Oana Cucu & Carmen Mereuță: Robmet’s Business Case for Quality and Diversity Performance
Oana Cucu – General Manager and Carmen Mereuță – Commercial Manager at Robmet Romania, assess the global industrial valves market, present the company’s major projects, and describe an agile customer-oriented approach for the best outcomes.
Robmet Romania is one of the best suppliers of industrial valves and services in the oil and gas, light industry, heath energy, mining, constructions, water supply systems and irrigation, waste-water treatment, chemical industry. With offices in both Romania and the Netherlands, Robmet has been providing, for more than 20 years, advanced valve solutions and high-performance equipment to increase efficiency and productivity in major power industries.
Dear Mrs. Oana Cucu, please relate in a few words how did Robmet Romania’s history start. What do you value most about working at Robmet?
There is much to be said to present the history of Robmet.
A history like that of Robmet is difficult to be presented in a few lines, as in 20 years of activity there have been many challenges, obstacles, and successes. But I will try to sum it up by presenting you a brief history of our company and by practically telling you who we are, who Robmet is.
The foundations of Robmet were laid 20 years ago, when the Romanian market started witnessing development by the fact that a large number of companies with various fields of activity were born. The activity profile of our company was and still is the sale of industrial fittings, a field not very easy for 2001, because it was not known in the market, as it is today, thus being much more difficult to develop.
The business started with a minimum number of employees, without stocks and without a basis of potential buyers to head to, because, as I previously mentioned, this industrial market wasn’t even by far as developed as it is today and did not have so much potential.
Years of work have followed, not short of challenges, ups and downs which, of course, have been beneficial and helped the company to develop in a healthy way. The number of employees started to grow, together with the customer portfolio and, with it, the number of requests also increased, the next strategic step being investment in stocks to be able to meet the demand as soon as possible, demand which became increasingly pressing.
Our main goal was to always put our customers first, providing them with services, products, rapidity, assistance and support, our interest being continuity in the relationship with them.
Therefore, year after year, Robmet has won the leading place in the provision of fittings, today having over 1,000 satisfied customers, achieving collaboration with some of them for almost 20 years, as proof of the fact that we love continuity. Many customers, large stocks. Given that we are involved in a large part of the projects carried out in the country and not only, assuring our customers that the goods are delivered on time for the proper execution of works, today we have an active stock of EUR 5 million.
I could say it is a please to work at Robmet, but also a challenge, because no two days are the same. There are frequently new situations, new problems and new people. Due to these reasons, I am eager every day to arrive at Robmet.
Dear Mrs. Carmen Mereuță, how would you describe your work experience summary?
I joined the Robmet team in the spring of 2015. When I say I have a six-year experience, it’s not much in terms of time… instead, six years at Robmet means a lot to me. Primarily, it’s about a lot of work, research, development, ambition and, last but not least, a significant growth from a professional point of view. I can say that now I have reached the peak of the career I have been dreaming of, because I wanted a lot to be here, I wanted to develop myself and push my limits.
In the first year of my career, the company’s turnover was EUR 4 million, now I can say it is almost EUR 14 million. I believe that I have left my mark in the company and that we basically grew up together. I am ambitious by nature, and I have always liked competition, so here, at Robmet, I feel like swimming in clear waters, I feel that here I am in my element and that impossible becomes possible, and the oil & gas industry is ‘home’ for me.
During the six years of experience, I have met extraordinary people, from whom I learn every day. Robmet, and also the business partners with whom I have a close connection have made me the person I am today. This has formed me so that I am more eager to assert myself and want a continuous development, and my career to be a priority!
As I mentioned, I have a lot to learn and if I were to start over, I wouldn’t change a thing, because each step taken had its role in preparing me for any challenge. Due to the activity at Robmet I had the possibility to develop and be able to come out of my comfort zone!
The experience so far has showed me that the “can’t do” motto is just a pretext for dreams not to come true. For me, every problem has a solution, so I will my best to exceed the level of expectations, as for me can’t do does not exist! I am sure that together with Robmet I will achieve more and more things!
For more than 20 years, Robmet has been providing advanced valve solutions and high-performance equipment to increase efficiency and productivity in the energy sector and not only. What is Robmet full range of products and services?
Carmen Mereuță: Robmet provides both products and services. From the usual small valve to industrial valves of DN1500/DN2000. The range is very varied and is adapted to the field of activity concerned. We cover the equipment needs for the oil and gas, chemical, steel, energy, water, and irrigation industries. Our products have certifications accredited by Notified Bodies in accordance with the requirements of European directives.
The service part comes to complete the provision of technical/commercial solutions of the sales department and is meant to ensure the partner that after the acquisition of equipment it can benefit from technical assistance for installation, adjustment, and commissioning.
