In its 50-plus years, Soler & Palau evolved into the leading international commercial and residential fan manufacturer. Interestingly, the Spain-based enterprise attained its high status without significant representation in North America. But that’s changing. Dan Harvey describes how Soler & Palau USA is expanding the parent company’s global influence.
With an emphasis on designing and producing leading-edge products for the HVAC and associated industries, Soler & Palau (S&P) is the world’s largest manufacturer of commercial and residential fans. The 58-year-old, Barcelona, Spain-based corporation launches a new product just about every quarter. Further, the company estimates that about every eight seconds one of its products is installed somewhere in the world.
Spanish engineers Eduard Soler and Josep Palau founded the organization in Ripoll in 1951 with a vision of international expansion. They first established their business in Europe. Through the ensuing half century, their company gained strong footholds in Central and South America, Mexico, Australia, China and the Pacific Rim. S&P today has a firm and highly regarded network of distributors and partner companies in place. Towards the end of the 20th century, it made its first tentative steps into North America.
“Today, we manufacture in more than 20 countries, and we’ve established sales offices in more than 100 countries,” says Robert Robinson, vice president of sales for S&P’s USA division.
S&P offers a broad range of ventilation products suitable for just about any commercial or residential application. Its diverse line ranges from innovative, quiet room ventilators to large-diameter, high-capacity exhaust systems designed for critical applications in the toughest environments. Whatever their usage, all products are characterized by reliability and incomparable engineering. Continual product development is supported by state-of-the-art technology and in-house laboratory certifications. Currently, S&P’s manufacturing, research and development and distribution facilities occupy 1.1 million square feet in locations across the globe.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES IN NORTH AMERICA
Even though S&P is the world leader in air movement technology, its products haven’t become a household name in the United States. But the company is seeking to change that. In 2004, the parent company established a new outpost: S&P USA, the North American subsidiary of the Soler & Palau group of companies. Supplying a wide range of air moving products to a diverse client base, and strategically located in Jacksonville, Fla., S&P USA easily ships products throughout the United States and Canada.
Robinson describes how this came about: “S&P began exploring the U.S. market about 15 years ago, at first only sticking its toes into the water by starting an OEM division located in New Jersey that sold motorized impellers. In this way, S&P was able to get a pulse on what was going on in the United States.”
Feeling comfortable in the new setting, S&P then immersed itself neck-deep in the water. It acquired companies that made similar products and began penetrating its new market. Today, the U.S. operation is S&P’s North American sales, marketing and distribution arm. It also performs manufacturing and storage. The Jacksonville headquarters includes 200,000 square feet of combined production and warehousing space. “We have a huge warehouse facility where we keep finished products on the shelf and ready to ship,” informs Robinson. “When anything is sold, we simply replenish stock through our manufacturing arm. Further, from our warehouse, we operate the largest quick-ship program in the country.”
This permits the overnight delivery of many popular model sizes to anywhere in the U.S. and Canada. “Typically, in this business, delivery for customer orders can be as long as six to eight weeks,” says Robinson. “That’s not a problem for big projects. But it becomes a problem for replacement projects, when people need product quickly. Our unique program enables us to ship in a day.”
S&P USA manufactures and ships dozens of different residential and commercial product models, according to Robinson. “We manufacture and distribute a full line for new construction as well as the fan-replacement and specialty markets,” he says. “Our output includes everything from inline fans used for radon mitigation to bathroom exhaust to clothes dryer venting, all the way up to large commercial fans that you’d find in places like schools and hospitals. We also offer different fan categories, such as large blowers used to vent parking garages, upblast fans used in the restaurant industry and downblast fans used for general ventilation. We cover just about everything.”
Specifically, S&P’s commercial product line (available for nextday, three-day or 10-day shipping) is used in many industries and include centrifugal roof and sidewall ventilators, sidewall and utility sets, propeller roof ventilators, inline/ceiling and cabinet fans and gravity roof ventilators. The company also offers air circulators that include high-velocity floor fans, standard duty pedestal fans, outdoor high-velocity wall-mount fans, outdoor high-velocity pedestal fans, industrial duty circulator fans, premium duty circulator fans, high-volume circulator fans, high-velocity portable man coolers, industrial ceiling fans and carpet dryers. The company’s residential product line, which offers ideal solutions for air movement in domestic and office environments, includes mixed flow fans, inline centrifugal fans, axial fans and bathroom exhaust kits.
As far as new products, S&P developed its unique TD-Mixvent series. “It’s a series of in-line, mixed-flow duct fans that maximizes airflow performance with minimal noise levels,” describes Robinson.
Products in the series are installable in the most compact housing sizes. As such, they represent a highly viable solution for small- to medium-sized ventilation situations that require a high airflowto- pressure ratio and occupy the smallest space possible. “Plus, they’re manufactured in low cubic feet per minute (CFM) ranges, and by that I mean 100 to 1,000 CFMs,” says Robinson.
One of the most unique elements is the easy installation. All models include a removable body feature that enables the motor impelling assembly to be completely removed or replaced without interfering with the attached ducting. “Outside clips allow you to take out the centerpiece, essentially the guts of the fan, which makes service and repair much easier,” says Robinson. “All you need to do is unclip it, slide it out, perform the maintenance and slide it right back in.”
UNIQUE CUSTOMER SERVICE MODEL
Another crucial element to S&P USA’s growing success is its commitment to high customer-service levels, which it accomplishes through a unique business model. “In the commercial fan business, most key players employ a conventional business model where they hire plan-and-spec reps to talk with the architects and engineers about specific project products,” explains Robinson. “When a project nears completion, the project engineer orders product from the rep. The rep then buys products from our competitors and sells it to the project contractor. They don’t sell through distribution.”
Conversely, S&P USA sells its products primarily through distribution. “We sell product through the distributor who, in turn, sells to the contractor. That’s what makes us different,” comments Robinson. “We can internally provide this service level that a rep would normally provide. As such, wholesalers can call us, and our customer service department can help them cross reference our products with those of other manufacturers, or they can help them size fans for certain jobs. Even the largest U.S. commercial leaders don’t sell to distributors. They use the plan-and-spec business model. Thus, they can’t offer a customer service level that matches ours. Not only do we have field reps but we also have internal reps.”
Due to this unique business model and the innovative products it provides, S&P USA has witnessed substantial growth, even within the current economic climate. No doubt the parent company is proud. Moving into the North American marketplace was a bit tricky, but S&P appears on track with its ambition: to be one of the largest, if not the largest, fan manufacturers and suppliers in North America.