In a market saturated with foreign competitors, Birmingham's Fracino is holding up the British end of the coffee machine market. James Pozzi talks to managing director Adrian Maxwell about the company's growth.
Sales have increased by 14% over the last year, with exports now accounting for 28% of turnover for espresso and cappuccino machines. How have you successfully navigated the export market?
Our biggest market is still the UK with 75% of business done here. At the moment our biggest export market is Australia, while we’re doing well in places like the Middle East, Poland and Korea. We’ve recently had our first order from China also. But this has been a challenge. Up until 2008, we didn’t really export at all. We took the bull by the horns after the banks crashed in 2008. I was concerned that we had all our eggs in one basket in the UK, and with no export market, we had nothing to lose. We exhibited our products abroad, take our products and show people, and showcase them through a website. We revamped this completely, as well as updating all our sales literature. We first did shows in Dubai which got the ball rolling in 2009, before moving on to Milan later in the year – the big plunge for us.
Have you benefited from specific foreign demand for British-made goods?
Definitely. We actually used to hide the fact we were a British manufacturer for a long time. Despite being from Birmingham we had an Italian name to trade off the country’s espresso market. It got to a point where we were exporting to Korea, and we found them asking for the Union Jack flag on the product. They really wanted British products. And why not? We make great stuff in Britain. It’s becoming more apparent in this country that we do make stuff here and there is a lot of family businesses out there. But we don’t talk about it enough though. We’re have a high standard of engineers and produce some genuinely world leading stuff. In terms of product quality we are world leaders.
You’ve ramped up your manufacturing capabilities by adding an array of new machinery to meet growing demand. What did you specifically invest in?
We’ve just ordered a new CNC tube bender which pulls the copper from the coil; pulling it off the coil, cutting it and form it unmanned. That will speed up production and free somebody up who is cutting and bending the tubes. Although we’re CNC tube bending at the moment, that’s manual load but now we won’t have to load it. That means we can run this unmanned overnight and this is due in the next three weeks. We’ve just ordered another CNC laser because production volume is up so much. That’s a quarter of a million pounds of machinery arriving within the next month, so a huge investment. But to be fair, the government has made it good for us. We’ve got a 100% tax incentive for buying new machinery, and if you’ve got the money, you might as well go for it. I’m a big believer of always keeping the money in the business and reinvesting, an ethos my father shared.
You’ve also been making new recruits. What are the employee growth numbers and has Fracino experienced high retention rates?
We have employed more six new people since the turn of the year, so we’re just up to 50 employees now. This is all positive for the company and the local area. We’ve never made anyone redundant in 51 years of business. We’ve also got a high retention rate, with some people being here for decades. As we’re only small, most of the growth is in new employees, but ones who joined around the turn of the century are still here. We’re in the favourable position of most of our staff treating the job like their hobby, which is always a wonderful thing. If you love what you’re doing and it’s like a hobby to you, then it’s not much like work.