ZHENDRE SURVIVES THE COLD

The air conditioning equipment company based in Villenave-d’Ornon is emerging from a period of difficulty. At times, they thought they wouldn’t make it.

The five white refrigerated containers bearing the United Nations’ UN logo await loading before they are shipped to Africa. Elsewhere in the Villenave-d’Ornon workshop (33), copies of the new mobile air conditioner model, the Mistral, have just come back from Versailles-Satory, where they were presented on 20 and 21 May at the Defence Business Forum.

With these new products comes new hope. The family company Zhendre is emerging from a period of difficulty as it celebrates its 60th anniversary. “This is no longer the critical situation of 2012, but it is not yet euphoria,” says CEO Alexandre Zhendre, who is also vice-president of the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce.

In May 2013, the company emerged from administration where it had been placed a year earlier by the Bordeaux Commercial Court. In that year, it recorded a loss equivalent to 15% of its turnover. Unprecedented for this SME, which at the time employed 75 people.

FOR THE ARMY AND OIL & GAS COMPANIES

Zhendre invented the autonomous refrigerated container, prized by oil companies operating in the middle of the desert but also by the army. For the latter, Zhendre created a range of air conditioning models for tents. These are also used for the technical shelters of companies working in extreme conditions (e.g. Thales, Cegelec) and NGOs.

The Gironde-based SME finally introduced a range of air conditioners (ZenithAir) for private individuals. These are now manufactured in China and distributed for export (about thirty countries) but no longer on the French market.

Zhendre’s concerns came from his over-dependence on the defence market, at a time when military budgets were subject to austerity measures. In three years, sales to the army have dropped from 8 million euros to less than 1 million euros! Between 2010 and 2012, the company’s total turnover was halved from €20 million to €10 million.

ON COURSE FOR ITS 60-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In response to this situation, the company reduced its workforce (about 20 redundancies and unreplaced retirements) and adopted a recovery plan. Alexandre Zhendre recruited Frédéric Zgainski as Deputy Managing Director. The latter has put in place a strategic plan called “Cap 60” to change the company’s organisation, innovate and find new customers engaged in civil activities. Today, Zhendre can offer complete and turnkey solutions to those who operate in extreme conditions.

With its refrigerated containers and tent air conditioners, Zhendre outfits complete living spaces for camps, for example. The range of tent air conditioners (40% of sales) has been renewed with the Mistral model, which is more energy-efficient and features automatic controls. It has resulted in two patents and was developed in collaboration with a designer.

New products have been announced for this year. For the moment, Zhendre has put a stop to its financial bleeding. The year 2013 ended with a small profit. The year 2014 ended with a turnover of €10.5 million (50% of which was exported) and a slight loss.

The Cap 60 plan is still in progress. But “it is really from 2016 that the effects on the company’s results will be felt,” says Frédéric Zgainski.

Sud-Ouest – 28/05/2015