Who comes to the Great Stone Industrial Park – drive-oriented, vigorous companies and their leaders seeking growth opportunities and promoting innovative ideas, not easy though it might sometimes seem. We had a great opportunity to witness it during our visit to Levanta Group’s workshops as part of a partnership project.
Levanta Group is the only company in the country that produces the whole range of ventilation equipment. Andrei Evdokimov, the founder, and his family moved from Mahilioŭ city to launch production in the Belarusian-Chinese Park. Perhaps several years from now, the equipment of his plant is to be installed throughout the entire country – and further on.
I have worked in the ventilation equipment sphere with my team since 2009. I haven’t got any special education in this area. I initially used to work for a company that dealt with selling ventilation systems. After working there for a year, I started my own business.
We started with a trading retailer company that would resell ventilation equipment. During external training with other manufacturers and visiting their facilities in Poland, Russia, and Baltic states, I just came to the conclusion that nothing would prevent me from organizing production here in Belarus. As a result, “Levanta Group” company appeared.
We first launched the plant in Mahilioŭ, where I still own production and headquarters. Then we started thinking of expanding the business. A few years ago I read about the Great Stone Industrial Park, learnt about the benefits to investors. Next, I participated in the development of four patents related to ventilation equipment. And, after calculating the costs, I realized that with all given tax benefits, the cost of production would definitely decrease, which, in its turn, would impact the final price and the equipment could be competitive not only in the domestic market but also overseas.
I made a business plan, and then I just went to the headquarters of the Great Stone and proposed to set up a production line in here. They reviewed my business plan and made a decision to accept me as a resident. To say that I was happy is like to say nothing. In fact, I dramatically changed my whole life for the sake of this business. As a result, I moved to Minsk, with my wife and children.
At the same time, I worked on adjusting business processes at the production site in Mahilioŭ so that everything operated there without my guidance. The team that I had worked with over 10 years stayed there. We managed to assign responsibilities so that everyone could clearly understand their scope of work. We even hired a director at the transition stage, but now we have been doing without him.
How we launched production at Great Stone
Once our company became a resident of the park, we first purchased a one-hectare plot for further construction of the production site. In order not to lose time, while the plant has not been built yet, I have already rented a small 1,400 square-meter workshop on the neighbouring site. We bought a production line out there and installed the following equipment there:
- punching machine for metal cutting
- bending machine
- 2 lines for the production of air ducts (round and rectangular)
- welding section for welding non-ferrous metals, stainless steel and galvanized ferrous metals
- powder painting spray booth.
When our own factory is finally built, it will be way easier to transport equipment from the neighbouring site. We’ll gather a reliable and trustworthy team by then.
Our growth ambitions
These days we produce air ducts, air conditioners, and fire dampers. It varies from month to month – from hundreds to dozens of thousands of units.
One of the main customers to whom we deliver products from the workshop at the Great Stone is the under-construction Belarusian NPP. So far. With the launch of our own plant, we will expand supplies first thing and look for new opportunities. After all, before buying the plot for construction in the park, we analyzed the market and its potential and understood in which areas we could develop our business.
When it comes to competition, with its perspectives, equipment and people, our production is the only one in Belarus. We can produce almost the entire range of equipment, whereas others tend to do one thing.
For instance, an entrepreneur has two lines of ducts, and makes them for 10 years. He is rather happy with that. But we are not, we strive for development.
Or there are manufacturers of frame-based air conditioners. What is that? They buy some aluminum profile, then cut it with a simple grinder to the desired size, next connectors are bought to assemble the frame. The elementary panel of the conditioner is inserted inside. And this is what they call ‘central air conditioning’. I do not mean to offend anyone, but one can assemble such a thing in a garage. I initially wanted to work unlike others.
Following world leaders, we therefore produce frameless cooling systems. And we do them all ourselves, according to our own patents. In Mahilioŭ, we made two models of the same size and “filling”: one framed and frameless one. The latter appeared to be 10% cheaper. But to do such a thing, you need a whole range of machine tools, a team of designers, etc.
First of all, we want to root in this direction at home, in Belarus, and then expand overseas in Russia, Kazakhstan.
Secondly, we want to start producing components in order to create a closed-circuit ventilation equipment: “turnkey”, without purchasing imported raw materials other than metal. I am sure it will pan out.
Having established such a production of heat exchangers, we would like to start the production of air conditioners for special equipment. When I see tenders for MAZ, BelAZ, Lidselmash and Gomselmash, I wish they could have more orders. All of them purchase air conditioners in Russia. There are literally a couple of factories out there. We don’t have them at all.
Here, of course, much will depend on the manufacturers of special equipment alone. Because, staying in our workshop, my designers cannot develop the product. They need to communicate with the designers of MAZ, for example. I think this issue could be resolved with official papers, excursions to our site.
We also plan to make use of experience with nuclear power plants. The market with such customers is not very large, rather specific. First of all, we desire to monetize the expertise – the production of ventilation ducts for nuclear power plants. It is a unique sphere for our country, you just won’t get there.
And if you do get there, you could “mess up” without thoroughly estimating the entire amount of work that needs to be done, which might not work out at all. There is not so much in production as in paperwork – I had to enlarge the designers team from 2 designers, who normally maintained the entire production cycle, up to 12 people who develop drawings in accordance with the required norms and standards. Every detail is properly checked out there, because safety is of utmost importance.
Now we are willing to gain other projects that Rosatom is implementing. We have ideas on how to do this.
Difficulties finding customers
Today my key clients are builders, therefore, all the problems in construction concern me:
- We have 90% of the facilities in the country built at the expense of the state and state construction organizations. So, we have a very long sales cycle: the fastest deal takes around four months. We “nurtured” our longest projects for years. We show everyone round the factory who wants to see it, get acquainted with the production and products.
- Ventilation equipment is unique to each facility. You will not find two identical buildings with the same aerial characteristics. For this reason, we do not produce just to produce and refill the warehouse.
In total, about 100 people work for my company, 80 of them are in Mahilioŭ.
We are just starting off in the “Great Stone”, and our professionals come here from the Mahilioŭ plant to share their knowledge with new employees, mentor and teach them how to work on equipment. After all, our products have their own specifics, it is important to gain experience.
The core of the team is designers and engineers. I do rely on them in sorrow and joy. About 15 people come from Mahilioŭ. They have gone through a lot of challenges together.
At the very beginning of the development of the enterprise, we employed several people to serve their job placement, which turned out to be a big mistake. They are unable to work and are not willing to. Now we are not doing this. I “lured” designers from other enterprises with a higher salary and work management.
The Great Stone welcomed us with rather comfortable conditions. However, back in Mahilioŭ, when the factory was created from scratch, we organized the work well ourselves: canteen, locker rooms, production workshop itself. No need to worry about safety, here you have gloves and shoes. I think this is important. After all, when you come to the “Soviet” plant, it’s still sometimes scary to be out there. Therefore, even when I promise similar wages, people come over to me.
Having moved to Minsk, I hired several people who have already shown great results. I can count on them. With the launch of the plant in the Great Stone, about 150 people will totally work for us.