The term 'rebrand' is sometimes met dismissively and viewed as a shallow change billed as something with more substance. There's no way of telling, unless you either see or experience the elements that sit behind it first hand. But there is substance behind the recent rebrand of 66-employee, £34 million turnover Mills Manufacturing Technology as Mills CNC, announced in January this year, with more than £100,000 cash invested to underpin it.
The change of name, explains sales and marketing director David Andrew, and one of four directors of the company which underwent a management buyout on 29 August last year, is because it more precisely reflects what the company does. "I often used to receive phone calls from potential suppliers asking us what it is we make, because the word 'manufacturing' in the company name implied that we were involved in manufacturing." In fact, Mills CNC was already the website name, and, as managing director Nick Frampton adds: "We were keen to stamp a new identity on the company to underline the change of management. We have a lot of ideas about how to take the company forward, plus it helped drive a step-change in company culture."
To stay at the visible level for a little longer, together with the name change has come a new logo, which, through the colours used, links the company directly with the machine tool colours of its principal, Doosan; and there's also a three-colour graphic comprised of the same colours and representing an 'M', in an Expressionist-type design – a consistent theme throughout branded staff clothing, marketing materials, and even posters and artwork, which are liberally distributed throughout the company's Leamington Spa, Warks, headquarters and showroom. Even company mobile phones display the three-colour logo, as do the umbrellas that protect customers as they travel between the company's two buildings.
Improved customer facilities in its showroom area take in an expanded reception/visitor coffee area on a mezzanine overlooking the showroom; extra discussion/break-out rooms at mezzanine and ground level, equipped with IT infrastructure; plus a central kitchen resource, complete with Sky TV, on the ground level.
The ground-level training room has seen the installation of an interactive white board, but is due for a complete refurbishment to bring it into line with the other, adjacent, high specification facilities. "We have what we believe to be the best facility in the UK machine tool industry, without being ostentatious about it," offers Mr Frampton.
Image: The new coffee reception area on a mezzanine overlooking the showroom, complete with meeting room, in the background, and the liberally used three-colour graphic in the foreground
CHANGE OF CULTURE
This physical, visual branding underpins the new, more inclusive company culture, with the generated positive employee attitude amplifying, in return, the ubiquitous new 'look and feel' that greets prospective and current customers. And the many remarks received via feedback forms demonstrate that the impact is favourable, underlines the sales and marketing director. In addition, Mr Andrew reports this consistent image, committed workforce and general comfort factor have helped to positively influence customers in Mills CNC's favour when faced with a choice between suppliers.
Mr Frampton also highlights that, with an increasingly blue-chip customer base, the initial impact for such visitors is an important element, and one which sets the tone for the more serious business of technology, application, price and delivery. "This year, more than 50 per cent of sales are currently to blue-chip customers. And, if you add in turnkey orders, that takes the percentage to around 70 per cent." The blue-chips, he adds, are: "surprised at the responsiveness and service support levels, but these are the same levels of service we deliver to sub-contractors day in, day out; it's in the nature of Mills to do that".
And the processes, procedures and infrastructure that sit below this to replicate it time and time again are also key to large buyers, but, once again are there for all customers. That embraces pre-sales order analysis – regardless of its apparent simplicity; pre-delivery analysis to make sure the machine is installed with minimum delay; PDI of the machine itself; a spares and service operation, driven by visual display boards that prompt and monitor action, and convey, for example, service engineer location and availability (now being rolled out to sales); plus online spares ordering, engineer confirmation and project management.
Mr Frampton, as previous operations director at Mills CNC, and before that with an aerospace company, admits to being very process obsessed, but says: "The fact that we have a good reputation for delivery and quality of installation isn't by chance; it's because we have procedures to make sure of it."
Image: The new team – left to right: finance director Nav Ahluwalia; technical director Andrew Jack; managing director Nick Frampton; sales and marketing director David Andrew
BUILDING ON PERFORMANCE
It is all intended to build further on Mills CNC's sales performance, which equates to some 350 machines sold last year at a value of £34 million. And the company claims more than one third of all machines sold in the UK in the first two months of the year. Indeed, in contrast to current trends, the company just had a record first quarter – £7.8 million – and took £3 million in May alone.
