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PPE in Europe
Feature: 3/4/2004

Frost & Sullivan analysis of purchasing factors

Frost & Sullivan's new analysis of the European personal protective equipment (PPE) market reveals that end users primarily evaluate technical performance of products, followed by price and customer service, when purchasing PPE for their employees (see director-e News, Friday 23 April).

The survey, ‘Personal Protective Equipment: Analysis of European End Users’, provides an in-depth look at the PPE market, its requirements and the factors that impact on end users.

As far as technical performance is concerned, end users mainly just look for the products to comply with specified European legislation.

“Above-the-neck protection is one area where new pan-European legislation should have a positive effect on sales in the coming years”, says Frost & Sullivan industry analyst Dr. Brian Balmer.

“The reduction in noise threshold limits in working environments from 85 to 80 decibels is likely to increase the number of workers that need to wear hearing protection”, he adds.

Although most companies said that their purchase of PPE depended on its ability to meet European norms, some end users – for example, Italian companies – stated that their PPE purchasing was strongly driven by local norms.

Wearer comfort
Among specific product-related needs, wearer comfort tended to outweigh all other considerations, except hazard protection performance. Although many companies now perform field tests of new products with their employees before placing orders, the price rather than the comfort factor still tends to rule at the time of making the actual purchase.

Customer service featured next on end users' lists of purchasing needs. Brand or product manufacturer's reputation did not appear to be a major consideration.

“The implication is therefore that, if a company thinks a product from a lesser known source seems to do the job as well as the market-leading brands and is cheaper, the company is likely to buy the less expensive product”, says Dr. Balmer. “This could, in many cases, be a distributor's own-brand product or something similar”.

PPE companies are now looking at customer service as an increasingly important way of achieving differentiation. In the protective gloves market, for instance, manufacturers are providing audits or “glove plans” whereby they visit an end user, inspect the workplace and make informed recommendations on the kind of gloves the company should use.

PPE manufacturers looking to increase market share must keep track of the frequency with which customers review their PPE requirements.

While most companies conduct an annual review of products and brands available, a significant number of respondents in the Frost & Sullivan analysis said that they would consider changing their supplier only when supply contracts are due for renewal or if they faced specific service-related problems.

Geographic trends
Again, purchasing needs and buying patterns tend to vary from region to region.

Key geographic trends indicate that companies in the southern European countries spend considerably less per employee on PPE than those in northern Europe, although countries such as Italy and Spain have been catching up. Notably, companies in Scandinavia have the highest PPE expenditure per employee.

While marketing visits feature in the preferred marketing methods of all countries, they were least popular in France and Benelux where advertisements and direct marketing channels, respectively, are most effective.

Companies in Germany tended to favour PPE trade shows, with 58.5 per cent of end users using this method as compared to the European average of 33 per cent. Scandinavian companies, on the other hand, were more inclined towards visits, direct marketing, and advertisements as well as proactive searching such as on the Internet.

At the time of actually placing the order for PPE, large companies seem to favour product samples while smaller companies seem happy to choose from catalogues.

No doubt linked to the low importance of brand name, end-users could not either provide a great deal of insight into the relative strengths of different brands.

Brand loyalty
Some trends do still emerge however. Customers show a high degree of loyalty to some particular brands, often buying many different products from these brands. However, the study suggests that brand loyalty might be undermined in certain cases; for instance, if a customer changes suppliers and is unable to source its preferred brand from the new supplier. In such cases, the customer may opt to go in for the brand stocked by the new supplier.

Companies looking to succeed in the PPE market should take note of such trends, as they are key to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the market leaders.

Frost & Sullivan, an international consultancy firm, has been supporting clients' growth for over four decades. The company’s market expertise covers a broad spectrum of industries, while its portfolio of advisory competencies includes strategic consultancy, market intelligence and management training.

“Our mission is to work with our clients' management teams to deliver market insights and to create value and drive growth through innovative approaches”, the company states.

Frost & Sullivan's network of more than 500 consultants, industry experts, corporate trainers and support staff spans the globe with 19 offices worldwide.
Author: John Gibbon
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