Exclusive interview to Alexandros Aslamazis
If you are visiting Greece, a big chance that the transfer bus, which will welcome you in the airport, will be produced by one of the Greece’s most prominent companies – Papadakis Bros Group. I had a wonderful opportunity to interview one of the managers of the company in their facilities in Elefsina – Mr Kostas Papadakis – Aftersales and Procurement Manager in the Papadakis Group. We had an opportunity to walk around the vast production area, which covers more than 65.000 sqm. While walking through the territory we saw the scale of the production, a state-of-the-art paint shop, various production facilities, logistic center, offices and quality control. What impressed me is that the company, in spite of its big size, still feels like a family business. Let’s dive in some history first.
A little history of the group
Papadakis Bros. Group has been established in 1974. The company started as a small transportation company with only one bus. Three brothers from the big family with the agricultural background from Elefsina, the city with the glorious historical past, and now a part of the greater Athens.In the seventies, it was very difficult to find a reliable repair shop for large vehicles, so the founders decided to establish the repair shop for their own needs. Word of mouth brought other bus owners to the workshop. Additionally, the Greek legislation of that time didn’t allow the import of ready-made buses to the country, but only the frames. This is how Papadakis Bros took a decision to import frames and start producing the buses in Greece.
Step by step, in the same very area, the company started expanding its premises. After the import barriers have been lifted, Papadakis group approached Neoplan bus manufacturer from Stuttgart in Germany to become an official importer of the brand to the Greek market. Neoplan buses were very well received and soon 100 buses were purchased by the Athens municipality. It is worth mentioning that later on Neoplan was acquired by MAN, another German manufacturing leader.
Market leadership in the bus and mini bus category
Currently, Papadakis Bros holds a substantial market share of approximately 40% in the bus import industry. It is worth mentioning that as times changed, the group decided to switch its manufacturing focus from big buses to the mini bus category. An important milestone for the company was an agreement with Daimler (Mercedes-Benz Group now). Papadakis Bros started importing the frames from the German giant and producing luxury mini buses for the fast-growing tourist industry along with school buses. Nowadays the group produces around 140 mini buses annually. The demand for this category is growing at a very fast pace giving a great perspective for the future.
Formula for success
During our conversation in Mr Papadakis’ office, we had an opportunity to address a very important problem, that of shortage of the skilled workers, especially the youth. As a sizable employer of more than 160 people, Papadakis Group invests in the future employees by reaching the technical schools through apprenticeship programs. “You may have the best facilities and equipment, but without right people, nothing will be achieved” emphasized Mr Papadakis. This is not just words, if you take into account that there are second and third generations of employees working in the company. Not many employers in Greece can boast that level of employees’ loyalty. I understand why. While we were walking through the facilities of the company, I noticed that Mr Papadakis was greeting every single employee by his first name. A quote of Richard Branson came to my mind “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
It is not a secret that the automotive industry’s supply chain has been hugely disrupted. “When your main customers are professionals, and sizable percentage of them with distinct seasonality, you must keep a good deal of stock of spare parts to keep the vehicles on the roads” Mr Papadakis said. Investment in the modern ERP, advanced demand forecast technology and high stock level allowed Papadakis Bros. to deal with this problem with a great success.
When talking to someone who is the leader in his niche, I always try to learn, and Mr Papadakis was very open to share his knowledge. “The main reason of our success lies in the outstanding aftersales service and customer experience from buying their old vehicles to the financing solutions and emergency replacement vehicles” Kostas Papadakis noticed. In fact, if you need a bus Papadakis Group is one-stop shop for every possible need.
Paint shop as added value, rather than a bottleneck
Since my background is automotive coatings industry, I couldn’t resist from asking about the paint shop in the group. “How important is the paint shop for your company?” “Well, finishing of a vehicle is the first impression for a customer. It is very important. It took a while to establish the paint shop as it should be, which from a bottle neck transformed to a competitive advantage”, according to Mr Papadakis. Unfortunately, I must admit, in many dealerships the paint and body shop is regarded as necessary evil and a poor relative to mechanics, sales or spare parts departments. It shouldn’t be like that.
Mr Papadakis is optimistic about the company’s future, having a clear plan for investments in premises and personnel. “Growth is always coming through investment”, this is the message I got after an hour I spent with him.
Electric buses as transport means of the future cities ?
Another important topic is the technological advancements and electric vehicles. It looks like electrical vehicles will soon replace the traditional vehicles, but not everywhere and for all routes. But what about buses? “It will come fast, but we will mainly see electric buses on the internal routes of the cities. It needs a great deal of charging points in place, not only in Greece, but everywhere. The availability of a robust charging infrastructure is crucial for the successful deployment of electric buses.”
“Not to mention the question of the recycling of the used batteries. It is a crucial issue to be addressed.” Perhaps hybrid technology or alternative fuels, like hydrogen will appear. Currently, the cost of hydrogen production and the infrastructure required for hydrogen fueling are relatively high compared to traditional fuels. However, as technology advances and economies of scale are achieved, the cost of hydrogen is expected to decrease over time. It is evident that Papadakis Bros Group closely follows the development of the new technologies, and I am certain that they will be among the pioneers in whatever new technology may come in the future.
As Greek, I wish in our country we had more businesses like Papadakis Group. While the country sells well the Greek sun and sea, a proper economic development should come from the diversification. Greeks have always had entrepreneurial spirit. Yet, years of the financial stagnation left a negative footprint on the economic map of Greece. On the other hand, Papadakis Bros and the likes, give us hope that Greece can offer something more than just the idyllic holidays destination. Who knows, maybe we will have a full-scale vehicle manufacturing as some point? Why not?