The Cimbria group has grown to become one of the world’s leading suppliers of equipment for transporting, storing and processing industrial and agricultural goods. Cimbria products allow their customers to handle huge volumes of commodities like grain, seed, cereals and sugar.
Founded in Denmark in 1947, today the Cimbria group employs more than 800 people in 20 countries. Part of that group is Cimbria Herning which specialises in making loading chutes, the crucial piece of motorised equipment used to transfer raw materials from silos or conveyor belts into lorries, ships and trains. It’s vital that these work fast and reliably, preventing wastage and hazardous dust.
2003 was a turbulent period for the company, Cimbria Herning posted annual losses of €1.2m resulting in the bank removing its financial support – staff turnover was high and the owners were demanding better for 2004. Newly appointed Managing Director, Lars Nørgaard, knew drastic changes were needed to secure the company’s future.
“Cimbria Herning was in dire straits, both economically and organisationally. We had to be proactive to save the company, rebuild motivation and team spirit.”
How design helped
Cimbria Herning decided on a complete organisational restructuring, selling off business areas to focus on the company’s core product – loading chutes. At around this time Nørgaard attended a seminar that opened his eyes to the business potential of design.
“In the past, we would just add new functions to the side of the loading chute until it looked like a mechanical Christmas tree. We didn’t see it as ugly, because it had always looked that way. The seminar made me aware that design has to be part of the business strategy if a small company like ours is to be an international player.”
Nørgaard decided to go all all-in on a redesign of the loading chute. The management and staff defined a set of challenges that they wanted the design project to address, and in 2004, with the company under significant financial pressure, Cimbria Herning became a design client for the first time.
“We were worried that we would have these stereotypical creative types turning up and we just wouldn’t be able to relate to them.”
After much research the company chose design agency 3PART – the chemistry between the two was good from the first meeting, and the culture clash they feared actually proved to be a valuable new perspective on their work. Very quickly the design agency learned about the world of Cimbria Herning, and grasped the technical and aesthetic challenges the company were facing.
“3PART proved very knowledgeable about materials and manufacturing processes – something we had not expected. Really we gained much more that just a new design. ”
3PART redesigned their core product, the Moduflex loading chute, giving it a dramatically more streamlined and marketable appearance. They also organised their entire product line into a modular system, with new brochures that allowed customers to combine elements to build a solution to exactly meet their needs.
40% increased turnover in the first year
€1m profit in second year
90% sales now come from international customers.
The design process they went through was very intense, allowing just 4 months for the complete redesign of the loading chute. The impact on launch was immediate, the company saw a 40% increase in turnover in the first year as customers began to chose Cimbria’s products over the competition.
The redesign of the chute and marketing materials cost the firm around €33,000 – an investment Nørgaard calculates had already paid for itself within the first six months in increased sales.
Within the first year, the €1.2 annual loss had turned into €0.5m profit, rising to €1m the second year. As a result of the design investment, Cimbria Herning has been able to establish itself as the market leader, not just domestically but globally, with the percentage of products sold for export rising from 60% to 90%.
As financial results improved, so did morale. The level of staff consultation that the design process involved meant they felt part of the success, boosting team spirit and pride in their small, but now very successful company.
“Design has helped secure Cimbria a strong position in the international market. We believe it’s also what will future-proof our product and our market position.”