Diametric Technical is the brand behind the brand. The niche company manufactures bespoke commercial badges and labels for some of the most prestigious and recognisable brands. Headquartered near Southampton, Diametric has its own UK-based manufacturing plant and supplies badges to numerous brands including Sunseeker, Hasselblad, Jaguar Land Rover, Naim Audio and Triumph Motorcycles.
Managing director Graham Steele admits it can be difficult, often comical explaining his business to the uninitiated. “Often when I say we manufacture badges we get the response ‘it’s not my birthday, I don’t need one’.”
In fact this is a specialist and technical market, producing commercial badges made to exacting standards requiring several processes, rigorous testing and adhering to strict legislation as each badge must withstand the same conditions as the product itself, including exposure to harsh environments such as those in the marine, oil and gas industries.
As the ‘finishing touch’ to each product, the badge must also embody and emulate the quality and reliability of each client’s brand. Diametric is one of the few companies in the world with the capability, technical expertise and resources to deal with the whole process from design through to manufacture. “Some clients come to us having left their branding requirements to the last minute. Others will have strict requirements, but all need to know the attention to detail behind their product will be reflected in the badge,” explained Steele. Coupled with this, each badge must be precision engineered, for example Roberts Radio badge is just six centimetres long but replicates two intricate royal warrants of appointment, along with other important text.
The company was founded in 1981 from a kitchen table by Ann Cull and her late husband Jeff. Since then it has seen three successful MBOs, most recently in October 2015 by Steele and his business partner and plant director Stephen Watts. It now employs 24 staff across two sites: its Swanmore headquarters near Southampton and its factory in Newport on the Isle of Wight, and produced over 5 million badges in 2015 priced from 4p to several £1000s. Despite the growth and success Steele is keen to retain the family-business ethos, explaining: “The staff are highly valued; many have been here 10 to 15 years. We like to socialise with each other and clients, whenever possible, because we have built up relationships going back years.”
With a turnover of £4.35 million in 2015 Diametric is now recognised as being at the forefront of research and development within the industry. “The big word in our industry is ‘innovation’. Clients are constantly looking to us for new materials and processes. Historically they made the suggestions but now we are driving that process,” said Steele. Latest research is into carbon fibre as a new potential material due to its desirability within automotive OEMs. The automotive industry currently accounts for around 60% of Diametric’s client base and includes several elite and luxury brands and links with F1.
Bringing a product to market typically takes six to 12 months and will cost £1,000s but is crucial if Diametric are to stay ahead of the competition. Diametric’s impressive portfolio of 10 processes and the option to combine two or three to create one badge rules out most rivals and its ability to offer the widest range of labelling solutions on the market as well as other products such as commercial nameplates, instrument panels, interior decorative trim, dashboards decals means it is a one-stop shop for clients.
It is early days for Steele but he is already looking to future growth with plans to expand the factory and purchase machinery to relieve bottlenecks in production. “We are forever looking at new markets – the list endless; from double glazing, white goods and medical equipment to premium products such as high-end watch manufacturers and distilleries. Ironically, despite his product’s high profile, Steele admits it can be difficult to market. “Our products are in the public eye and on the TV every week, the problem is they are effectively another company’s brand – our brand is in the portfolio of processes.”
Predictably, in line with most UK manufacturers, the company’s biggest challenge to growth is finding skilled staff, Steele is looking to recruit two apprentices in the near future. He said: “We have the premises and capacity but our manufacturing processes are so complex it takes several years to train new staff.”
But Steele believes he is fortunate to be based in Hampshire concluding: “Given the choice of locating anywhere in the UK I’d chose Hampshire every time. The transport links mean I’m only 90 minutes from the majority of our suppliers and clients and some of the best manufacturing specialists in the world are on our doorstep.”