The Polish home market has seen significant changes, in the past two years. The economy is now more stable and it is easier to plan ahead, says Szymon Wieckowski, export sales manager for Alux who acted as spokesperson for his family’s company.
Alux is based at Bielsko-Biala and has good transport links including an expressway to the Czech border and a national road leading directly to Krakow in the east.
The area is developing rapidly. In recent years several automotive companies have opened, bringing more jobs to the area – unemployment is only 7%. When these companies do well then companies such as Alux will also do well, says Szymon. However traditional industries such as textiles are in decline because of demand for cheap Chinese imports. Some companies have switched production to China although Szymon knows of one textile company where the change did not work so it has now returned and is focussed on specialised production for a niche, upmarket audience.
Alux itself is also developing both in the home market and especially in exports. The company is now much more international than when LCNi first visited in 2010. It now does business not only with Lithuania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary but with France, Germany and the UK and beyond Europe has sent its machines to Nigeria, Australia and Venezuela.
When LCNi visited in autumn 2013 Alux was predicting that by the end of that year exports would have increased their share to 40% of total business, compared with 30% three years ago.

Quality range
The company’s range includes ironing tables, spotting equipment and also steam generators, which have perhaps seen the biggest change. These are now CE certified and Alux has started producing larger capacity machines, capable of producing 5kg steam/minute, that are now being sold to local hospitals for use in the sterilisation of equipment.
The finishing range is also expanding. Alux is developing a multiformer and has re-designed some lines. The company now makes two spotting cabinets exclusively for the home market but is also adapting machines to suit specification changes required by regulation in the wider European market.
For example, spotting cabinets for continental Europe must have double carbon filters and Alux has made the necessary changes with the assistance of a French customer.
Szymon says that the company is also looking at opportunities brought by emerging product sectors.  
Wetcleaning is beginning to attract attention and steam generators will be important here so Alux is putting together a finishing package for this application, consisting of a multiformer and steam generator.

Changing perceptions
The company is aware that to develop in continental Europe, it has to change the often poor perception of the quality of Polish-made machines.
Szymon stresses that Alux maintains high manufacturing standards and all machines are CE approved. He adds that Alux is the only Polish manufacturer of drycleaning finishing equipment, a position he would like to consolidate as far as the European market is concerned and show that Polish-made equipment can satisfy demand for high quality.
Managing director Aleksander Wieckowski has prepared the company for future expansion. He has already invested considerably with this in mind and has increased the workforce, outside family members, to 25.
Alux has also acquired the site for a new factory, which is 8km from the current site. When completed this factory will allow production to grow as customers also increase their business.
Both the Polish home market and international business are important to the company’s future strategy.
Szymon says that for the export market he would like to see further increases in business with France and Germany. France is a good market although regulations can be difficult.
Alux already has one dealer in Germany but would like to have two or three both to allow wider geographic coverage and to ensure that German customers can receive the quality and dedicated service they expect.
In terms of market entries, the UK is top priority at present and Alux would very much like to find a dealer to handle this business.
The Scandinavian market also has potential, as Alux feels it could provide a good deal for businesses there.
In eastern Europe, Romania and Bulgaria are attractive prospects for increasing business.
Bosnia and Herzogovenia where the company recently acquired a new customer is another potential target for growth.

Home market ready for change
While exports are key Alux also stresses the importance of the home market.
This has changed significantly. Cleaning shops are ready to explore technical developments such as wetcleaning. Szymon feels that many Polish cleaners have not realised wetcleaning’s potential in
applications such as processing jackets and formal wear as well as casual garments.
Curtain finishing is another area that cleaners could investigate if they want to bring in more customers. Alux has introduced a special, large finishing table that is suitable for this application. Curtains can be finished section by section and the table has a pedal operated function that moves each finished section to a holder.
As the company continues to grow over the next few years, international exhibitions will prove essential to the Alux strategy.
The company exhibited at Expo Detergo 2010 and also at Texcare International in Frankfurt.
Szymon says that taking a stand at Expo Detergo 2014 in October is a must.
"We will show that we are still in business and doing well."