The small serving big

Posted on 4 Apr 2014 by Callum Bentley

Professor Tim Baines from the Aston Centre for Servitization Research and Practice shows that you don’t have to be the biggest fish in the pond to offer the best service and create new relationships with your customers.

In earlier articles we explained how companies such as Rolls- Royce Aerospace, Xerox and Alstom were all offering advanced services incorporating maintenance, repair and overhaul contracts where revenue generation is directly linked to asset availability, reliability and performance. But how relevant is the concept beyond a few large organisations?

Starting small

Haigh Engineering Ltd helps to demonstrate that servitization is not just for large corporations producing large and complex products. Based in the West Midlands and employing about 100 personnel, the company manufactures maceration machines and waste separation systems for the waste and waste water sector. Over the past year the company has moved away from just selling its equipment, to offering performancebased lease agreements. These incorporate proactive maintenance, equipment upgrades, and a monthly payment plan, with development of web enabled remote monitoring now underway.

Baines, Tim - Aston Business School
Tim Baines of the Aston Centre for Servitization Research and Practice

Haigh is already seeing the benefits of services, with managing director Mark Brian stating the obvious impact the move is having on the company’s customer base. “This is a significant opportunity for us to deliver benefits to our customers and enhance revenue,” he said. “Since the start of the year our revenues from service and spares have already gone up by 25-30%.”

Going smaller

Waste Spectrum Ltd is smaller still. With just 35 employees, it manufactures incinerator machines that provide bio-secure disposal of animal carcasses and medical waste. Similar to Haigh, it is moving away from transactional sales to longer-term service contracts typically lasting five years. These contracts offer guarantees to customers based around equipment availability and reliability, along with capped maintenance costs and monthly payment plans. Again the benefits have been dramatic, with revenue from services set to exceed 20% of turnover from almost a standing start in 2013. Managing director Neil Rossiter, captures the situation well; “Just being an OEM isn’t it anymore, it’s not enough. People want service and they want support and they want back-up,” he said.


Malvern Scientific provides still further evidence that servitization is applicable to companies of all sizes. This is a micro company in comparison to other leading examples, employing only eight people in rural Worcestershire, and focusing on the design and production of technologies that assist people with disabilities. In particular, it specialises in computer-based systems that help people with severely limited mobility to access music and photographs, carry out word processing, access the web, send emails, and other IT based activities.

Until recently, Malvern Scientific had set out to do business by trying to sell these systems to its customers as a conventional transaction. The competition however is tough, with the market dominated by three large North American companies who sell similar technologies.

Malvern Scientific’s break through into services has come about through conducting audits of the technology needs of disabled people. Initially this was simply a means to win extra revenue, but in doing so, the directors realised that users frequently failed to get the value from the systems they purchased. All too often expensive equipment was unused, perhaps because of a simple fault or lack of adequate training and support.

Malvern Scientific used this knowledge to develop an innovative services contract based around the monthly rental of its technologies and support delivered by occupational therapists. To deliver this they have created a new company, named Assistive Control, which employs only two people. The company hopes to achieve 70% of revenue from this service alone.

Overall benefits

Although the potential and impact is becoming clearer both for manufacturers and their customers, these are better documented for the larger companies. Our previous article on servitization draws from the Xerox Impact study, to cite a range of benefits such as improved commercial resilience and growth for the manufacturer, and reduced financial risk and improved focus and asset management for the customer. In addition to these, servitization benefits the economy as a whole through the localisation of value capture.

The small manufacturers mentioned above are part of a cluster of 18 companies in the West Midlands which, through their services strategies, have collectively contributed around two million pounds of gross value add to their local economy in just over a year. Although minuscule compared to a multi-national such as Jaguar Land Rover, we should remember there are around 3000 such SMEs in this region alone.

We are in no doubt that the potential of servitization is immense. Manufacturers are rapidly moving to a world where it is not simply a competitive choice, but rather a strategic imperative. The challenge is to explain, encourage, and guide the adoption of servitization. Not an insignificant task.

In May this year Aston Business School is working in partnership with The Manufacturer to deliver the Spring Servitization Conference where thought leaders from industry and academia will come together to debate the challenges of organisational transformation.

Get involved in the Spring Servitization Conference here.