Flying the Flag for Suffolk Manufacturing

Flying the Flag for Suffolk Manufacturing

Meet Tony Poole from Hyprosteps in Brandon

Tony Poole is a straight-forward man and an experienced engineer. He’s worked his way up from apprentice to business owner of a successful company manufacturing steps, work platforms, trolleys and turntables for warehouses and factories.

Behind the banter, Tony Poole is a man of integrity, intent on manufacturing top quality British products from his workshop in Brandon. Despite the shift towards cheaper imported products, Hyprosteps has a 90% repeat order rate, as customers remain happy to pay for quality products that stand the test of time.

So, who is Tony Poole and what’s it like being a manufacturing business in Suffolk? To find out, we met him for a fascinating interview:

Did you grow up in Suffolk?

I am originally from Thundersley in Essex, half way between Basildon and Southend. I was one of the lucky ones that got an apprenticeship straight out of school with the Norfolk based firm, Crane Fruehauf – working at their Basildon plant building commercial vehicles. When they closed their Basildon plant down I had to finish my apprenticeship at their services depot at South Mimms. Travelling from Essex to Hertfordshire every day, before the M25 was fully open, was a bit of a chore…

When & why did you set up Hyprosteps?

When I completed my apprenticeship in 1983, I applied for a welding job in Rayleigh (nice and local) at the firm that was to become Hyprosteps.

The owner was one hell of a salesman but less interested in workshop management. So, over the course of a few years, several name changes and a workshop relocation to Basildon, I found myself managing two manufacturing businesses and a telesales business.

In 1991 the owner decided he’d had enough of manufacturing and put the manufacturing businesses up for sale. I spotted an opportunity…

I called one of the firm’s larger clients, Waldens Trucks and Trolleys, who had expressed an interest in buying the business a few years’ earlier. We put together a cunning plan to buy the firm and move it to Suffolk, where Waldens were based and the rent was cheaper! I would run the workshop at the newly named Hyprosteps with my Dad as a calming influence. I was, after all, a hot-headed 30-something Essex know-it-all.

As a new firm with no trading history it would be impossible to get any supplier accounts, but with the good name of Waldens on side and their buying power and UK transport coverage, everything was in place for Hyprosteps to begin trading from a brand new 3000 square foot workshop in Brandon, Suffolk. The new business had me, my dad Clive, Peter and Tony Walden as equal shareholders. There was lots of work to be done but it was a really exciting time.

How is it different now to then?

With the setting up of the new workshop comes the inevitable upheaval of relocating the family up to Suffolk. It was a big change and a culture shock for all of us.

With my very capable partner, Tracie, in Suffolk and at a loose end, it wasn’t long before she was trained-up and running the auto saw and pedestal drills like an old hand.

As Hyprosteps got busier it took up more than its fair share of Waldens’ staff, taking phone calls, processing orders and so on. We needed to stand on our own two feet. Thankfully, Tracie is extremely capable and adaptable. She took on the responsibility for running the office, while attending a night school course in bookkeeping, followed by a course in sage accounting software.

Through the 90s and early 2000s we grew the firm and steadily grew to eight employees. In 2001, we took the lease out on the adjoining workshop to give us more workshop space. Towards the end of the 2000s we moved into an even larger workshop on the same industrial estate in Brandon. As soon as we had taken on the lease of our new 9000 square foot manufacturing facility, the world went into a major recession.

In 2009 our main customer, Waldens Trucks and Trolleys, went into receivership, owing us and many other suppliers a substantial amount of money.

Tracie and I knew if we didn’t come up with a plan, we would be dragged under by the collapse of Waldens. I suggested to Tracie that we mortgaged everything we owned, begged and borrowed from the family to raise the capital to buy Waldens from the administrator. We both believed we could do it and we took the giant leap of faith together.

It took a long time and it was a lot of work to assimilate Waldens into Hyprosteps – but there have been big benefits to the purchase.

In 2013 Peter Walden retired and we hired Rob, Tracie’s son, making it a real family business. He’s fitted right in to the sales job and is a valuable member of our team.

What do you love about it?

The fact that we can now offer the complete range of manual handling equipment, whether that be working at height, order picking in a warehouse, to material handling equipment for site from gas bottle trolleys to 2 tonne turntable trucks. All made right here in Suffolk.  

We have the knowledge and ability to meet our customers’ needs, whether that’s supplying our standard product off the shelf or getting involved with a bespoke build. We have a lot of experience to share with customers to guide them to a product that will do the job required in as safe a manner as possible – without costing them the earth.    

What’s been your greatest business achievement to date?

It’s all an achievement. From starting off as a one-man band, sleeping in the back of my van in the workshop and only going home weekends to see the family, to moving the business on to bigger premises, surviving the recession, attracting up new customers no matter how big or small they are, to employing a great team.

Plus, after years of cheap imported products from China flooding our market, we have recently supplied the Chinese aerospace industry with around 200 good quality British made trolleys. I feel proud we have had the chance to show the Chinese how we, in the UK, compare in the manual handling arena.

Looking ahead, what are your biggest challenges?

Facing the uncertainty of the next few years, with the government dragging its heels over Brexit. We really need someone to step up to the plate and get it sorted before the country stagnates any further.

What’s the greatest advice you’d give to other Suffolk SMEs?

Never underestimate your competition and never assume a customer is yours for life.

Remember your roots, if you are a manufacturing business, then that’s where the majority of your workforce should be, manufacturing.

What’s next for Hyprosteps?

Hopefully carry on supplying the UK with quality product manufactured here in Brandon. I don’t want to branch out into other areas, just be good at what we do.  

What’s your view on business in Suffolk?

As a firm that supplies the whole of the UK, a lot of the time on our own transport, a major concern is the lack of roads into and out of Suffolk. If the A14 is having a bad day, it likes to drag everyone down with it. There are a multitude of companies in the area that have a lot to offer the rest of the country and with Brexit looming self-reliance is going to be a key factor in Britain’s future.

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