From drones to dentists...Grenke gives SME leasing the personal touch as its Irish presence expands
Wolfgang Grenke's concept of offering small ticket leasing finance to small businesses found a welcome home in Ireland some 15 years ago, and even more so when the recession hit just a few years later.
But although the German entrepreneur's firm, built from a room at his house in BadenBaden in 1978, has grown to have a presence in 32 countries and a global headcount of more than 1,300, its current offering remains relatively unknown mainstream.
Grenke, which opened its first branch here at Sandyford with a four-strong team, lease all types of business equipment "from as little as €500 to €500,000 and beyond" to the SME needing an asset in order to expand.
With the only real exclusion from the leasing range being motors (too volatile a market), the company facilitate these small firms with standard office equipment, CCTV systems, school white boards, multi-million factory machinery, drones, ice-machines, and a partridge in a pear tree.
"When I took over the Irish operations, we were primarily offering photocopiers; that was the bulk, probably 60pc, of the business," Grenke Ireland Managing Director (MD) Justin Twiddy told Independent.ie.
"Then we started expanding into different assets, more into manufacturing, drone technology and so on. People don't realise we can do all that, that we offer a one-stop-shop. And if there are certain assets that we don't do, we know a lot of the other competitors that would be able to help them out and we would quite happily refer them on."
Mr Twiddy's own introduction to Grenke was actually fortuitous: the UK-based IT distributor he was working for were badly hit post-2008 as retailers couldn't pay for their equipment upgrades. The German leasing businesses happened to be located in the same office block just across the hall.
"I met the MD at the time at a networking lunch in our building. He explained that they could do a split invoice, a distribution model. The distributor could get paid directly from Grenke, the retailer could get profit for the overall deal and then Grenke take the risk of compliance. For me, this was brilliant."
When Mr Twiddy was looking for a change, Grenke brought him on initially to grow the IT side as he knew all the dealers but he was then offered the job to run the Sandyford HQ, taking over as MD in 2014.
Grenke has two ways to market; direct, with a sales team that is constantly expanding in size and geographically, and also with suppliers and brokers and a number of products from a classic lease offering to a specialised Master Lease Agreement (MLA).
An MLA is essentially a pre-approved pot of money that a business can draw down from as and when needed over a 12 month period to lease essential business equipment from a vendor of their own choosing.
Because of the benefits to company cash flow, while also allowing it the equipment to expand, the recession actually worked in Grenke's favour. But, over a decade on, how are SMEs responding to the leasing services?
"When we first moved over, small businesses were going to their main pillar banks. And if the bank said no, you wouldn't know where else to go, you wouldn't really have any idea that there were alternatives out there. That's where we stepped in.
"The recession has made people get a lot smarter with their money and preserve their cash flows. We're on a good trajectory right now but there will be another bust, although not as bad as last time, at some point; we're just not sure when exactly that will be. People are being more prudent."
While there are a number of organisations who still have the mentality of '"we have to own it", similar to the Irish mindset of "we have to own our houses", the rapid evolution of technology has driven the popularity of leasing, particularly across manufacturing and medtech.
"The dental market for us has really grown as tech is changing all the time in the dentist area. They are looking for the newest machines that will cut down on client waiting times, help them expand and keep them ahead of their own competitors."
In addition to Sandyford, Grenke have two other leasing branches in Fingal and Cork, with an Invoice Finance team that covers all three hubs. Including a Belfast office and a separate Plc operation, the company employs more than 65 staff in Ireland.
With the Grenke team priding themselves on having a personable approach "three rings and you will get through to a person", Mr Twiddy said that having local offices in local areas is essential as "people buy from people" and an office in the West is on the cards in the next few years.
A total of 13 new employees were hired for the Irish operations last year, bulking the total staff base by a quarter, and the team are looking to expand even further this year to strengthen the direct sales team.
Antje Leminsky took over the global helm from Wolfgang Grenke last year filtering her ethos - "a revival of the entrepreneurial spirits and exploring new territories" - down to the country hubs.
But in terms of company culture here, Mr Twiddy has a local autonomy and is busy fostering an environment where succession plans and career progression are the norm, ideas are welcomed and work flexibility is facilitated.
"If an employee looks for extra responsibility; they'll be given it. If you're a back-to-work mum, we'll appreciate that. And if you've got an idea, we'll try it."