The Swedish have a certain bit of wisdom about business: “You should be able to stand on your roof and see all of your customers. The closer you are, the quicker you can react to them.”
This kind of thinking - that location and proximity are key to business – drives how FB Group, owned by the Swedish company Addtech AB, runs its branches like FB Chain in Great Britain.
FB Chain operates out of an advanced production facility in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, making roller chains, leaf chains, conveyor chains and accessories.
Workers manufacture anchor bolts, pins and pulleys for the material handling industry, often tailoring them to individual client requirements. The business also supplies package solutions for original equipment manufacturer programs, according to the company website.
FB Chain holds International Organization Standardization 9001 for the manufacture of chain and associated machined products. The company is the only leaf chain manufacturer represented by the British Industrial Truck Association and the Forklift Truck Association, according to the business' online history.
“We like to call ourselves 'leaf chain geeks’,” said Peter Church, FB Chain’s managing director, in a telephone interview.
Other companies may be bigger, but FB Chain has “worked hard at honing its specialty, its products and its customer service,” he said.
The company employs about 30 workers in Great Britain and around 200 across Europe. About 40 percent of FB Chain's business is export-based, including around a dozen American customers.
“The US market is certainly an area we’re looking to expand into more,” said Church. “There’s definitely a growing demand for our products and services.” The company’s chain wear gauges are particularly popular in the U.S.; 25 percent of all the chain wear gauges FB Chain sells go to American customers. Church says this is because it is “simply the best one on the market.”
The international business works well on FB Chain's end as well.
“We can deliver chain wear gauges almost next day in America due to its light weight, and also because of the time difference. We get a lot of positive feedback from US customers regarding the efficiency of our service,” Church said.
In addition to the chain wear gauge sales, a large proportion of FB Chain’s US customers get in touch because they require extra technical help and knowledge, according to Church.
FB Chain strives to provide key technical information and application assistance for both equipment manufacturers and operators. The business even hosts an “in-depth chain day for customers and students two to three times a year, providing a chance to talk in detail about leaf chains,” said Church.
This may seem surprising for a steel product made of plates and pins that looks largely the same as it has for decades. But Church said the manufacturing technology and requirements - like new standards factoring in fatigue - around leaf chain manufacturing continue to evolve. Church says the Swedish Addtech, which operates 120 businesses as part of the group, leaves day-to-day business operations in the control of its British arm. “There is a belief that entrepreneurship is aided by autonomy,” he said.
“There is a collective responsibility built in to Swedish people. They take ownership and share success, resulting in staff who are committed and engaged,” wrote Church, on his company blog.
“In our business, employees have a large measure of independence combined with responsibility. New staff quickly learn and enjoy being part of a decentralized organization where they can and do have control over their own role.
“By taking this approach right across our operations, we maximize the ability of a small business to achieve long-term growth and profitability,” he wrote.
This year marks the 30th year of operation for FB Chain. Church said the business has been sustained by a constant focus on products and services, along with a strategy of continual review of processes to maintain excellence.
How Britain's vote regarding EU membership will play out for the leaf chain manufacturer remains to be seen. At the time of his interview with Material Handling, a few weeks ahead of the vote, Church said leaving the union would likely create “some uncertainty” in the short term.
Over the medium to long term, however, “that impact would be minimal,” he said.
Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen.