04 October 2018
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Showing forty-tude!

One company celebrating four decades in the industry looks back on how things have changed – and takes a glimpse into the future to see where we may now be heading.

Four decades is a long time in business and that period has seen enormous change take place across all aspects of how we work and live in the UK. In the 40 years that Staytite has been in existence, for example, it has witnessed the UK economy transition from producing and exporting predominantly manufactured goods to a largely service-oriented industry. However, the UK has maintained its manufacturing output; even if the type of products made has changed, it has adapted.

“During my time in the fastener business, and in general, we have seen a revolution in the way the world communicates, migrating from letters and telex, to on-line and e-mail. Internally we went from scribbling things down on paper to typing into a computer, from Kardex to Microsoft Office,” states Staytite’s technical sales manager Michael Moore. “In that time, we have been through two major recessions and a global financial crash.”

Throughout this period, the way that Staytite has operated has changed, but the company maintains that it has learnt the importance of establishing clear guiding principles in the way that it conducts itself as a business – qualities that it believes are still relevant today. “The first quality in any business is that someone has to recognise a good product or service that will be profitable,” Moore continues. “This is as true now as it was forty years ago.”

MAN OF VISION

In the case of Staytite, that vital ‘someone’ was Derek Warren, a then recently retired army brigadier. Warren had joined the board of directors at a national fastener distribution company where he was asked to travel to the Far East to look for new and innovative products. For many years, he was stationed in the Far East, which often involved establishing close liaisons with officials in those countries. “He identified a number of products that he thought met the innovative criteria and, in his opinion, would be profitable and meet market needs,” adds Moore.

As an example, one of these products was a special type of all-metal locking nut that was proposed as a superior alternative to a standard nylon insert nut. It was Warren’s hope that the innovative properties of this fastener would be useful to the customer. Unfortunately, having bought the stock, there was a disconnect; the sales teams at regional branches were not told about the extra benefits of these products The upshot was that, as a result, no one was convincing the customers to buy; and, unsurprisingly, they did not sell! Promptly accused of wasting money, Warren was asked to leave –and to take his fasteners with him!

Someone less determined and certain that he was on the right track might have given up at this point. However, he was so convinced with the potential of the products he had discovered that, along with his wife Beverly, they decided to market the products themselves. Accordingly, Staytite was incorporated on the 15 June 1978.

Although manufacturing in Britain was strong at that time, the 70s had been a turbulent mix of fuel crises and industrial strike action. What better time, then, to start a new company!? “Was Derek right to do so?” asks Moore somewhat tongue in cheek. The answer would appear to lie in the fact that, four decades on, Staytite still receives demand for those original products.

FORWARD MARCH

Knowing your strengths is a great advantage, of course. And yet also knowing your weaknesses is an equally positive quality to have. As a Brigadier, Warren knew how to organise. However, he was now in the commercial world, not the Army. He knew that his company, like any other, needed a range of skillsets. A good friend, Donald Black, joined as financial director to bolster that side of the business. This experience made an important difference when facing challenges, such as the 1980s recession. This was a difficult time for Staytite to navigate, just as it would be for any small company selling innovative products that take time to be accepted and established.

“During the recession, profits were miniscule, orders were few and customers went bust,” says Moore. “Even our bank suggested closing down. Donald’s help and guidance were invaluable. He manoeuvred us from a position where we were always on the edge of our agreed facility with the bank to a position of sound finance.”

Staytite had gained the essential discipline of money management: when to spend and when not to. “We learnt the value of the quarterly accounts, to know the value of your order book, and how vital it is to live within your means. This is just as true today and has not changed; –every month during our company meeting, it is important to discuss these figures.”

OPPORTUNITY BECKONS

In 1990, Derek Warren sadly passed away after a short illness. For a small company run from the family home, this was a stressful situation. A period of uncertainty followed. Would Staytite fold? Would the company be sold? For some months, the business kept going, unsure of what the future held. “Then Andrew Black, Donald’s son, joined the company. His welcome investment and leadership gave us an opportunity to carry on,” Moore recalls.

Andrew Black takes up the story. “Previously working in marketing, I had always maintained an interest in engineering and how things went together. At the time, I saw an opening in the market to expand the type of products that Staytite provided: specifically to concentrate on products that would speed up productivity, to offset the high labour costs of UK manufacturing. Here, I thought, is an opportunity.”

