variety of towers (the multipurpose MPT and its heavy-duty cousin the ST) and a stylish range of caps, jackets, and shirts and that's a broad overview of the Prolyte range in an (aluminum-enforced) nutshell.
Never content to rest on its laurels, Prolyte invests heavily in an intensive R&D program; in May 1998, the company opened a new, state-of-the-art production facility. At a size of 5,200 sq. m. (6,240 sq. yd.), the site promises a 200% growth in production, with an investment of $1.5 million in machining and welding robots. But all this growth wasn't without its problems, as Prak explains: "We're not trying to expand too much right now. We've gone through a period of massive growth, and now it's time to consolidate this position and put our efforts into our dealer networks. In 1997 and 98, we asked a lot of our people as our production rate grew. Now it's time for us to look back on that growth, evaluate our position, and aim for a modest growth rate of, say, 20% a year."
Prolyte's attention to standards has often gone to the extreme (though not in a negative way) and no more so than when the company obtained the highly regarded RWTUV Bauart Prufung for its complete range of trussing systems. In typical Germanic style, the RWTUV Bauart Prufung is an exhaustive standard (on a par with the pan-European EN standard) and demanded a sharpening up of even Prolyte's exhaustive attention to detail. Welders' accreditation was raised, raw materials were all certified, stress and load calculations were raised (the company routinely tests all trusses to a load level of two and half times that for which they are designed). The whole production process is certified and under supervision of the TUV institution, according to the EN 729 standard, and, generally, the firm's already highly-tuned quality control systems were honed even further.
"We've started giving technical training to all our dealers," says Prak, enforcing the technical awareness that exists throughout the company and its network. "We want them to promote our products in the rental market while we work hard to support and raise our image in this area."
Prolyte's reputation in the rental market is relatively untested outside continental Europe (e.g., in England, the US, and Asia). The company is highly regarded by those who know its products, but it is still also an unknown quantity to some degree. "We're not involved in big tours yet; while we're seen as the perfect choice for conferences and exhibitions, we have the products for the rental and touring market but not the marketing backup. A lot of rental companies have existing trussing stock and we have to wait, and be ready, for when they look to replace it," says Prak.
The company has what it refers to as a "modest toehold" in the rental markets in Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany, but it has much bigger fish to fry than that, and that's where the latest addition to its dealer network comes in. The company's overall consolidation has led to a general overhauling of its dealer network, leading to Prolyte ending its relationship with its existing US dealer and linking up with Cincinnati, OH's Hollaender.
"We had an agent in the US," says Prak, "but we've ended that contract. We've now started with Hollaender, which, with 60 sales representatives across the US, will ensure that all American customers will know the Prolyte name and its products."
Dealer networks across the world are important to Prolyte. Like many large companies these days, it realizes that relationships maintain the sales generated by hard-hitting marketing campaigns. As the old marketing saying goes, it costs $100 to get a customer and $10 to keep one: so once you have worked hard to create a new customer, it pays, in all senses of the word, to ensure your after-sales service keeps that customer loyal.
As for the future? Asia will be the company's next major push, tapping into a market that the rest of the world has recently decreed is ripe for picking. And although the company's product may not at first glance appear to be the sexiest in the world, it is a certainty that the Dutch trinity of tulip, windmill, and clog is soon to be joined by another global market leader. It's made from aluminum. It forms the backbone of tours and presentations. And it's conically coupled.