Stowmarket: Timberwolf is engineering a successful future
- Credit: Archant
British manufacturing is the key to future economic growth and prosperity – at least that’s what the politicians tell us. But what can government do to encourage our county’s manufacturing sector? JAMES MARSTON visits a Suffolk firm determined to shape the future.
Timberwolf moved to Suffolk more than 20 years ago.
Managing director Richard Marshall said: “We moved from our base in Kent because Suffolk has better logistics, engineering expertise and other engineering companies. I can’t think of any other county better for our needs.”
Starting out at premises – a former pig farm – in Cotton, the move to Stowmarket’s Tomo Industrial estate was in 2002 and it is from here the company supplies Suffolk-engineered and Suffolk-produced chip and shred machines to customers across the globe.
Richard said: “The company was founded by my father back in 1986. He was running a garden machinery business when he started creating a chipper for one of our customers.
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“We made one as a prototype and over the next five years we started to develop the product beyond that one customer. Then we decided to sell the lawnmower business and concentrate on Timberwolf.”
Using customer feedback to evolve the company’s products it was in June 1995 that the firm launched an hydraulic version of the chipping machine.
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Richard said: “That product significantly improved performance and created much bigger growth and by 1999 we had 20 plus people in our factory.
“At that time we were still dealing ourselves with our end users but that was getting too much for us and we came up with the idea of the Timberwolf brand name and establishing the dealer network which was launched in 2000.”
Today the company employs 38 people and enjoys a turnover of around £7million a year.
Richard, 46, said: “Our growth has been organic and we have borrowed as little as possible. Back at the beginning I always had an ambition to have a successful business. It has got much bigger than I ever really expected. My 30s flew by. It is very hard work and I don’t think people realise what running a business can take out of you.”
Marketing and research and development are two major parts of the company that ensure continued growth. Patrice Love, Timberwolf’s marketing director, said the company is focusing on the export market – particularly in growth economies such as Dubai.
She said: “Our aim is to grow our turnover to £10million in the next three years and this will come through innovation of products and increased exports. We have to think on a global basis. We work closely with the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and we are concentrating on exports.”
Already exporting to many European countries – France Spain, Belgium, Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Cyprus to name a few – Timberwolf’s exports account for around 18% of turnover, a figure the directors hope to grow to 40% in the next three years.
Richard said: “25% of profits go back into marketing and 25% go into research and development. Marketing is a major part of the business, it was much more simple when we started out but nowadays the markets are much more complex and more diverse and we need the right expertise.”
“The current economic climate is relatively flat. Businesses don’t trust the markets which is why we are looking to develop new markets. The UK market has shrunk. There is slow growth and we are working twice as hard for it. We would be finding it much harder is we hadn’t been exporting already.”
Richard said that British-made products are still a big selling point though often carries more weight abroad rather than at home.
He said: “British manufacturing has suffered from the problem that for generations of politicians it has not had the respect which it warrants in terms of its role in the wider economy.
“If you look at the top seven or eight economies they are all manufacturing based. If I was importing the products we sell I would simply employ about seven people and deliver the products to someone else.
“Our company employs 38 people and works with 96 different suppliers of which 71% are in the UK and 60% of which are based in East Anglia.
“I have never understood the value of having a strong pound. I would not be able to sell anything into Europe unless the pound was relatively weak. The 2008 downturn opened a lot of doors for us as the pound weakened and enabled us to export more and grow.”
Richard said Britain needs to toughen up in its negotiations with the European Union.
He said: “We are the only country that plays by the rules; we really need to toughen up. Britain needs to be as competitive as we can.
“It would be easy for Timberwolf to move its factory abroad but I want to stay in the UK and contribute to the country but for companies to do that we have to make a profit and have to grow. The high levels of taxes and business rates are thwarting that growth.”
Patrice said that part of her role in the business is to engage with the wider community and education providers to ensure the next generation of engineers are available in the future.
She said: “Everyone wants to be a celebrity nowadays but engineering, technology and manufacturing is much more valuable. It is great to be involved in a company like this.”