In an exclusive interview via video conference with Simon Benbow, managing director of Benbow Steels, RCI’s editor Nichola Farrugia finds out more about the colour coated steel supplier, and how the company’s expansion plans have fared over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
RCI: Since founded in 2006, how has Benbow Steels grown as a colour coated steel supplier?
SB: Benbow Steels has grown steadily by 5 to 10% each year over the past 15 years. This has been achieved by having a clear strategy in place about the markets we operate in.
Cladding and construction are our two biggest markets, and we provide a broad range of colour coated steel for these sectors. As a business, our decisions have been based on these markets – from our investment strategy to the type of equipment we have available.
The machinery we have in place is highly suitable for carrying out short, quick runs, which means that it provides us with the flexibility we need to efficiently serve our customers.
The service we offer our customers is critical to what we do. As most of the steel we supply is for flashings and fabrications, which is often one of the last things that is sent to site, this means that customers want the products quickly, so they can complete the job.
We offer customers 24-hour delivery across the UK, with local deliveries available on the same day. This is combined with having a team that has a fantastic blend of product knowledge and industry experience to help customers with exactly what they need.
RCI: What investments have been made in the business to enhance its service offering for customers?
SB: In late 2018, our business strategy centred on three areas of investment. We needed to support our next day, nationwide, same day, local offering, with extra processing capacity and back-up equipment. As a result, we expanded our site by taking on the premises next door to create more space.
As part of the investment, we bought a new cut to length machine, which doubles our processing capacity for products that are suitable for construction. The machine now means that we can put quick, short runs on, so it is simple to add a coil on and take it off.
We also invested in a ERP system, so that we could meet our current demand levels, as well as future growth.
In addition to this, as part of our “building for the future” strategy, we realised that we would need to recruit more staff to achieve our future plans, as well as make improvements to our facility when customers come to visit.
Due to take place in early 2020, we pressed the button on the new ERP system and the machinery expansion project in November 2019.
RCI: How did lockdown affect your business?
SB: In the first quarter of 2020, there were two workstreams within the business. In January, we began working on the new facility and sorting out the coil storage. At the same time, the new machine was being made in China. However, due to the coronavirus, everything on the project temporarily stopped and we couldn’t travel abroad to commission the line.
With regards to the ERP system, we had to make 65 changes to better support our customers and ensure they received the same level of service they were used to from Benbow Steels.
During the first lockdown, no one knew what was going to happen, and like most businesses, we wondered how it was going to affect us. We saw a reduction in orders in March and April, and spent time talking to our suppliers because we had pre-ordered steel from them. Our key suppliers, ArcelorMittal and Tata Steel, were fantastic as they allowed us to defer some orders.
In April, with outdoor construction work resuming, things started to pick up, and after reviewing government advice and making sure we were COVID safe, we began to process orders for projects around the UK.
With this change in optimism, it soon became apparent that we could push on with our investment strategy, which we did in May.
Whilst we were not able to commission the new line in China, we were able to commission it via Zoom. This proved successful, as it meant that we could get more of our operatives involved to provide a different perspective.
RCI: What are your hopes for the company in the future?
SB: That it keeps developing and moving forward. This year, we are looking to expand the business further by investing in our team. In addition, we are constantly reviewing and expanding our product range, and whilst the majority of what we supply is large flat sheets, we are now on the cusp of further investment, which will see us supply smaller coils.
This means that we will be able to supply customers with smaller quantities in niche colours, quickly, which is particularly useful for refurbishment work.
RCI: The steel industry is going through an exceptional time, considering price increases and a shortage in the supply chain for many products. How is the company working with suppliers to ensure that stock is available?
SB: Steel is one of the many global commodities that is in short supply and will continue to be so this year. We have seen the price of colour coated materials increase by over 60% in the last nine month, with further increases expected.
Whilst we have long established relationships with our suppliers, we are doubling our efforts to make sure that we are working closely with them and keeping lines of communication open.
For us, it is about being flexible with our suppliers and providing them with the information they need early on.
RCI: Reflecting on 2020, what are your predictions for this year?
SB: Without a doubt, the industry has been faced with stock and supply difficulties. This combined with issues of ‘corona proofing’ the working environment, and furlough, 2020 was probably the most challenging year ever for the sector.
However, with further investment imminent, you can rest assured that Benbow Steels remains focussed on maintaining stock levels, giving emphasis to on-time-in-full deliveries, and supporting our customers through the challenges that the industry will no doubt continue to face.