Reprinted from Business Report West Midlands, April/May 2012
As the recession continues to hit manufacturing hard, Giles Crosse reveals how innovative production and out of the box thinking are helping one Midlands firm excel.
Whilst not overarchingly the case, the steel tube industry, in its Black Country heartland, is one of those traditional activities where outdated methods and, more importantly, outdated attitudes can exist.
To many tube companies, then, the recession has meant having to adapt to new conditions and face the challenges of the new economic climate. One company in this sector, however, Top Tubes, hasn’t had to make those painful adjustments because thanks to the way it evolved it has always been geared to the needs of now, even before those needs became paramount.
Top Tubes has never followed traditional thinking, developing virtually from its outset in 1994 along very different lines to most steel tube producers. Crucially, the firm has evolved to satisfy the needs of end use customers. This has a significant effect on methods, attitudes and ethos, which result in a sharper, customer-focused company.
What’s more, the UK market is generally more fragmented than the export market. At no time has this been more important than the present. If UK steel tube customers need one thing, it’s suppliers that are attuned to their very individual requirements.
Methods with metal
In terms of approaches, Top Tubes’ production has to accommodate complex order loads, plus an array of different products in a variety of sizes, specifications and quantities, which has dictated well organised production systems and a high degree of flexibility
Processes like laser processing, tube-slotting and fabrication mean the firm can offer semi-finished component manufacture, resulting in time and cost savings for customers. Top Tubes is able to function as a ‘one-stop-shop’, not just by undertaking further processes, but by supplying steel tube very much as a stockholder would, if needs be in multiple sizes, smaller batches and with greater frequency.
This dual role of customer-focused manufacturer and stockholder is quite unique, and in terms of attitudes, being customer-focused has a marked effect on sales. If feedback received from customers is anything to go by, the company is particularly easy to deal with, with good point of sale information and a tightly knit sales and production team.
All of this gives customers quick and accurate information as part of their account management. Equally importantly, while outmoded methods and attitudes have been consigned to the past, experience hasn’t. The ERW sales team alone combine in excess of 90 years of working in steel tube.
The upshot of this is a depth of knowledge that’s just about unrivalled, which customers value enormously. As Craig Gibbs, ERW Sales Manager, explains: “There’s very little in the world of ERW tube that one or more of us wouldn’t have come across before, which enables us to respond to customers in a very well informed way, and quickly.”
If there’s a single lesson to be learned, it’s that a customer-led strategy remains the right strategy, both for now and into the future.