What business qualities make an SME successful? We’ve been visiting various businesses to bring you some insightful case studies. This month it is Vectair Systems, the manufacturer of ‘away from home’ commercial hygiene products, and No 6 in The SME 100
Vectair Systems operates in a highly competitive commercial field that most people take for granted, and yet it’s one in which they are often personally involved – hygiene in washrooms and public environments.
It’s a very personal world in which Vectair provides a product range that spans soap dispensers and air fresheners, insect control and toilet cleaners, baby-changing stations and sanitizing systems, and beyond….
And it’s a personal world in which Vectair is making great strides because of its own very personal approach to the business of selling its aircare, washroom and infant care products and services. Vectair truly knows its customers very well, fully understands product users’ requirements, and over the years has done the legwork and airmiles to establish trusted relationships throughout its business sector.
Today, all its key directors still have hands-on ‘coalface’ involvement, pitching the products, visiting international trade shows, developing new distributor partnerships, meeting hotel, restaurant and stadium owners, and ensuring customer satisfaction.
That’s some achievement for a fast-growing £10 million turnover company that has only has 30 UK staff yet sells into over 100 countries. Vectair is also about to launch an innovative ‘green’ odour control system that it believes will revolutionise the air-freshener market.
“We definitely punch above our weight because we know all the industry players and they know who we are,” said commercial director Rich Martin.
The bright future that Basingstoke-based Vectair Systems now faces can be traced back to a strategic management decision prompted by the looming 2008 recession.
“It was a decision that probably saved our business,” said Colin Davies, who as financial director knew all the figures that mattered. “We could have retrenched, but instead, assisted by UKTI, we accelerated our market development with distributors in India, Middle East and America.”
Quite simply, Vectair decided to sell its way out of its recessionary troubles of cashflow and reduced margins. The move was brave. Barely two years before, Paul Wonnacott, a founder of Vectair in 1988 and today its MD and group president, and group sales director Joe Ovenden had led a management buyout of the company.
Suffice to say that within the past six years Vectair has won four industry accolades as ‘Exporter of the Year’ and two international trade awards from UKTI and Santander.
“In 2005 our UK sales would have accounted for about two-thirds of our total. Now they are less than one third,” Davies highlighted.
Arguably that turnaround was secured when Vectair started to sell successfully in North America. The company opened its US division in Memphis in late 2007, but took three years to gain a market foothold against stiff competition. Now US sales are growing well.
“We are still a relatively small business there, but we are attracting the attention of some very big players. If one of those comes in, our US turnover could quickly double,” said Martin.
Vectair began as a UK distributor of hygiene products, but, though it does no physical manufacturing itself, the company now has a strong manufacturer’s mindset within its B2B global operations – an underpinning desire to control ‘the product journey’ from concept to consumer.
It enhances its existing products, researches and designs new ones, patents its innovations, embraces new technology and materials, then closely monitors production quality, logistical delivery, and repeat business.
Making personal contact with the sector’s ‘movers-and-shakers’ not only generates Vectair’s sales, but also mines a rich vein of client and consumer feedback. This is channelled into innovation and improvements in Vectair’s products and services, assisting standards, R&D and customer retention.
That personal industry insight also enables Vectair to make astute partnership choices – low-cost manufacturing in the Far East is carefully married with specialist skilled production in UK and Europe.
New ideas are also extensively customer-researched and tested by Vectair’s inhouse specialists, who call-in external expertise when required. Vectair’s revolutionary new ‘green’ odour control product has involved Chinese manufacturers, Dutch fragrance advisers and British universities in its three-year journey from idea to reality.
Yet you may never notice Vectair’s work – 98% of its soap dispensers, for instance, are private labelled with customer logos.
Vectair may have an established business spanning UK to Australia that annually produces a $1m-plus sales growth, but market expansion is still an objective, says Davies.
So where is Vectair’s future business? It’s probably best outlined by noting the travel plans of Wonnacott and his sales-focused team, now working predominantly in North America but increasingly emerging markets in Turkey, South America, Russia and China.
Is that pleasant aroma in the air the smell of Vectair success?
Vectair’s SME-to-SME advice:
- Don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone, but don’t overstretch your business.
- Know your resources and realise their true value.
- Set challenging but achievable targets, and when they are achieved, set new targets.
- Doing nothing different is rarely an option in business.
Resources: Vectair Systems website