Getting customers and potential customers engaged with the new-look company has also come under the spotlight. Email promotions to its customer database (maintained with the support of Findlay Media, Machinery's publisher) – 16,000, twice a month – have been timed to gain maximum advantage from current background events, Mr Andrew underlines. For example, its 'scrappage allowance', which hit desks the day after Budget Day. "We timed it to be topical, but had wanted to do it for some time," Mr Frampton adds. Another promotion was a reminder that the financial year was coming to an end and that companies should assess whether they might take advantage of this to invest in a Doosan machine tool. Both emails prompted companies to order, it is reported.
The latest promotion is Smart Options, highlighting Mills CNC's rental offer that will give the customer 100 per cent of his rentals back, if he buys the machine after one year. "Nobody else does that, but if he wants to give the machine back, that is free of charge, too; nobody does that, either," the sales and marketing director confidently underlines. And within nine minutes of the email going out, there were four enquiries back through its website; a quote for one went out within
15 minutes and is now a highly likely order for a Puma 400 lathe.
And, as Mr Andrew says, the state of the current market is characterised by a lack of confidence. "Many people passing through our showroom tell us that they have got the work; they like the machines, but they don't have the confidence or can't raise the finance. Mills has its own underwriter and he has been able to put this scheme together to help turn interest into orders."
Other initiatives include identifying where funding via various grants is available; the creation of sector-specific brochures, such as oil and gas; and a deal that sees FeatureCAM CAM software offered free with every MX or TT style turning centre.
Moving to the service side, with some 3,500-4,000 machines in the field (taking the Doosan Infracore and Doosan Mechatec brands combined (the two companies having been brought together in 2005), there is a pool of customers for Mills CNC service options, now all sitting under the 360 brand – indicating a 360°, comprehensive offering. "We are looking to offer things that, once again, nobody else is offering," Mr Andrew emphasises. This includes the introduction of a loyalty scheme, where customers earn and can then redeem points against the purchase of spares or service, plus the offering of servicing, both on a full contract basis and via smaller packages for prepaid spares or service.
And, finally, there's a constant stream of new machine tool models. Large double-column gantry machines, a 5-axis machining range (Doosan didn't previously offer 5-axis), plus a Heidenhain-fitted DNM vertical machining centre, are all recently introduced and imminent UK landings, for example.
The DNM VMC line, introduced late last year, is, incidentally, the company's most successful product launch to date, underlines Mr Frampton. "We have been known as a supplier of lathes for some time, but now we are targeting those areas where we are less well known and have been very successful – large capacity horizontals, like the HMC 1000, have been strong sellers, for example – we have almost 30 per cent of the UK's large horizontal market." And the managing director believes that a target for the company of £40-50 million turnover is realistic during the coming years.
It has booked a 500 m2 stand at the forthcoming MACH show in June of next year (www.mach2010.com), to underline its new brand and expanding product range. Along with another company taking the same space, this is the largest ever stand taken at a MACH show and the event's timing is expected to allow the company to capitalise on the upturn.
Already Mr Frampton says he senses confidence returning to the sub-contract market. "Footfall through the showroom in May increased massively and we have a lot of visits booked for June, too. We are taking orders from the smaller firms again – 15 orders from sub-contractors in May; not insignificant."
Image: Mills CNC is offering a free FeatureCAM package with its MX and TT mill-turn centres
Putting a value on people
"There has been a dramatic step-change in culture. The people we have in the company cannot be replaced; you can't get these skills off the shelf," explains managing director Nick Frampton. Elements in this increased staff value have been: for the first time, recognising and rewarding long-serving employees; the organisation of discount schemes, such as SpecSavers and child care; corporate gym membership; better mobile phones; upgraded computers; and staff bonus payment.
"We are all in this together, and these things do make a difference. Customers pick up on the positive atmosphere and note it in feedback," Mr Andrew enthuses.
And the company is also expanding its workforce. Two more service engineers were employed this year, with 20 now on the road), plus another two staff, an applications training engineer and a further turnkey /project engineer, to be employed.
Young service engineers are being trained, too – one last year and another this year, up to HND, if required. "We can't go out and get people off the shelf to suit our company, so we prefer to employ someone that has the right attitude and build their skillset, because we believe that Mills CNC service engineers have a different outlook," he states. " We do not want our people to do the minimum, so they can get to the next job; we want them to do the best job."
First published in Machinery July 2009