Aftermarket Features & Interviews Van

Buying British pays off for Van Guard

02 April 2015 #Aftermarket #Features & Interviews #Van

Why are the components that UK manufacturers need made thousands of miles away when there are factories here that can do as good a job at a competitive price? That was the question Barry Woodward, Managing Director of light commercial accessories’ manufacturer Van Guard, and his colleagues asked themselves back in 2013.

They decided that re-shoring the production of as many parts as possible to the UK – including plastic parts made in China – made sound business sense, so that’s what they did.vanguard5

“It was the right decision,” said Woodward. “We may be paying slightly more for the items concerned; however, you have to balance that against the freight charges we used to face, plus the fact when we bought parts from China we had to take a container-load at a time, which put pressure on our cash flow. By sourcing from a UK supplier we can call in the components as and when we need them.

“Containers used to take a minimum 28 days to get to us and often took longer if the weather was bad or if customs checks had to be carried out. On top of that there was always uncertainty over the exchange rate.”

Working with a supplier on the other side of the world made it difficult to implement design changes quickly. “It’s a lot easier if you are dealing with a firm that’s less than 20 miles away,” said Woodward.

Nor has he found it difficult to locate dependable British businesses that can make components in the volumes Van Guard needs and to the required quality standard. “That hasn’t been a struggle for us. It means our ULTI Bar van roof product launched nearly two years ago is now 100% UK-made,” he continues. ULTI Bar is one of Van Guard’s key products and forms part of a line-up that includes everything from pipe tubes and window grilles to bulkheads and load area ply-lining kits; all of which are becoming as British as possible.

Van Guard’s commitment to British manufacturing is going down well with customers.

In a recent survey, commissioned by the company, of more than 2,500 people who buy van accessories, a whopping 97% said they were more likely to buy one if it had been manufactured in the UK. Some 93% said they believed it was important to support British-made products in general while upwards of 95% said they associated them with high quality.

“The main reason for the survey was that we wanted to check whether we were right to believe trades people were really behind British-manufactured products,” said Woodward. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive in its support of British manufacturing, which is really encouraging and has certainly helped us validate our thoughts.”

With an annual turnover of more than £3m, Van Guard has been investing in new equipment for the 31 employees at its factory on the Exeter Airport Business Park and has recently spent £750,000 on a BySprint Fibre 3kW laser cutter.

“It uses the latest 3D graphic design software, it is energy-efficient, it has reduced wastage and we can run it round-the-clock,” said Woodward. “It has given us the ability to increase output dramatically, to deliver bespoke orders more quickly and keeps us at the forefront of technology.”

Founded in 1976 as GK Land Engineering, and involved in van accessories for the past 25 years, Exeter-based Van Guard is well aware of the importance of nurturing in-house talent and has taken on two apprentices. “We’ll have more coming through in the future,” said Woodward.

Van Guard’s willingness to re-shore and invest in UK production facilities means it has been granted the right to use the distinctive and highly regarded logo from the Made in Great Britain Campaign.

Amanda Nelson, one of the campaign’s founding directors, says, “We were delighted to award our marque to Van Guard. We share its vision of re-invigorating British manufacturing, bringing jobs back to the British Isles and building a greater legacy for Britain’s manufacturing future.”

Woodward, who has worked for the company for 34 years, says, “We’re getting as close to 100% UK sourcing as we can. Obviously what we’re doing benefits the country but that’s not the sole reason why we are doing it; it benefits us as well without a doubt.”

Update Newsletter