Faced with redundancy after the collapse of MG Rover in 2005, a group of British engineers have built a new business on Tyneside which caters for a small but important part of the industry.
The six men were employed by Lockshield making security devices for MG Rover’s cars. But when the carmaker collapsed, they contacted a few big fleet hitters to see if there was anything they could turn their hand to.
Managing director Bill Smith says: “We contacted Northgate Vehicle Hire and it turned out that they were looking for a few hundred roof racks. Within a month, we had designed, built and sold our first product.”
Aiko Design was born. Since then, the company has been growing organically as van fleet operators get to hear about a British product that carries a lifetime guarantee and which the makers boast “can be put together using one hand”.
Smith initially took a back seat at the firm and “retired” after selling his interests in Lockshield but is now back to help Aiko make a major push for fleet business.
A new website – aiko-design.co.uk – has been set up in which buyers can build their own products and order them online and Smith is now in talks with major fleet buyers and van dealers across the country in a bid to increase sales.
He says: “I sold my interest in Lockshield after running the firm for 15 hard years and it was my intention to retire on the money I made.
“But when MG Rover went out of business I wanted to make sure the men I employed had secure jobs so we launched Aiko Design. It was my intention to sit back and relax but I found I couldn’t. I am passionate about business and was just itching to get back to work.”
In a move that would shame the fat cats of the banking world, Smith does not take a salary but works for the love of his job. He said: “I made enough money to retire on but didn’t want to spend the rest of my life relaxing!”
One thing Smith does insist on is that all products are built to the highest quality standards.
“You can buy any number of roof racks for vans,” he says, “but a lot of them aren’t very good quality and I’d warn any potential buyers to look out for this as cheap roof racks can be dangerous.
“A lot of them say ‘heavy duty’ but this is a meaningless phrase. Some of them are so weak you could bend them over your knee. Our products cost the same as the cheaper ones but are the best quality you can get and are guaranteed for life – and we mean life.”
So how does Aiko manage to survive with this business strategy? The answer lies in Smith’s canny business sense. He says: “We can sell our roof racks at reasonable prices because we don’t have any debt and we have low running costs. For example, all our premises are bought and paid for.”
The company now employs 10 people and has agents who sell roof racks to dealers, who can then fit them on a customer’s behalf.
Smith add: “Some roof racks come with a million different nuts and bolts but the number of parts on our racks is kept to a minimum. Everything is welded for strength and you can fit them with one hand – although two will be easier.”
By Trevor Gelkin