We value the partnerships we have with the best manufacturers of industrial equipment, as well as the long-term relationships we establish with our customers. A partnership is primarily based on trust and trust is earned through experience, while experience is gained through the quality of products and services offered.
Who are your main partners and clients in Romania and abroad? Tell us more about the major/recent projects the company is working on now.
Carmen Mereuță: We have left our mark on several projects in the country and also abroad. Only with experience in the field, increased attention and always in close contact with the design company and with the beneficiary we offered together the best solutions for each project.
We have always been by Rominserv’s side within many projects carried out in Petromidia Navodari and Vega Ploiesti refineries. In addition to the classic valves, we have also delivered special equipment, such as control valves and On/Off Neles valves. Equipment suitable for the most hostile working environments, with a long service live, which will lead in the end to the reduction of maintenance costs and increased productivity and, last but not least, to the reduction of emissions close to zero.
Liberty Galati S.A., the largest integrated plant in the country and leader in the manufacturing of steel products, has been collaborating with Robmet for more than a decade. Together with Neles partner we provided the best solutions depending on the application in the installation.
Poland’s PKN Orlen S.A. refinery and Amylum Bulgaria Ead refinery are our main partners in the European oil & gas industry. We were together in numerous overhauls, as well as in new investment projects.
Another major project abroad, in which we were present, is the ‘New Valley’ project. Al Dahra company executed the Mubarak Pumping Station – centrepiece of Egypt’s ambitious Toshka Project to reclaim half-a-million acres of desert – named one of the five most outstanding civil engineering achievements of the year by the American Society of Civil Engineers. In addition to the pumping station itself, the Toshka Project also involves the construction of 50km of main transfer canal, four additional 22km side branches and 800m of feeder pipeline. Robmet delivered the necessary manual and electric valves. This project opened the opportunity to collaborate on other irrigation works in Egypt and beyond.
We have a close partnership with companies from all fields of activity, whether beneficiaries, builders, or designers. Because, as mentioned at the beginning, we believe that only through 100% involvement and the desire to succeed can we make it!
How do you assess the global industrial valves market? What role does Romania play in this picture?
Oana Cucu: We are living in a world that is constantly changing and developing. Although maybe changes are not always to our liking, we need this to evolve. Therefore, our life can improve significantly.
The global market for industrial valves and fittings has always been on the rise, given that development is one of the global keywords in the oil and gas industry, in the water and wastewater industry, but also in construction.
From my point of view, demand for industrial valves will continue to grow, as there are increasingly more projects planned or in progress at global level, whether it’s about the water industry, the oil industry and not only.
Romania is a country that has started to witness development for several years, when more money was allocated for infrastructure, and automatically it has become a good market for industrial valves. I believe we are still at the beginning in terms of change, as we have many rural areas and also urban ones where a diversity of natural resources is needed, namely water, as there are still underdeveloped areas that prevent economic growth.
Since we are at the beginning of the road in terms of infrastructure development, I believe the industrial valves market will play an important role and register a substantial growth, considering the projects that will follow.
Carmen Mereuță: Romania has a huge development potential, as due to its favourable geographical position and not only, it is of interest to large companies to develop various market segments. It all depends on the period of attracting funds to facilitate their implementation. We notice an increase in the demand for fittings and industrial equipment, given that more and more projects are close to execution. We expect that next year we will face difficulties in meeting the high demand in the market, this being due to the long delivery times.
Looking back at the last 12 months, through data and facts, what would be the greatest achievements for Robmet?
Oana Cucu: At the beginning of each year, Robmet sets out to achieve certain goals, which until now have always been met. This helped us in growing and developing the company, as we knew from the start what is the purpose for each year.
2021 was a year full of challenges, but also successes, therefore marking the 20 years of activity.
The successful completion of projects in which we are involved in the oil and gas industry represents for us a success and we are glad that we can be with our partners who choose us with confidence when opportunities for collaboration arise.
Another objective reached by us in 2021 was to expand nationally, forming places of business in certain key areas of the country, such as: Bucharest, Oradea and Ramnicu Sarat. The list remains open, as our main interest is to be as close as possible to our clients, this being beneficial for both them and us.
Our national expansion has made us consider an international expansion, given the fact that the number of clients and requests from abroad have increased. Therefore, in 2021, a unit was opened in the Netherlands, and we will open another one in the United Arab Emirates.
As I previously mentioned, following the steps established at the beginning of the year, we managed to reach our goal to increase the turnover by 30%, which is a success for us and propels us to the next objective we have already set for 2022.
