Q & A with Alan Rutter of Crabtree
Operating from an extensive site in Team Valley, Gateshead UK, Crabtree has been a designer and manufacturer of metal decorating and coating equipment for more than 50 years. The machines it manufactures print on to metal, so think Quality Street tins and more recently aerosol cans and craft beer.
Alan Rutter, Senior Director at Crabtree joined the company in 2000 as a technical trainee before moving into the business development team. It was in this role that he was able to apply his technical knowledge to support the company’s customers by developing bespoke solutions to their needs. In 2019 he was promoted to senior director and in this role he has driven forward Crabtree’s sales strategy by supplying machines and OEM spare parts to customers around the world.
We invited Alan to provide insight on how Crabtree has continued to innovate and be relevant to its global market.
How has your business been impacted over the pandemic?
We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we secured sizable capital projects early on during the first lockdown. Though our projects take a while to mature 6-12 months minimum, so many of these projects were already in the pipeline!
And whilst we have seen an increase in new equipment, there has been a decrease in support, spares and services which has largely been due to our inability to be onsite – due to Covid restrictions – to diagnose, survey lines and in effect identify the client’s need for parts. I also personally believe our clients have understandably wanted to hold on to cash during the fluid market and economic conditions. We also realised we were caught short with our supply chain. It turns out it’s simply too narrow and heavily reliant on just a handful of key suppliers…
How have you adapted to the challenges brought about by it?
Firstly, our supply chain is being developed now. And our remote sales, video calls and WhatsApp groups are becoming more prevalent. We’ve had to adapt the way we travel too, with such a large overseas customer base this was a priority.
Where have you seen most growth across the business?
In capital. New equipment projects have most definitely grown, but again I don’t think this was necessarily Covid driven, as they were already a work in progress. We have however been fortunate that they were still able to progress.
Where do you see future growth?
For us, I think there is a market to target SME companies with budget equipment and also grow our development projects. We have a fantastic and very experienced workforce who are always looking at R&D.
How do you recruit and develop your specialist workforce?
With great difficulty! That aside, we have consolidated a lot which means we have less people doing more things. I’d like to think that through this we’re working smarter and leaner. We have employed new production staff and have been fortunate enough to have some sizable capital projects with repeat processes which has helped to address training needs.
Where are your current key markets for export?
Globally, it’s really sporadic with projects in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Europe.
What advice would you give other exporters across the North East?
Other than hang in there… start working on beefing up your supply chain. Understand that communication can be actioned via many mediums these days. What has worked for us is creating small influential groups to share information swiftly and to the right people. Also, the shipping… understand that we’re not in Europe anymore, we’re in a state of flux, export will take longer, with more loopholes and ambiguity, pre-empt this!
How has the company innovated to meet changing customer demands?
Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility… understand if you don’t provide it, another company will or if you don’t do it, the customer will do it themselves. I am constantly back and forth with R&D, I have high expectations, but I do understand that I can’t have everything, so compromise is a must.
How have you applied digital transformation to your business?
For us, it has been more about applying digital transformation in our offering to clients. This has been through the application of new camera technology and identifying ways in which they can improve their own processes using our technology. We understand that our company perception is an extension of us and can be both a positive and a negative, but it’s up to us to drive it. We want to showcase more to our global clients with visuals and with this in mind we’ve embarked on a project to simplify the way in which we are viewed.
What role does marketing have in engaging with new customers and prospects?
We’ve got by on our name for too long and taken for granted that people know exactly what we do… that’s not good enough. We know we need to tell the story and engage via marketing. This is going to be important more than ever because if you can’t be physically in front of a client whatever you put in front of them needs to hit the right tone, and that can only be achieved by developing marketing material with experts.
Horizon Works supports Crabtree in communicating with its customers and target prospects by delivering press releases, editorial content and print advertising as well as creating a soon to launch animation of its latest print machine. Read our case study here.