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Marketing tips pay for machinery firm

BRANDING and marketing skills picked up from a part-time training program are being hailed as part of the reason behind the increased prospects of a Perth machine parts manufacturing business.

Eight years ago Mark Hanks’ Esperance-based machine parts engineering business took a leap forward, buying out a Perth machine shop.

The next moves, three years later, were also aggressive, although rather more expensive – building new premises, and becoming computerised.

However, by last year, business was just “ticking along”, and Mr Hanks was less confident about executing the next step up.

Starting out with his own business, Esperance Precision Machining at the age of 21, Mr Hanks had a trade behind him and a couple of years’ travel experience.

Learning on the go how to run things best, he built up a successful business supplying the Goldfields underground mining market and local agricultural and fishing operations.

Bank relationships were good and funding the Perth acquisition, new premises and equipment updates was no problem.

But Mr Hanks felt uneasy, aware that two different Perth trading names had proved less than effective against the well-known Esperance Precision Machining reputation.

“The name changes were a problem, I kept the company name of the Perth business I bought but people did not associate it with the Esperance business, which had a good profile,” he said.

“Then I used my name for the new business, but that did not do it, either. Now people have no problem with EPM for both.”

Before working this out, Mr Hanks was beginning to think that progressing the company further was also a matter of either hiring a general manager who had the skills or somehow acquiring those skills himself.

Leaning towards the first option, Mr Hanks began contemplating new roles for himself, as diverse as farming and owning a bottle shop, but a cold-call fax from Curtin Business School changed the course of history, so to speak.

A small business growth program on offer looked to be just the thing, however, justifying spending on something like this, rather than buildings and equipment, proved quite a personal hurdle.

Once over that, course ideas on branding, how to make the business sellable down the track and how to gain a foothold in new markets gave Mr Hanks plenty to work on to grow and reposition EPM.

“They [the ideas] sound simple but you don’t think of them, because you’re too busy running the day-to-day operations,” Mr Hanks said.

He said improved cashflow and greater profitability were the only measurable outcomes so far this year, but the EPM name for both the Perth and Esperance operations was also proving successful in recognition terms.

EPM is also reorganising its workshop, placing machines in ‘cells’ for optimum efficiency.

The latest machine, a $260,000 CNC computerised space turn lathe, is also delivering quicker turnaround times to customers.

Documenting all workshop and management procedures is aimed at making the business less reliant on Mr Hanks’ presence, and ultimately more sellable.

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