When I started at Tomlinson Hall, it was very well known on its doorstep but didn’t have much of a presence outside the area. Like many engineering companies at the time, we had deep roots in Teesside and a loyal customer base, but we were behind the times in some ways and have worked hard to develop the business both nationally and globally.
ICI was a huge part of life on Teesside (many members of my family worked there) and a major customer for Tomlinson Hall, while the steel industry was still a major employer in the 1980s and early 1990s. Those days may be gone, but there are many fantastic, innovative manufacturers here, and the success of clusters like NEPIC [North East of England Process Industry Cluster] the NEAA [North East Automotive Alliance] demonstrates our strength as a region.
The internet has certainly affected the pump distribution landscape; online pump and parts sellers have flourished, but there is no ‘substance’ to the sales – many of these companies don’t offer the engineering consultancy expertise that customers find highly valuable.
The decline in the number of skilled engineers available has been another development – it means that end users are less likely to
employ their own maintenance teams, so they contract that work out, or may use cheap replacement products instead. There’s an element of ‘throwaway culture’ creeping into the industry.
And since the turn of the millennium, cheap, lower quality products manufactured in China have become more prevalent in the market; though we have bucked that trend by supplying the Shanghai fire brigade with mobile peristaltic pumps!
Diversification is key to success. The 2010 mothballing of the blast furnace at Corus in Redcar gave us a bloody nose, but it pushed the board – including myself, managing director Tony Keville, sales director Marc Dale and financial director Paul Dixon – to take the decision to aggressively develop new markets, such as leisure, food and drink processing, and desalination – and we have grown every year since the recession.
The continuing impact of the decline in the UK steel industry will, of course, have consequences for our sector, while Brexit has the potential to affect the pump industry, just like it will other markets. However we are mitigating against any post-Brexit challenges by pursuing further growth opportunities in North America and the Middle East. It must be said, though, that we are still seeing investment in the UK from manufacturers based in mainland Europe – we have strong relationships with German companies, and Crane Process Flow Technologies GmbH, which has its headquarters in Dusseldorf, is actively investing in growing its UK sales presence through Tomlinson Hall.
On a global scale, as water resources become scarcer, more countries are likely to invest in desalination plants and we are already seeing growing demand for our own Liquivac pump in the Mediterranean and Middle East due to its seawater extraction capabilities.
1985 – Joins Knox D’Arcy Limited as a management consultant
1994 – Joins Tomlinson Hall as a company representative
2001 – Appointed to Tomlinson Hall’s board of directors and is named sales director
2013 – Appointed business development director