GIG: Established 20 years ago in northern Greece, FRIGO STAHL has carved a unique space for itself within the scope of industrial construction, catering to clients in Greece and beyond its borders. Can you tell us about your main business activities and your range of customers? What is your strategy for future growth? What key projects are in the pipeline?
Firtinidis: Our main activity is the construction of turnkey industrial projects. FRIGO STAHL undertakes all forms of industrial construction projects. While we specialise in special mechanical installations, like refrigeration installations, we have vast experience in greenfield projects, civil works, and soil works, to name a few. From a practical perspective, we can deliver projects from their design phase to their operational phase.
Our job starts at the very beginning, when a potential client has an idea – either for the expansion of their existing facilities or for the creation of a completely new structure. By having our own in-house design team, we can work based on their specifications, needs, and ideas. We process them and come up with a complete design of a turnkey project on which we provide a price guarantee on the total cost.
When it comes to projects, we are very customer-orientated and not only project-orientated. This means that our involvement in projects is always aligned with our customers’ unique needs, specifications, and strategy, both in major projects and smaller interventions in existing facilities.
Our main customers derive from the food sector, as well as the logistics sector, and they vary from small family-owned companies to major multinational groups of both Greek and international ownership. This range of customers makes it necessary for us to operate locally and abroad, trying to provide the same level of services no matter where their production plants are based. Many of these customers have worked with us for over 20 years and we are proud to continue working with them.
GIG: How did you fare during the crisis years and how recession-resistant is your business? What proportion of your business is overseas and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Firtinidis: During crisis years, everyone counts their expenses twice. And this, at least for financially healthy companies, means that the investment trend is focused on high-quality investments – ones that last longer, operate without problems, and don’t entail additional costs.
Since it is our strategy to deliver high quality solutions, we are the preferred partners for customers operating with a long-term view, which are, in any case, our target customers.
FRIGO STAHL is unique in the Greek market because there is practically no other company working within our sector, on turnkey projects, that simultaneously is able to source all the special parts, manpower, and knowhow from within the company, rather than outsourcing. We like to see ourselves as a ‘one stop shop’.
Our portfolio comprises more than 300 industrial projects, 150 industrial refrigeration plants, and 80 logistic centres for distribution, from either supermarket chains or food producers. We are one of the financially healthiest companies in our sector in Greece – something that is highly valued by our existing customers and seen as a competitive advantage with respect to our competition – when it comes to new potential customers and projects.
Besides Greece, we operate in Bulgaria and Romania. We have a permanent presence in Cyprus, and we have also done jobs in Nigeria and Sudan. About 15-20% of our business derives from international markets. In the near future, we believe this number will increase. But, still, our decision is for our core business to be focused on Greece.
GIG: Your company has roots as a family-run business. Has this model of entrepreneurship helped or hindered you as you grew? What are the main challenges and opportunities facing your business?
Firtinidis: The fact is that FRIGO STAHL is a first-generation, family-run business that has been in the market for more than 20 years. It started as a mechanical construction company, specialising in refrigeration. But over the years, it evolved into a company that delivers complete turnkey projects that include civil works along with complex and custom refrigeration and other mechanical installations. Everything is designed and built in-house by people that have been working for the company for many years.
Being a family-run medium-sized business gives us the advantage of being agile, very accurate, and highly quality-orientated with our customers, which has helped us grow so far. However, at the same time, we have the size, technical background, and capacity to handle large and complex projects and situations.
Decision making and responsibility is shared between family members and other experienced employees – experts in their fields.
This is moving us into the company’s next phase, in which experienced and reliable associates get along with the younger members of the family who will form the next generation of business management.
The main challenge we face is maintaining our company’s flexibility and agility at a time when our customers, who are also growing and going global, are becoming more vertically structured and procedure-based in terms of decision making.
GIG: As the attraction of foreign investment becomes an increasingly more important priority for the future growth of the Greek economy, how does this translate into opportunities for FRIGO STAHL?
Firtinidis: For the next year or two, what we see is a good evolution, because major international players are coming to produce in Greece. They will either buy out local companies and expand or will create new facilities from the bottom-up. In either case, we will do whatever they need. In the industrial sector, I believe the majority of companies that will invest in Greece are companies within the food industry, focused on dairy, meat, fruit and vegetables, and frozen products; or companies that produce materials that serve the food industry, like packaging materials, carton, plastics, and bottles, to name a few.
Within our sector, including industrial construction and the food industry, I believe Greece has very good chances of attracting investments. The level of services, facilities, and expertise in Greece is very high, and cost-competitive. I believe that Greece is value for money and will continue to be so for many years to come.
Foreign investors who come to Greece, will seek for partners who combine knowhow, business transparency, comprehension of customer needs, and financial strength. FRIGO STAHL meets these criteria perfectly, and our long list of successful projects and satisfied customers is our best reference.
GIG: Central Macedonia is home to 2 million people, and Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. What role does the industrial and manufacturing sector play within this context? What efforts need to be taken to spearhead growth in the area?
Firtinidis: Central Macedonia and Thessaloniki, in particular, have a very strong industrial and manufacturing tradition that has been built over the past century. Over the years, some fields of activity disappeared, while other fields are still active and growing – keeping the workforce tradition and skills alive.
Apart from that, sectors like the food industry, our core business, have grown significantly over the past years, and they can become the driving force for other business sectors as well. The food sector, together with all connecting sectors, is very competitive from an international point of view. More specifically, there is strong competition with the rest of Balkan countries. The Balkans trade with the entirety of Greece, as well as other countries. So, for any companies or producers to remain healthy and grow in Central Macedonia, they must also be competitive to the Balkan markets. This is what has forced our region’s local companies to reach a level at which they can survive within the Greek market and, at the same time, trade internationally.
For Central Macedonia’s industrial sector to become the leader of the Greek economy, the legal framework needs to be simplified and steps need to be taken to spur the growth of the sector’s labour force. The crisis ‘forced’ a lot of people to abandon Greece for a better future abroad, retire, or go out of business. So, a new workforce needs be created, adapted to this new situation, by either targeting young people to start their careers in our industry or attracting Greek professionals back from abroad by offering them better incentives.
Lately, international players across different industries have chosen Thessaloniki to form new offices and facilities due to its location and connectivity (with respect to the Balkans, Southeast Europe, and the Middle East), as well as its highly skilled and cost-competitive work force. The dynamic environment created in the area amongst companies, people, and the movement of goods has a positive effect, attracting other new activities that are either connected or related.
This seems to be the major path for development in the following years. Efforts should also be made, especially in northern Greece, to develop a more global mindset.
Furthermore, investments in the expansion of the Port of Thessaloniki, due to its privatisation, will have a major impact on the future of Central Macedonia, as we are fortunate enough to have the largest port in this part of Greece, as well as in the Balkan region. These investments will boost the development of the region, and as some of them will require knowhow that FRIGO STAHL already possesses, we believe that we will also be a part of this.