The billion-part maker with new markets ahead

In the centre of Birmingham, there’s a family-owned, 152-year-old company that makes and ships around four million components every week to China. And every morning, you can thank that company for your cup of tea.

Because in the majority of domestic kettles in the world, there are components that carry the electric current between the base of the kettle and its base station.

It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of the world’s kettles contain components that are made by Brandauer in Birmingham – before being shipped to customers in China.

It’s not the only startling insight from the slickly organised factory that hides behind an unprepossessing red brick exterior. Brandauer makes and ships approaching a billion parts annually to multiple sectors including plumbing, automotive and electronics. Sales to China account for one-third of its turnover.

Brandauer specialises in high-volume, high-speed “progression stamping,” in which small metallic components such as connector pins, electrical contacts, clips and blades are stamped out at ferocious speed. From the humble kettle to the Large Hadron Collider, Brandauer provide the components that make them work.

The company designs and makes machine tools in order to do the running and stamping but, says Brandauer’s sales and marketing director Rowan Crozier, “we make our money from stamping.”

Customers look to Brandauer to solve a problem, usually along the lines of ‘here is a prototype concept, how can we repeatably produce 100 million of them a year?’

Its formula for success is based on sustained investment in plant and equipment that has fully automated the manufacturing process, allied to a 152-year knowledge of how metal works. The result: being able to compete globally on costs while having the tooling and know-how to build and deliver best-in-class products.

This was a company that began life making pen nibs. Today Brandauer has its sights set on new markets and new customers.

“The medical sector is a growing part of our business. We wanted to pitch ourselves firmly in this arena,” says Crozier. In 2011, Brandauer attended one of the world’s largest medical exhibitions – Compamed and Medica in Germany – with funding assistance from United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI).

“All I had to do was turn up with a box of samples and some brochures,” says the self-deprecating Crozier. “We formed part of a stand of ten companies that had been facilitated by Medilink and UKTI.” That was 2011. In 2013, the first tooling order came in as a result of being at that show – for a surgical application used in keyhole surgery. “That will become hundreds of thousands of pounds-worth of business going forward,” adds Crozier.

Brandauer founded its international success with an initial strategy to partner existing customers; much of its historical export business came from UK-based decision-makers who have developed assembly plants around the world and they drew on Brandauer’s expertise and ability to deliver. Hence the kettles. It is only recently that the company has started to export directly.

There’s still lots for Crozier and his team to do. The company has worked with UKTI to internationalise its website and to develop its marketing materials. ‘The way that people buy has changed,’ says Crozier.

“Four years ago we took four enquiries from our web site; this year, we took 70 and four orders. As a global supplier, our web site has to be our shop window.”

Recent improvements to its web site and search engine optimisation (SEO) has seen visits rise from 1,200 in 2010 to more than 1,200 per month today. A smarter, slicker digital presence plays an essential part of the renaissance of UK manufacturing, believes Crozier.

Brandauer now have regional business development managers in place across mainland Europe which is in direct response to the signs that it’s a massive potential market.

“Yes, our biggest competition is there,” acknowledges Crozier, “but from everything I am hearing it is time for us to start competing there. The Germans have always tended to go with their own but they are having capacity and service problems, so they are now coming to Brandauer. They did see us as ‘the next best thing’ but they are finding that we’re much better than that.”

UKTI has helped businesses such as Brandauer with advice and support in many aspects of exporting. Find export opportunities, events and practical guidance on the Exporting is GREAT site.