Across the four decades, Staytite had numerous customers with whom it was trading profitably. Some of these grew to become multi-national multi-million pound companies. Maintaining those relationships has been vital in allowing the business to expand and thrive as well. A number of Staytite’s accounts came through chance meetings. A good principle to have as a company is to always give advice and help, no matter the individual, as you don’t know where it could lead. Seize these opportunities and do not let them pass by! No matter how successful you become, it is important to remember the individual.

RIGHT TRACK

One such enquiry was an Oxford professor who saw a Yellow Pages advert and made a phone call. In today’s age, it is possible to type an enquiry into a search engine or indeed the web version of the aforementioned Yellow Pages. However, Staytite would still recommend you call them for advice. “I remember him saying that he was not a buyer,” says Michael Moore, “and, because of this, no one else had been helpful. Who would want to waste their time on an academic?”

The professor wanted advice, specifically about why nuts become loose; and was there a product that did not come loose? Unbeknown to Staytite, he had been professionally engaged by a railway contractor to find a solution for broken bolts and missing nuts on railway lines. But the need to treat all opportunities and individuals seriously has resulted for Staytite in the supply of specialised products to the UK’s railways – and now potentially to railway companies in other countries as well. Sheer good luck? Yes, but it is how you handle the unexpected opportunity. That is not luck; that is down to you, as a business.

Growth is important to any company and Staytite has been prolific in that respect. In its 40 years, the company has taken the considered decision to up sticks and move three times. Certainly, when facilities are almost full, a business can look very profitable. However, if staff are spending too much time trying to find items, and with everyone getting in each other’s way because there is no space, you have a problem. For instance, a warehouse that worked well for, say, 400 tons of stock and a turnover of 1 million will not be as efficient when you have 800 tons and perhaps 3 million turnover. You can improve many aspects of procedure and routine, but inevitably the physical building, which you cannot change, becomes not just restrictive, but can actually start to throttle the business. Undoubtedly, the cycle of moving premises distorts to some degree the rhythm of a company. Yet, if you understand your customer and suppliers, your accounts and the marketplace, that phase can be quickly bridged and then the benefits accrue and far outweigh any disruption.

THE CHALLENGES AHEAD

What of today, 40 years on? The UK once again faces a foreseeable period of uncertainty; and that is likely to be a serious challenge to growth. Andrew Black, Staytite’s managing director, has his own take on how well UK manufacturing will continue to be able to adapt.

“In order to survive and prosper, it will become increasingly necessary to strive for innovative thinking, whilst offering efficiencies, by investing in machinery, new technologies and upskilling the work force,” states Black. “As a ‘high cost’ producer, the UK must find ways to add value, thereby cementing its future.”

He asserts that the UK will need to invest in individuals to enable it to become world leaders in areas of excellence. In doing this, it is his belief that it will create opportunities for new business. Staytite does this already at company level, allowing its employees to choose relevant training to empower their roles, as well as sharing experience by way of workshops, headed by individuals willing to impart their knowledge. It is the company’s belief that this will then give any potential customers a better experience when dealing with those staff.

Focusing specifically on Brexit, Black foresees the possibility that it will have a negative effect on the movement of goods between countries and thus reduce the UK’s competitiveness. “As a standalone group, long-term initiatives and government policies will need to be developed and maintained to provide stability and lay down a sustainable route map that other countries will follow.”

Right now, he sees a number of market forces affecting manufacturing and also fastener distributors. “We will require more stable currency and tariff considerations, thereby quantifying raw material costs and eliminating as much risk as possible to enable us to become competitive.”

We now operate in what is called the 4th industrial revolution, or ‘Industry 4.0’, both terms that are used when describing wireless, cloud-based connected and ‘smart’ devices. Use of these devices can equally be employed to drive efficiencies. “Technology will need to be invested in to ‘reduce risk’ in as many different areas as possible,” adds Black. “That includes those we currently know about and those still to come.”

Does Staytite anticipate any increase in manufacturing in the UK? “It has become easier and cheaper to produce products in collaboration with other countries. Lead times will need to be reduced to remain competitive. But we have a positive feeling challenges will be met.”

Finally, what does he think Staytite will look like in 40 years? “I hope that, in spite of the changes coming our way, we will still be able to build trusted, genuine, long-term relationships with everyone that we do business with; to continue investing in our employees, building upon and gaining knowledge; and to advance just as we started, recognising good products and providing the service to support them.”

Author
Brian Wall

Related Websites

http://www.staytite.com

Related Companies

Staytite Ltd

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