By Jim Harley, operations manager at Bison Manufacturing’s Uddingston facility
AS you may already know, the SNP held its Spring Conference in March of this year.
One of the standout moments for the construction industry was an announcement from Heathrow Airport, stating that 2016 will mark its 20th Heathrow Business Summit by hosting the event in Glasgow, with the city joining Manchester, Leeds and Heathrow itself as one of the host locations.
Given that the key objective of these summits is to connect SMEs with Heathrow’s supply chain, the addition of Glasgow to the programme hints that major firms see an added value in working with Scottish manufacturers and service providers.
Indeed, Heathrow’s representative mentioned Bison’s involvement in the creation of Terminal 2 in particular, with our Uddingston plant providing 40,000 sqm for the terminal’s car park.
As a business which has had a presence in Scotland for more than 70 years (Bison’s Falkirk factory was opened in 1944, and moved to Uddingston in 2000) we’ve seen a lot of things change, including the amount of ‘export’ orders which we provide for projects in England.
Having been with the company since 1990, I’ve witnessed a fair amount of this myself, with Scottish orders accounting for approximately 95% of production before the recession, compared to just 20% once the downturn hit.
However, the fact that Bison was able to look further afield and continue operating throughout this difficult time is a testament to the advantages of working with specialists.
During the Terminal 2 build, our plant was the only one in the UK which was capable of manufacturing the uniquely-thin 60mm deep units required by Heathrow, providing us with a USP that couldn’t be matched by our competitors.
The benefits of working on Heathrow were two-fold. In the short term, the project provided a boost to the business during the recession. The long-term advantages of our involvement are still being felt, with the project creating something of a legacy by demonstrating the high quality of our units, an attribute which often sees our salespeople in Southern England using the terminal’s car park as something of a ‘show home’ for clients, encouraging further orders.
We still take this bespoke approach today, with our larger, more ‘standard’ orders being produced in our English plant in Swadlincote, and Uddingston producing our unique units. For instance, we recently supplied a number of retirement properties with Hollowcore flooring units which were manufactured with integrated recesses for walk-in wet room floors, removing the need for the client to carry out costly alterations later in the project.
When dealing with orders from further afield, a common concern is the transport of units. However, by preparing thoroughly during the planning stages these risks can be minimised, and the fact that every unit that Bison produced for Heathrow was transported nearly 400 miles with zero breakages (despite their reduced depth) is a testament to this.
This concept of carving a niche is one that can be adopted by businesses across Scotland, not necessarily going head-to-head with similar companies and competing on price, but providing a unique, quality offering which puts them in a field of one.
By taking this approach, Scottish companies can not only attract more business from the UK as a whole, which can only be a good thing, but the profile of the country as a leader in manufacturing will be raised, attracting additional workers and in turn boosting the local economy while driving down unemployment.