Engineering firm Combilift to double Asia turnover to €25m

Monaghan firm Combilift has been operating in the Asia region for 15 years.

Irish engineering business Combilift is set to double its turnover from the Asia region to €25m over the next three years.

The Monaghan company has been operating in the region for the past 15 years, has experienced huge growth in India and China and is now planning to expand in Vietnam and Thailand.

“Our strategy has been to follow our customers into markets and then gain a foothold through establishing reference clients over a medium-term period”

Combilift is the largest global manufacturer of multi-directional forklifts, and managing director Martin McVicar believes that the Asian market offers most medium-term growth potential for the company. 

He predicts that Combilift’s tactics of following its customers into new far eastern markets will double returns by 2025. 

Asia Matters

McVicar will be speaking, along with the Chinese and Indian ambassadors and business leaders from both countries, at the Asia Matters virtual EU Asia SME Scaling Summit, being held from Cork on May 25 and 26. 

“Our strategy has been to follow our customers into markets and then gain a foothold through establishing reference clients over a medium-term period,” said McVicar. 

“So, while we have a sales operation on the ground in Vietnam and Thailand, it is not the returns this year that we focus on, but in three to five years. 

“I am confident that we will double our business in Asia over the next three years, with India, in particular, looking set to comfortably exceed that target. 

“We see e-commerce and warehousing in Asia to be big potential growth areas, with operations such as the Reliance Group investing heavily in distribution in India. 

“Warehouses need to be closer to customers and they are mushrooming at the moment. 

“India is investing heavily in food preservation, for example, and there is opportunity for us as our vehicles facilitate greater storage in a space.” 

McVicar believes that a local partner is more beneficial than establishing an in-house sales team in Asia. 

“If you want to scale in an Asian market, you need an established partner or dealer who has connections in the marketplace,” he said.

“For example, Nilkamal are our established partners in India and Vitawheel are our main dealers in Hong Kong and China. 

“We also try to establish reference customers on the ground, but they need to have your products for three years. It’s hard to build if they have only just become acquainted with your service. 

“We do not have bricks and mortar in any Asian market, but we invest in people and in training and this pays dividends. 

“In India we are doing €3m per annum but I am confident that we will exceed €6m in the next three years. 

“As labour costs rise in China, we see Vietnam and Thailand emerging strongly and we are also starting to do business with Bangladeshi companies.”

McVicar believes that any Irish firm looking to establish itself in China needs to segment the country into regions, due to its scale. 

Asia Matters is a non-profit membership institute which specialises in helping Irish companies expand their horizons to Asia and facilitating their business expansion.

The Asia Matters virtual EU Asia SME Scaling Summit Cork, takes place on May 25 and 26, with registration at

The summit is held in partnership with Munster Technological University, Cork City Council and Cork County Council.  

Main image: Combilift managing director Martin McVicar

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.