With Brexit creating an uncertain landscape, Daniel Searle spoke to UK manufacturers about current and future opportunities. He visited Street Crane, a company planning large-scale growth.

There are big changes afoot at Street Crane—but the company is overseeing a smooth transition from one era to the next. Andrew Pimblett stepped down as managing director earlier this year after 28 years in the role and 49 years with the company. A big change, of course—but part of a planned succession, with Pimblett stepping down on his 65th birthday and Gus Zona, who has been with Street Crane in two spells since 1988, taking on the role.

Pimblett is still very much an active member of the company, as he told Hoist during a visit to the company’s headquarters at Chapel-enle- Frith in Derbyshire, UK. Now working three days, he is still undertaking some of the travel required to help projects over the line and to optimise project timelines, he says.

That’s not the only change underway at the company—as sales director Chris Lindley-Smith mentioned during our tour of the production facilities, that the company has “ambitious plans” with the aim of growing by 40% over the next five years.

To put that growth into context, the Street group of companies currently has a turnover of around £70m, says Lindley-Smith, with a team of 200 staff at Street Crane and a further 130 at service provider Street CraneXpress and SCX Special Projects, which specialises in customised, engineering solutions. Street sells complete cranes primarily in the UK market, where the relatively short distances make shipping entire cranes logistically viable. The company’s UK sales account for at least 40% of the domestic market, says Pimblett—the downside to having such a large market share is that further UK market growth is getting tougher.

Therefore, the main opportunity for the targeted growth is through the company’s distributors outside the UK—around 75% of current business is done through these crane companies, says Pimblett. Street Crane’s long term business model has been to develop an innovative and comprehensive range of hoists and crane components, which it sells as crane kits to independent crane manufacturers containing everything required other than the girders. Crane companies worldwide buy the hoist, end carriages, electrical panels and drives in capacities from 1t to 250t. Kits up to 25t are sold as a “plug and play” with no electrical know-how required to build a crane, explains Lindley-Smith.

The company differentiates itself to distributors by ensuring it has a range of cranes that can rival any technology on the market. “We’re all about product development, product development and more product development,” says Pimblett, “Most years we invest a sum equivalent to more than half of our profit into innovation, and about one in 20 of our staff work exclusively on designing new products.”

The result is a product range that enables independent crane manufacturers to compete with the big players, explains Pimblett. “Product development is the main driver of business, and one of the key things that distributors like about us. We can provide a solution for every crane and hoist application, usually with unique safety and performance features.”

This approach is backed by the shareholders of Street Crane; the company is privately-owned and the owners understand the need for long term investment decisions in the crane industry, explains Pimblett. For this business model to work, it’s crucial to maintain strong relationships with all of its distributors.

“Our distributors are effectively our sales network,” says Zona. “One of our key differentials is that we will help them as much or as little as each one wants. In most cases we won’t sell directly into any markets where we have a distributor, so they aren’t competing against us for cranes, service or parts.”

“We can offer advice to distributors, as we have learnt a lot of lessons over the years,” says Pimblett. “For example, in the past we have taught companies how to build box beams rather than just I-beams, and recently we have advised a group of our partners about smart job costing systems.”

“There have been changes in the market, with companies acquiring others and changing ownership, that have created uncertainty amongst buyers, and that creates opportunities,” says Pimblett.

“Currently, the single biggest opportunity for us is in the USA market,” says Zona. “People are spending money. It’s not always easy for distributors to change their supplier—but they are motivated to change because we do not compete with them and it makes strategic sense to work with us.”

In the US, Street Crane runs a warehouse in Houston, Texas that houses around $2m of parts, overseen by two permanent sales staff and a technical expert. The company is not only focused on the States, though. “Our biggest market last year was China,”

says Pimblett. “And we’re in almost every country worldwide apart from Japan. One of my first sales missions I went on for Street Crane was to what was then Burma, and we’re now starting to see interest from Myanmar.

“We’ve worked very hard to establish ourselves in Europe, and we have a distributor in almost every country. It’s an old market, with long-standing relationships, but I am delighted to say we were 46% above budget last year.”

Zona notes that the Middle East might be the company’s most successful market overall, thanks to the large number of cranes sold for smelting operations. “But we go wherever the needs are,” he says, before noting the importance of growing at a steady rate. “We want to make sure we keep our relationships strong with our existing distributors, as well as working with new ones.”

Street Crane has developed crane configurator software, which assists distributors in selecting the best crane for each application.

“The software has been 20 years in the making,” says Pimblett. “The final version has been launched initially to a limited audience in the US. The reason for the software is that we can offer 16bn different configurations of crane, when you account for different capacities, duties, voltages, regional specifications, and optional extras.”

“The software gives distributors the toolkit to succeed,” says Zona. “It also produces ‘own brand’ sales and technical drawings which distributors really like.”

Pimblett adds: “Our product development is also focused on making products more competitive, either price-wise or in terms of the features they offer. We’re soon to launch a range of 30t, 35t, 40t, 45t and 50t hoists that are more cost effective than previous models.”

The company has also recently developed a new safe working period monitor, as well as an LED display on its Sabre Radio remote control. Walking round the Chapel-en-le- Frith facility gives more insight into how the company manufactures its products, and in particular keeps up with increasing demand. At the ‘Site A’ area, the company works on orders of complete cranes, operating a semi-automated box beam welding system as well as painting and grinding stations.

The company opened a second site at the facility in 2014, and ‘Site B’ now houses spare parts and the production area for its ZX hoists in 0.5t–80t capacities. All the ZX hoist transmissions are built on site, explains Lindley-Smith, and the company manufactures around 2,000 hoists on a ‘standards’ line. These are the most popular capacities of 3t, 5t, 7.5t and 10t. Less popular and larger capacity ZX models are produced on a second ‘customised’ line. The Street VX hoist which tops out at 250t is top of the range. In total Street sells over 3,000 hoists a year.

“The land plot here is almost full,” says Lindley-Smith, “and we’re at full capacity for complete cranes. However, there is room for more production of hoists and crane components, and in the last few weeks we have got planning permission for a new paint bay and parts store which will give us the extra capacity we need to grow.”

The company has a new CNC barrel machining system on site too, which can help to meet the requirements of even the most bespoke projects.

“However, in many ways we prefer to make standard cranes,” says Lindley-Smith, adding that standard components are sub-contracted which makes for a business that can be easily scaled up: “The challenge now is working with our supply chain to achieve the higher volumes.”

Changes are underway, then, as the company continues doing what it did before— but on a bigger and better scale.

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