Here’s the full text of our feature as ‘best practice representatives’ in this year’s Parliamentary Review (manufacturing edition).
Evo Supplies Ltd is one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of furniture skates (also known as dollies). The company was founded in 2013, when Juliet and Greg Dunn purchased an existing removal supplies business on Mersea Island in Essex. Managing Director Juliet Dunn explains Evo’s mission, culture and plans for the future.
In November 2013 Greg and I – an animal feed trader and a legal editor respectively – found ourselves the slightly nervous owners of a small furniture skate manufacturing business. We both had previous experience in running businesses, but neither of us had a manufacturing background. Over the past four years, we’ve had to acquire some entirely new skillsets, and the learning curve has been close to vertical at times.
Skates or dollies
We branded ourselves ‘The Skate People’ and started developing new products to fill gaps in the market, working with our customers to produce skates to the specifications they needed. We’re principally a business-to-business seller, but there’s also a market in skates for domestic and garden use.
Over the past 18 months we’ve taken on new people and now have a very strong team. It’s a constant learning process for all of us, but team spirit prevails. Our commitment to timely delivery and excellent customer service does occasionally mean that my office colleagues and I can be found on the factory floor, pitching in to finish and pack skates ready for loading out. This hands-on approach has helped me to gain real insight into exactly what I’m asking my production guys to do, and how our productivity expectations and targets can be improved.
High-spec and hand finished
In a market dominated by cheap imported dollies, we’ve differentiated Evo by focusing on three core concepts:
- Making high-spec, hand-finished products that satisfy our customers’ own high quality demands: hard-wearing castors; sustainable timber; and the ethos of ‘buying British’. Our emphasis on premium quality has recently attracted two workplace equipment suppliers, who feature Evo-made products in their online catalogues.
- Promoting the attractive branding advantages for corporate customers of Evo ‘personalised’ skates. Some of the big names in commercial relocation and domestic removals have large fleets of Evo skates, bearing their company logo, to present a professional image on site and reinforce their brand.
- Making bespoke-size skates. We’ve made giant skates for shifting PA equipment, skates for trundling sacks of logs and skates for freezers. Requests can be bizarre, but we’ll oblige whenever possible; and from an R&D perspective, some of these one-off jobs have resulted in permanent additions to our range, including the aluminium Filing Cabinet Skate and the 1-tonne capacity ‘Mighty Mover’.
Responding to challenges
Evo is part of the supply chain for domestic removals and commercial relocation companies, so the nervousness resulting from, first, the Brexit vote and now the outcome of the June General Election, inevitably impacts on us. Protracted political and financial nervousness will benefit neither the manufacturing sector in which we operate, nor the service industries we supply, and we believe it’s crucial that the next Government genuinely supports SMEs.
Evo has recently joined the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the EEF – the Manufacturers’ Organisation. I strongly commend both organisations, not only for their loud and persistent lobbying of Government on issues directly affecting SMEs, but also for the wealth of information, advice, services and practical help they offer business owners. I wish we’d joined years ago: membership brings both reassurance and inspiration.
The free HR, legal and crisis management services available to FSB members are amazing value. And a recent visit from an EEF manufacturing consultant gave the whole team here an unrivalled opportunity to seek advice and guidance on productivity and efficiency in our operation – again, a service entirely free to members.
This year we have invested heavily in the Xero cloud accounting system, which has revolutionised life in the Evo office. It also offers a vast array of management accounting and marketing tools, which we’re only just starting to explore, but the possibilities are exciting.
Financing the business for growth is a challenge. We’ve been seeking funding to allow us to take Evo to the next level and to realise our development aspirations, but the process is so frustrating it’s almost enough to dampen the entrepreneurial spirit. But Greg and I are not the kind of people to be easily deterred. Through thinkbusinessfinance.com we recently secured a loan from IWOCA,(?) which was a life-saver in delivering working capital precisely when we needed it. The loan funded the design and building of our new website and a trip to China to explore the economic viability of sourcing two of our raw materials – rubber and castors – direct from the manufacturers.
It was encouraging to see an awareness in both Conservative and Labour manifestos of the crushing effects on small business of late payment. Both parties pledged that companies tendering for government contracts must pay their own suppliers on time. As the FSB asserts: ‘When our small businesses succeed, so does the UK economy.’
So what are Evo’s plans for the future?
- extending our product range and broadening our customer base;
- building even stronger relationships with our existing customers;
- achieving a better balance between the ideals of ‘just in time’ ordering and lean manufacturing, while also holding sufficient stock to service urgent orders, meet the delivery promises of our wholesalers, and offer the fast response demanded of outlets like eBay;
- following our EEF consultant’s recommendations to optimise production methods and increase productivity;
- significantly reducing costs by buying raw materials (those that are already Chinese-made) direct from China ;
- making our excellent customer service super-excellent!