The French general sales and service agent ECS is constantly expanding its global reach. In the fiscal year 2013 the group that runs 80 offices in 32 countries turned over $928m. This year ECS expects to surpass the one billion dollar mark, thanks to its thriving business. But not many are familiar with the brand name. To change this, a new campaign named “Invisible Force – Visible Results” is launched to promote greater visibility.
While giving a press conference at the Shanghai-held Air Cargo China trade show, ECS Group’s Chairman and CEO Bertrand Schmoll appears to be pretty relaxed, since time seems to play into his hands. This, because an increasing number of airlines outsource their cargo business due to cost reasons and decide to have the holds of their passenger aircraft filled with shipments managed by general sales agents instead. “We capitalize on this ongoing trend,” Bertrand states. This however, doesn’t happen automatically, since the GSA sector is kind of a battle field with dozens if not hundreds of players trying to push competitors aside in order to make a living.
From these murky lowlands of the GSA biz the ECS Group has long developed into an economic giant that’s setting the trend in this sector together with two or three other global players. Last year the 58 ECS group members, located in 32 countries, reported total sales in air freight of 585,000 tons.
The one billion dollar aim
“This year, for the first time in our history, we expect to turn over more than one billion U.S. dollars,” CEO Schmoll proudly announces.
The company’s journey from small to big took more than twenty years to reach what it is now. However, in contrast to most service agents the ECS Group has quickly reached a higher level due to sticking to some basic business principles.
First to be mentioned is the unprecedented acquisition policy. According to Bertrand Schmoll there are two main criteria that determine if the ECS management decides buying into a local GSA to integrate the firm and their personnel into their group of agencies: firstly, if this step leads to perceivable synergies. “This is always the case should the local GSA serve airlines that already belong to our Group’s portfolio of clients,” Bertrand says.
A second major aspect for deciding pro or con is the attitude of the candidate’s management to support the acquisition and their executive’s willingness to fully integrate their business and teams into the ECS Group of agents. Remarkably enough, “from 25 acquisitions that we carried out in recent years, only one single executive left his company after the change of ownership had been sealed,” Bertrand recalls.
One Group, many brand names
Due to the meanwhile widespread presence of ECS subsidiaries, that always kept their well-known brand name despite the takeover by the Paris-based ECS headquarters, “we can manage the cargo business of our clients along their entire network at similar quality standards and operational procedures,” Mr Schmoll explains.
Another major success factor is the management’s philosophy to offer carriers a global coverage on a long-term basis, in order to further develop their cargo biz anywhere along their entire network. This comprises initiating new business opportunities by linking the traffic flows of two individual ECS mandate airlines with each other. With benefits for all parties involved, as facts prove. “Since the first day of our existence we haven’t lost any single client,” Bertrand proudly states.
While saying this Chief Operating Officer Adrien Thominet steps in, emphasizing that filling the lower decks of their client’s fleet is just one task among many others fulfilled by the many ECS Group members. “Nowadays, airlines are asking more and more for logistics service packages,” he points out. This comprises surveys on regional or local cargo markets, developing new cargo products, delivering forecasts on the development of certain trade lanes, providing information on customs and security procedures and alike reporting to make upcoming changes or trends more transparent. “That’s why we do not consider ourselves being an ordinary GSA but a general sales and service agent, with emphasis on service,” Adrien points out.
Although the field of responsibilities demanded by airlines from their sales partners is enlarging constantly, the commissions paid to them hasn’t gone up by a single cent, confirms Bertrand. More work but no more money - that’s the bitter pill the ECS Group together with other cargo services and sales agents must swallow.
Shaping new regional biz models
Touching the point of growth opportunities Asia-Pacific Ops Manager Mike Hewitt stresses an important aspect: the rapid development of budget airlines. “Currently there are 47 discounters operating in Asia. But it will be close to 60 by the end of this year, he announces. “This fast evolving low cost market we have to watch very closely for establishing relations,” notes Mike. Such as what was done by ECS in Singapore, where Tiger Airlines has become a new customer. As first result, both partners are jointly developing a sustainable cargo product, Mike reports. Parallel to this the contours of an overarching structure for a specific regional biz model are taking shape: “We‘ve got to develop tailored customer relationship model for Vietnam, India, China and the neighboring countries,” Mike strongly recommended at his firm’s press meeting during Shanghai’s Air Cargo China.
To become even better known the campaign “Invisible Force – Visible Results” might help ECS to further promote the customized biz models for getting additional Asian budget carriers on board.