Earthmoving News, Equipment and Machinery, Industry Legend, Merlo, Telehandlers

The new Norm for Merlo

Norm Atkinson of Merlo Group Australia, standing in front of a bright green Merlo telehandler

Following a decade of steady growth in the local market, Merlo Group Australia is making moves to strengthen relationships across its dealer network. EEM learns how bringing industry veteran Norm Atkinson on board represents a key step for the company.

Merlo Group has built its global success on a strong foundation of family values since its establishment in Cuneo, Italy, by the brother-and-sister team of Amilcare and Natalina Merlo.

While the company was officially founded in 1964, the roots of the family business stretch back decades – Natalina and Amilcare’s father, Giuseppe Merlo, was processing iron in a Cuneo workshop as early as 1911.

Today, those family roots hold strong. Merlo’s products are still manufactured in Cuneo, and the business remains family-run – albeit with an ever-growing global presence.

Merlo Group Australia’s market share has been growing steadily with the support of a strong dealership network.

In Australia, Merlo’s distinctive bright green telehandlers have been well known and proven in agricultural circles for many years. Merlo Group Australia has now turned its attention to growth in the local construction and rental industries.

Merlo Group Australia’s National Dealer Development Manager, Chris Wilson, says it wasn’t until 2012 that the company’s current dealership model was chosen as the best fit for the market.

“It’s taken us the best part of seven or eight years to get a good dealer network established,” Chris says. “It’s still a work in progress – it’s all about continuing to build that trust and confidence between us as an OEM, and our dealerships.”

According to General Manager, Michael Lombardo, Merlo Group Australia had no expectations of its dealers in the past as the brand was finding its feet in the market.

But as the volume of sales built, in 2020, the company made some major changes to its operational processes – which involved putting the onus on the dealers to leverage their market knowledge to forecast demand.

Founded in 1964, Merlo has been manufacturing its distinctive green telehandlers since 1981.

“We found that dealers responded accordingly,” Michael says. “They’re now finding that the Merlo product is a good contributor to their financial wellbeing.”

In turn, dealers are now expecting greater and more comprehensive support from Merlo Group Australia.

“Given the level of success we’ve had through this period, the expectation is now coming back on us,” Michael says. “We’re expected to be carrying the right parts, and the right volumes of stock.

“Dealers are also looking at the availability of training from both a technical and warranty point of view. All these sorts of things didn’t matter so much when we were selling 90 to 100 machines. But now that we’re selling 300 machines per year, there is an expectation that we’ve got to deliver from our end as well.”

Chris says establishing a proper local aftermarket division is an important step – one that ensures questions can be answered in a timely manner, rather than juggling time zones with Italy.

“These are all programs we’ve not implemented before, but both Michael and I have been discussing them for the past few years,” he says. “But it has taken a bit of time to get things set up commercially.”

Enter Norm Atkinson

When it came time to put a local face to the Merlo Group Australia name, Michael knew just who to call.

Norm Atkinson, an industry veteran with experience stretching back nearly four decades, was brought in to interview for the role of Dealer Support Manager NSW/QLD – a position created to be a central, reliable point of contact for dealers across some of Merlo Group Australia’s busiest areas.

(L-R) Merlo Group Australia’s General Manager Michael Lombardo, Norm Atkinson, and National Dealer Development Manager Chris Wilson.

“It was an exciting opportunity for me to be able to get Norm on board to help take our business to the next level,” Michael says. “Chris had never met Norm at that point, but it only took one meeting between the two for Chris to say: ‘That’s the right guy’.”

Chris adds: “After five minutes, I knew he’d be a good fit for us and our dealers. We could tell from the word go that he would fit in really well across all aspects of our customers’ businesses.”

Norm’s decades of experience with machinery of all shapes and sizes date back to 1984, when he became the first contracted apprentice for the Motor Traders’ Association of NSW, and honed his craft working on Mitsubishi, Leyland, and DAF trucks.

A love of all things mechanical carried him through positions with Fury Ford, All Diesel Repairs and Body Building, and Max Mobile Mechanics, before landing at CJD Equipment in 2003.

As CJD’s NSW Service Manager, Norm originally managed a team of eight employees in Sydney and two field technicians in Newcastle. Over time, he helped build the business to more than 60 staff across the two branches, transforming the service department into a profitable arm of the business in the process.

Norm was a Small Business Award Winner in his time with CJD Equipment.

It was in this time at CJD that Michael and Norm worked together, and Michael saw first-hand the sort of value Norm could offer.

“His role was NSW service manager, but he was also considered probably one of the best service managers within the CJD group,” Michael says. “I wouldn’t necessarily refer to him as an aftermarket specialist or a commercial specialist – Norm is a customer service specialist.”

Norm says building a foundation of trust was the key to his success in his 17 years at CJD.

“We really went all-out on that front,” Norm says. “That was the focus of the business from the directors down – to make sure we did whatever it took to keep our customers going. And the business just kept growing off the back of that.

“They’re very simple procedures, to be honest. It’s just a matter of picking up the phone when someone rings, and sorting them out. And you need to have a sense of urgency about it.”

Norm says that this urgency is crucial when you’re in the high-stakes game of heavy machinery.

“It’s not mum and dad’s Holden broken down on the corner – these machines can cost people a lot of money when they’re not working.

“And that’s why – as all my previous customers know – if you ring, I’ll answer. And if not, I’ll get back to you quickly.

Over the course of his career, Norm says he’s seen no shortage of businesses that are happy just to take orders – to the detriment of ongoing support for dealers and customers alike.

“My background is the total opposite,” he says. “Once you get the back end of the business sorted out – the aftersales support, spare parts, warranty – all the sales move along more smoothly as well.”

The most crucial step in all this, Norm says, is taking the time to understand how dealers’ businesses work, what they’re trying to achieve, and how.

“You need to know what they want, and you need to make sure you really listen to them,” he says. “And above all else, you need to be able to help at all times – no matter what it takes.

“It’s pretty simple stuff, but it goes a long way.”


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