Given the large projects in which we have participated, both in the oil & gas industry and in the water industry, our domestic and foreign expansion, the increasing demand, as well as the increase in turnover by 30%, all these have led to the need to increase the stocks. Stocks which, estimated at EUR 5mln, we believe to be the largest in Romania now. Therefore, this helps us be close to our clients in any situation, at any time.
Looking behind, at the year that is ending, I believe we have fulfilled our objectives and, even more, we have exceeded them.
According to the World Economic Outlook (October 2021) the global recovery continues, but the momentum has weakened, and uncertainty has increased. In this context, what are the main challenges the industry you are operating in is currently facing?
Oana Cucu: In the industry in which we operate we have met many challenges, as there are many situations we face almost daily and which we need to solve successfully. This has never been an impediment, but helped us in our development, therefore finding the best solutions for us and our clients.
We all know that the past few years have been a real challenge for the global economy, also affecting the economy of our country, which felt the outcome of the crisis we are facing. The economic impact varies from one industrial sector to another.
The industrial fittings market was affected by the outcome of these two years and one of the main challenges faced was the continuous increase in the price of raw materials. This has greatly affected us, as suppliers, and, of course, our clients too, which have also seen an increase in prices.
With the increase in raw material prices, we have also witnessed an increase by around 500% in the shipment cost and deliveries delayed by almost six months, which was not easy to manage, given the fact that meeting the delivery times established under contracts had to be changed significantly. These delays in deliveries were not only due to shipments, but also due to production deadlines.
As mentioned, challenges help us in our development. The challenges we have faced in these two years have only brought us closer to our clients by the fact that we supported one another, managing to overcome these blockages of the global and national economy.
Carmen Mereuță: The main challenge is the time of meeting orders, as due to work restrictions, reduced schedule of factories, congested seaports and, not least, reduced availability of containers, lead to uncertainty about the exact delivery times.
The industry in which we operate needs concrete data, as each shutdown or overhaul is scheduled in advance and must be strictly adhered to, the costs of the delay being enormous. It was a real challenge to be able to meet the contracted deadlines. We did not succeed, as we intended, but we put pressure on manufacturers and carriers to closely monitor each stage of orders.
A very important aspect is the instability of the raw material price and transport costs, prices which most often reflect at the supplier and builders, as they are the ones to assume responsibility to meet the contracts signed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the demand for industrial valves worldwide, including Europe. However, China exhibited significant growth in demand during the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. How did the changing market conditions affect Robmet business?
Oana Cucu: During the 20 years of activity, Robmet has faced many difficult situations, which it has successfully overcome, an example being the global economic crisis in 2008, which did not affect us, on the contrary, we managed even to increase the turnover. These challenges not only helped us to develop, but also taught us how to act in such crisis situations.
The COVID 19 pandemic was another situation of global economic crisis that we have been facing for almost two years and that has affected many of the world’s businesses, as well as those in our country.
There were factors that hindered the smooth running of the business, by increasing the prices of raw materials, by slowing down the time of transport and production, precisely because there was a significant increase in demand during the outbreak of the pandemic.
Fortunately, these changes in market conditions did not affect us, due to stocks. The beginning of 2020 did not take us aback, as Robmet has permanent stocks and due to this we managed to get over the first year of the pandemic relatively easily. In early 2021, we realized that the pandemic period was not over, and we went, as always, on the same idea of investing in stocks. Indeed, 2021 was a much more difficult year compared to 2020, when the production and delivery deadlines increased significantly. Our inspiration to invest a larger budget in stocks at the beginning of the year was once again a very good one, as in 2008. Therefore, we can say that Robmet has successfully overcome these two years of pandemic, managing to increase turnover.
Another major advantage for us during the pandemic was the fact that investments in infrastructure increased significantly and construction works had a positive evolution compared to the previous year, due to an increase in the number of new projects. Therefore, our clients’ requests could be supported by us due to stocks with which we were prepared since the onset of the pandemic.
As a result, economic changes brought by the pandemic did not affect us, managing to increase turnover in 2020 by 55% and in 2021 to have an equally significant growth, aspect which for us is yet another challenge that we have successfully overcome.
As a general manager, what do you consider to be the appropriate customer-oriented approach for the best outcomes?
Oana Cucu: No company can be successful for a long period of time without taking measures to develop and improve its products and services. Robmet has always sought solutions to have the best strategies in maintaining and developing the number of clients, and continuity has been and continues to be for us an important thing, as we want to keep our clients close, so that they resort with confidence to Robmet whenever they need.
Although stocks are a risk, they can also be an asset. This depends on their proper management. From my point of view, one of the main reasons that bring us closer to clients is represented by the stocks we hold, having a wide range of products and sizes. The fact that we have always paid increased attention to stocks has been an advantage, as we were able to support the projects in which we were involved and make the most varied products available in less than 24 hours.
