MGN Insight – Pump up the turnover

Tomlinson Hall is a distributor of a wide range of leading pump brands, and works with customers in the UK and in markets across the globe. The company also manufactures its own range of pumps, including the liquid ring vacuum pump Liquivac which is only made in the UK and has its own global distribution network.

A turning point in Tomlinson Hall’s 99 year history came 25 years ago when the decision was made to start manufacturing its own pumps. Prior to that point the company had been an engineering supplier and pump distributor only, albeit one that had grown an international reputation for quality and customer service.

Tomlinson Hall were invited by NRG to become members of Manufacturing Growth Network (MGN) at the end of 2017 and are proud to be recognised as a top ten performing business, demonstrating incremental growth of Turnover during quarter 1 2018.

MGN interview with Colin Simpson of Tomlinson Hall

Colin Simpson, Business Development Director, Tomlinson Hall

Colin Simpson is the company’s Business Development Director and one of a three-person senior management team. The business is led by Tony Keville, the grandson of founder Alfred Tomlinson, who is currently the chairman and managing director. “Tony has unique skills beyond the norm for our industry,” Colin explained, “and he sets the bar very high technically for the business. To have that knowledge, experience and expertise at the top is wonderful.”

Colin went on to explain their approach to customer care. “What we’ve aimed to do with Liquivac is eradicate all the bad processes when it comes to customer care that we knew distributors sometimes use.

“We treat our customers how we like to be treated ourselves. Communication is key to this and we work very hard to get our people to speak directly to customers rather than just use email. What frustrates us as distributors ourselves is when changes of delivery or stock-outs or the like aren’t communicated properly. We try to make communication seamless with our distributors.”

Tomlinson Hall is the sole partner in the UK for global operator Crane’s Depa and Elro pump brands and has taken these brands from zero to over £1m sales, making them Crane’s No.2 distributor in the world behind Japan. “People abroad really appreciate what we have to offer. We have fantastic products and we have a really good team,” Colin added.

In 2006, the company moved its base from Stockton to Billingham , a move, explained Colin “to be in the heart of local industry, as well as having easy access to the A1 and A19 and the airport too.”

“We created an open office environment in an effort to improve our internal communication and focused very much on the office ergonomics which has made us much more slick and made a real difference to our customer service performance.

The company has a very active workshop which is at the heart of the business as it supports the Liquivac manufacturing and also supports the pump supply and repair arm of the business. “Our engineers are all trained on the pumps that we distribute so we act as a service repair centre both in-house and on other sites in the UK and abroad. It’s a total supply and support package that we offer.”

There is a clear focus on developing new products and they are currently working on an innovation project on the Liquivac pump with Fathi Abugchem at Teesside University. They are developing a component on the pump to increase its flow and Colin is hopeful that they will have a prototype to use soon.

This is just one example of collaborative working that Tomlinson Hall prides itself on. “We have a long history of collaboration with the university and also with organisations such as NEPIC and DIT. Collaboration has made a massive difference to us and we would encourage any business to get involved with the hubs and clusters that are there to support businesses in the region.”

Another example is the work they do with Grundfos. “One of the services we have developed with them is our Energy Health Checks for our pumps across the world. Pumps use 10 per cent of the available global requirement of power, so we are offering these Checks in the UK and abroad to reduce the consumption. And the payback time is phenomenal too so it’s actually self-funding.”

As exports are a big part of their sales revenue, Tomlinson Hall has naturally been looking at Brexit but Colin Simpson sees this more of an opportunity than a threat as they look to broaden their markets. “The pump brands we represent come in the main from Germany and those companies are not suddenly going to stop supplying them to us. While we don’t fear Brexit we have mitigated any risk by looking even further afield. The world needs clean water and Liquivac lends itself perfectly for desalination, the demand for which globally is growing with global warming.”

Colin cites the support of the Department for International Trade (DIT) and their ability to introduce their products to local markets in various countries around the world as a key factor in its exporting success.

Getting properly skilled pump engineers is an increasingly challenging proposition for Colin and his management colleagues. “25 years ago there was an abundance of quality pump engineers but today there’s a real shortage of skilled people on the tools. And those we have are demanding quite high salaries of course. That’s why there’s a big call for STEM skills in the region and the reason why we have an Apprenticeship programme.

“Pump engineering skills are quite unique so we are very keen on training our staff. We tend to over-train rather than under-train and if there’s a course going then there’s a Tomlinson Hall engineer on it!”

The company doesn’t just pay lip service to its KPIs, but challenges staff to commit to, and secure, improvement in everything it does. “It’s never a blame game with us; we just want to constant improve. We try to communicate well and to provide a quality service to our customers. We’re planning for the future and we know we have a very bright future.”

The Manufacturing Growth Network (MGN) is a quarterly publication sponsored by NRG, Square One Law, EY, Lloyds Bank and EEF and published by Insider Media.  MGN is FREE for North East manufacturing businesses to join, for further information without obligation contact Julie Mordue, client relationship manager at NRG.