Helping nurture a bustling European temporary structure company has been heavy on Antoine Eilers’ car’s milometer. The managing director of Neptunus Poland – and third generation heir of the company – has clocked more than 110,000 miles in just nine months. This globetrotting lifestyle is testament to Eilers’ hands-on approach.
“Building companies are trying to expand into this niche without success,” Antoine Eilers
He tells Access that being on location for events and key meetings Europe-wide is the personal touch that gives him an insight into clients’ key challenges and requirements. “Being present on an event build helps you get under a client’s skin. The events we are involved in are varied and often high-end so there are always complexities. We are happy to be in the sector of the market that we targeted from the beginning.”
That beginning, for Neptunus, occurred in 1937, when Antoine Eiler’s grandfather, Anton, discovered a trident-embossed chest washed ashore in the Netherlands. Inside the container was an army surplus tent, which he used as a venue for a local party. The event prompted demand from interested parties wanting to hire the fortuitously acquired shelter, and Neptunus was born.
Since this fateful origin, the Eilers family has seen the company through various incarnations and the family home, with a yard that backs onto the Dutch headquarters, is still occupied by Antoine and his family – the next generation of Neptunus heirs. Visiting Neptunus’ Polish factory gives an insight into how the company’s products have evolved from the primitive constructions of old.
“A venue that you can assemble like a tent may sound like a simple concept, but building companies are trying to expand into this niche without success. Unlike permanent structure companies, we additionally have to consider how to dismantle the structure efficiently and in accordance to complex codes and regulations,” Eilers explains.
A dedicated office in Neptunus’ HQ in Wrocław is staffed by a team of two, responsible for operations and ensuring various codes and regulations are
Neptunus’ Antoine Eilers and the company’s HQ in Poland adhered to. Eiler’s says that these codes can differ wildly depending which region you are in. In France, there is a limit of three months for any temporary structure, before it is legally ‘permanent’ and subject to building codes.
Moving onto the Polish factory’s cutting floor reveals the attention to detail behind structures like the Evolution, Neptunus’ flagship model. A new high pressure water cutting machines cuts large steel blocks into shape, firing water and sand at 300 bars of pressure. Meanwhile, a laser cutting machine, located in a separate room, severs PVC into any shape the client requires.
Eilers takes the tour off-piste to a dark corner of the factory, which houses the antiquated tools previously used for structure building tasks as far back as the 1960s. The ‘Neptunus museum’, as Eilers affectionately refers to it, is a reminder of how far temporary structure automation has come.
The raw materials used in the modern, high technology factory below the museum include metal – mainly aluminum and steel – as well as FSC-accredited wood and PVC skins, which come in large rolls. “On site we now have 900 tonnes of aluminum which comes in as metal and out as structures,” says Eilers. “We also do repairs here, typically on our floor panels. FSC is nice, but we try and use as much as possible again, repairing the damaged panels one by one.”
Neptunus is ISO-accredited accredited by TUV, a German body well known in mainland Europe. “We have fewer panels coming back per job nowadays, but because of our expansion, more overall are coming in,” Eilers says.
For him, having a bespoke, internally developed and controlled product range is the company’s niche. “If you are a rental company providing products from all sorts of companies you will not be able to differentiate yourself and, ultimately, you will just be judged on price,” he says. “Whatever we manufacture, we rent out. We don’t sell to other tent hire companies.”
This control of the full product life cycle meant Neptunus were the only company that complied with a recent EU tender, which specified that only 10 per cent of the structures used on site could go to waste. “We were the obvious solution for the organisation, and the stringent controls they imposed ruled out all the typical construction companies instantly. We find innovative uses for recycling components, and some of our clients are thrilled to know they are using doors that were in the Olympic Park.”
Being in charge of design and distribution has helped Neptunus evolve far beyond its rivals, adds April Trasler, the UK managing director – also present on Access’ Poland trip. “Neptunus have developed ways to do things better and quicker; you really have to set yourself apart at the prestigious end of the market,” she says. “Our A-frame tent 30 years ago was revolutionary and it took 15 years for others to catch up.”
Neptunus’ innovation and adaptability was demonstrated on complex tenders, notably McDonald’s iconic 278sqm, 1,500 seat, two-storey Olympic Park restaurant, built for the London 2012 Games.
Marketing this unique proposition is tricky, but a high client retention rate is testament to how client’s ‘get it’ once they have used the structures. Trasler adds: “If you’re in a competitive tender situation with an organisation who does not know you, testimonials and product pictures can sometimes only get you so far. Ideally, we like potential clients to come and see how the products are made.”
Visits are also encouraged at Neptunus’ Netherlands base, where design work is conducted ahead of manufacturing of the products. Operation manager Marek Korytkowski oversees all aspects of manufacture, including sourcing materials, hiring staff, training and cost control.
“There is a centralised coordination of the orders, designs and production deadlines. We discuss operation plans and the speed of production of a final product on site,” Korytkowski says. “We receive an order that has to be fulfilled within a specific period of time. The course of the process is supervised by a production manager and controllers so that potential errors are eliminated before the final product is sent.”
Neptunus was one of the first Dutch companies to expand into the UK events industry when it began trading there in 1987. In 1996, the family decided to concentrate on developing its European business in partnership with another UK temporary structure supplier. Now operating in seven countries, Eilers and his sisters have helped Neptunus’ team develop a 250-strong workforce with more than 450,000sqm of structures available for rent or sale.
As Access leaves the Polish factory responsible for this massive construction, a crate of immaculately interlocking doors and panels are loaded onto a lorry headed to high profile a job in Russia.
Eilers’ car will shortly follow, clocking up a few more digits on his car dashboard.
- 1937: A chance tent discovery gets the ball rolling
- 1960s: Hard wood walls developed
- 1970s: Anton Eilers creates a curtain sider lock, a custom lock
- 1980s: Gutter systems emerge in Neptunus’ products
- 1995: First triple-decker structure
- 2002: Evolution launched
- 2009: Relaunch in the UK
- 2012: A spate of high profile Olympic work is completed
- 2015: A new era of double-decker structures dawns