In my opinion, collaboration between two partner companies depends a lot on how they relate and on the persons who does it. Therefore, another strength we rely on are our sales agents, who provide some of the best consulting and solutions in relation to our clients’ requests. Therefore, we wanted to improve our staff and over the years we have developed new ideas of approach, seeking to provide our customers with more than just a simple supply of products.
We sought to provide them with a wide range of services to cover the entire process the customer goes through, from purchase to delivery and installation of equipment. Thus, we have set up a department that offers additional technical consulting, installation, and maintenance services, all of which are supported by the experience of our specialists who can offer their services both remotely and in the field in the shortest time. The combination of these services of sales, installation and service is the key to success in carrying out many specialized projects of our customers and at the same time obtaining their loyalty.
Although our strategies for approaching and retaining customers have been successful, I believe that there is always room for improvement, and we are constantly looking for new ideas and solutions to improve our business.
Looking to the future…
According to Allied Market Research Report, the global industrial valves market size is expected to reach USD 93,664.9 million in 2028, from USD 58,547.9 million in 2020, growing at a CAGR of 6.0% from 2021 to 2028. Is Robmet going to expand its products and services?
Oana Cucu: Robmet has always sought to adopt new marketing strategies, as the basis of our development has been a constant concern for the efficiency of the services and products offered to the customer. Thus, every year, we came up with new ideas, which brought a significant contribution to the increase in turnover, and which also increased our number of clients.
Although in the past two years we have faced at global level an economic crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, the fact that we were not affected helped us focus on approaching new growth and not recovery strategies, as it happens unfortunately now in the Romanian market.
The fact that we have always wanted to be close to our customers has made us apply this literally, so we decided to open new places of business, the first established in Ramnicu Sarat, followed by Bucharest and Oradea. Starting with these three places of business, we want to continue development in Romania, planning to cover in the future a larger part of the country. I believe in the development of this industry in Romania, which in the following years will make massive investments.
With our domestic development, we also wanted to take steps to the West. Therefore, we opened the first place of business in the Netherlands, in 2020. Although we are still at the beginning of the road, I believe that the Netherlands is a market with potential for investments and I am sure that this choice will bring us many benefits in the future, as the Dutch economy is developing.
Speaking of areas that are constantly growing, I can tell you that abroad the next step was to the United Arab Emirates, namely Dubai, a city with great potential. We are in an early stage, and this year we will open our first office there, given that we are already working with several companies in the Emirates. I believe that a city where one builds day and night can only bring us benefits.
I wish that Robmet growth in the following years will be a healthy one, as it was in the 20 years of activity. By 2023 we plan to reach a turnover of EUR 20mln.
We are working on a continuous development, which would bring benefits for both parties, us, and our clients, because, as I mentioned, our main goal is continuity.
What does it mean for your company to take the business to the next level?
Oana Cucu: From my point of view, regardless of the success rate achieved so far, we must constantly come up with new ways and ideas of development and growth to reach the next level and achieve new goals.
I have always believed that a goal is an indicator of success or performance, so our growth has relied on setting annual goals that we have achieved or, even better, exceeded. In our case, the proposed target for the next two years is to reach a turnover of EUR 20mln. I believe that then I can say we have taken the business to the next level.
I believe that at the heart of the fulfilled targets lies an important strategic planning a well-established business plan. Therefore, I believe that each department of the company must be carefully analysed, identifying the potential problems, or improving the existing services.
A first step that we want to take towards development, as I mentioned, is the opening of places of business both domestically and abroad. I think that these subsidiaries will help us by being closer to our clients, understanding their needs and requirements. In this way, we will ensure a constant support that only strengthens the partnership between companies.
Although Robmet has a powerful team with which we have witnessed success, hiring new people, with experience in the sale and use of valves, will be an advantage, given that our customer portfolio continues to grow, and our desire is to be able to provide everyone with the beset services in consulting, sales, and installation.
In addition to the fact that we provide specialized staff, we want the quality of our products to be constantly improved; therefore, we strive to always develop the relations between Robmet and our manufacturers, to offer a higher quality of products. ‘Quality and diversity’ I think these are the keywords. Therefore, in addition to the quality of the products we constantly sell, we have sought and will continue to seek to bring to market a range of new products that have not been in the company’s stocks so far, as the valve market is vast and diversified, with many products derived from valves.
All these things will naturally lead to a significant increase in stocks, which for us is an asset. We want their value to reach EUR 6 million. Therefore, we will be able to support any type of projects, be them small or large scale.
I believe the responsibility of a manager regarding the development of new strategies taking the business to the next level is great. Therefore, I permanently seek innovative ideas and solutions, to bring added value to the products and services offered by Robmet, as goal achieved will give birth to a new one.