Getting a grip on business

Posted on 8 Feb 2011 by The Manufacturer

Jane Gray talks to Mark Edmonds, managing director of Gripple, the award winning manufacturer of construction products, to find out what differentiates the entrepreneurial company from its competitors and what new opportunities are now in its sites.

For those as yet unfamiliar with The Manufacturer magazine’s 2010 winner of The Manufacturer of the Year Award for People and Skills and the proud recipient of a 2010 Queen’s Award for sustainable development, here is a brief history.

The company has evolved since its establishment in 1988, when founder Hugh Facey developed a new wire joining device for the agricultural industry. Over 20 years later, Gripple is now a global market leading manufacturer of wire joiners and tensioners, anchoring and suspension systems, pipe clamps and a myriad of other products, primarily sold into the commercial construction industry.

Despite the fluctuations of this notoriously volatile market, steady growth has become a firm characteristic for Gripple thanks to the company’s eager approach to identifying market prospects around the world. Gripple now exports 90% of the products produced at its three Sheffield sites to foreign markets with expanding commercial construction opportunities, and has established local production facilities in Chicago and New Delhi. Another plant in Brazil is planned to open later this year. Mark Edmonds, Gripple’s MD explains the growth pattern: “Growth in the commercial construction sector has provided a road map for our own international expansion.

The range of industrial suspension systems has grown very rapidly, driven by customer needs in many different countries and now makes up around 70 per cent of our business. We have chosen to launch in New Delhi and San Paolo this year because of the dramatic and on-going developments in their built environments, and we are working on our plans for Russia and China. We are not investing in these new sites for reasons of manufacturing cost quite frankly that is irrelevant in our decision making.

We are investing because we need to be close to our customers and to be able to respond rapidly to their local needs.” “International expansion is no trivial matter for Gripple – this is not an out sourcing exercise and the fact that a new factory may be located thousands of miles from the company’s homeland is not, as far as Edmonds is concerned, an excuse for compromising on Gripple’s well established business ethos and relationship with its staff: “Everyone who works for Gripple is a direct Gripple employee and in fact they are now all share holders as well. We do not discriminate based on location so this will be the same in India and Brazil.

Equally, all the new sites, wherever they are located, will have the same DNA and be founded around the same Gripple family principles. We will expect the same standards to be maintained in every factory around the world.

“We take our brand and our culture very seriously and it can be a challenge to take this into a new environment but I think we are managing pretty well. We parachuted in UK employees for the establishment of the Delhi and Chicago sites, and although we are employing local people for the set-up in Brazil, these employees first had an extended introduction in Sheffield in order to marinate them in the culture here. We welcome the influence of national cultures, and this has blended well with the global characteristics of commitment and excellence which are rooted at the Old West Gunworks in Sheffield which has been, and always will be, our mothership.” One of the defining characteristics that makes up the Gripple DNA is the company’s commitment to open plan working. There are no closed offices at Gripple – a policy which the company firmly believes in to foster productivity and innovation, the latter being the lynchpin in organisational strategy. Edmonds comments: “We have a target to generate 25 per cent of our sales from products less than four years old, so we are always looking for new ideas and do not allow ourselves to rest on our laurels in terms of aging products and technologies. Each year we invest a figure close to 5 per cent of our top line in Ideas & Innovation – we have to keep feeding the innovation machine, otherwise businesses can starve.” Edmonds says Gripple has built its success on a culture of excitement about the future, on an ethos that looks at uncertainty and sees opportunity not danger. It is an attitude that carried the company through the recession in 2009 when UK commercial construction came to a virtual standstill.

Recognising the importance of nurturing patentable ideas and encouraging staff to engage creatively with the future of the company (in which of course they have a financial stake), Gripple has recently invested in an upgraded 5000 sq foot facility for Ideas and Innovation in Sheffield. Edmonds says “The key to growth will always be new products and new applications. This will be true no matter how much the commercial construction market fluctuates.”