Flexseal has, this year, been invited to contribute to The Parliamentary Review, a document distributed to over half a million leading policy makers. The aim of the document is to demonstrate best business practice to influence future business policies and Flexseal were asked to submit a piece for the Manufacturing and Services section. Here is what we’ve published in the document…

Flexseal is a 30-year-old company that designs and manufactures the most comprehensive range of drainage connections in the marketplace. Alongside its European subsidiary companies, the group leads the market and supplies infrastructure projects across the world. With a turnover of £17million, the company (based in Barnsley, South Yorkshire) isn’t huge, but the value it brings to its customers and the UK’s critical drainage infrastructure is massive. Lee Pashley became managing director in 2015; here he explains how he’s put a well performing business under the microscope and invested in some key areas to get more value than ever before.

The business will be celebrating its 30th year next year and I’ve spent the past 16 of those years in various sales roles. One of the first major challenges I faced as managing director was defending our position in the marketplace. As market leader serving approximately 75-80 per cent of the UK demand we had everything to lose and our direct competitors were becoming more active and more competitive on price.

With an already keen sense for sales and marketing, I threw myself into building a talented team within these functions and creating a joint sales and marketing strategy that put the customer at the heart of everything we do. I was now able to instil this culture of ‘customer-first’ into areas of the business that had never seen themselves as customer-facing. I wanted to ensure that everyone in the business was empowered to make positive changes to impact on the businesses offerings to customers.

An internal culture movement

My reaction to this new challenge of more aggressive competition all started with labels on delivery boxes. A simple despatch process used to be hand writing the contents onto the outside of the box using a marker pen, a manual process that meant every single box looked different and, in most cases, messy, like it had been vandalised with graffiti. I remember thinking to myself: “is this the image of a market-leading company?” We decided urgently to develop a simple printed label that clearly showed the contents of a box – an immediate improvement. This may have been a small step, but it turned out to be the beginning of a big movement within our organisation; I soon realised that critiquing every process in the business and making small improvements wherever we could would have benefits on our performance, our image in the market and help us to differentiate from our competitors.

We challenged every member of staff within the company to think of ideas for continuous improvements and no matter how small they were we implemented them.

“Customers were, for the first time, seeing exactly how Flexseal added value to their businesses”

It wasn’t enough to just make the improvements – we had to tell our customers about them. Our previous message out to the marketplace was arrogant and focused on our market leader status without telling customers why we’re market leaders. I worked closely with our marketing team to improve our message. We had to focus on all the reasons why our customers continue to use Flexseal’s products and services. The result was a clear message of ‘why’ followed by a new strapline ‘Another way Flexseal adds value’. The impact of this on our customer perception was huge and strengthened our commercial relationships as customers were, for the first time, seeing exactly how Flexseal added value to their businesses.

With a firm culture now in place that consisted of a flatter approach to employee hierarchy and more employee involvement in business improvements, we had internal driven changes covered. It was now time to put more focus on what our customers wanted and to learn more from them. We created a series of customer surveys that asked for feedback on how they thought we could improve our offerings to them. This gave our teams a second stream of ideas that were risk free because the improvements that flowed from them were coming in directly from our customers, so we knew they would have a positive impact.

Our innovations strategy has seen a shift because of inbound customer insights and feedback. Our research and development team is more collaborative than ever before and is focused on developing new products based on the needs of the market. We ask the obvious questions: does this product solve a real problem; is it easy to use; will it save the installer time or money? .

This constant flow of ideas and implementation over the past three years has resulted in a greater level of customer engagement, improved customer perception, increased new product development, improvements to customer service, development of new customer tools, more reliable production processes and many more. All of which is communicated back to our customers through an increased level of channels and points of contact.

Flexseal at 30

The right teams who are passionate, care about the business and want to see it improve are the drivers behind these improvements. The senior management team instils a culture of rewarding successes. We constantly celebrate these successes with BBQ’s, pizza days, fun activities etc. We also celebrate the personal milestones of our people such as work anniversaries, and birthdays.

Our business continues to grow despite an increasingly competitive market and I believe the steps we’ve taken over the past three years have significantly contributed to this. For this I can’t thank our employees, suppliers and of course our customers enough. We do and will continue to engineer new ways of connecting drainage and sewer pipes with a view to constantly improving the UK’s drainage infrastructure.

If I could distil the reasons for our success over the past three years, it’s down to asking the right questions, listening and not being afraid to take action.