View from the top: John Guest Limited
John Guest Ltd is 50 years old this year. Here, Paul Fanning asks product director James Guest what has kept it at the top.
This year marks John Guest Limited's (JG) 50th year in business and the importance of this legacy, as an innovative UK manufacturer is something that matters greatly to its product director, James Guest, grandson of the eponymous founder. He says: "We'd like to think that when people think of JG, they think of us as 'the push-fit people'."
The company originally began life as a zinc die-caster, but in the early 1970s, John Guest invented the Speedfit fitting. Originally made in metal, it started being produced in plastic during the 1970s, "At which point," says James Guest, "We really started to become known as 'The Speedfit People'". JG's core competency revolves around its linear internal supply chain - it maintains control over its whole process to ensure products of the highest quality.
The first market to take advantage of this engineering company was the breweries. Next came the automotive sector, where Ford wanted a quick assembly fitting for its fuel line systems; JG quickly started working with a host of other big names in the sector. This supply route allowed the company to set up subsidiaries around the world. The company has since expanded into the air and pneumatics markets, the plumbing and DIY sectors and most recently into the telecomms sector. Says James: "We have a very active sales force and very good contacts, but, some of our biggest sales come from people who've seen the product being used and noticed its major advantages in terms of speed and ease of use."
Although the push-fit concept originated at JG, the company is far from alone in its markets. Says James: "10% of company turnover is reinvested in R&D resource. We differentiate ourselves through our confidence to work with other designers. Commercially, it's vital that we offer specific solutions that are right for the organisation in question…we're constantly looking for new ideas and applications and that's why we're the market leader today."
James believes that basing JG's brand image on its core competency can help with further differentiation. He says: "We've a strong focus in terms of how we see ourselves as an organisation and have many products that all have a very clear identity. We try to present ourselves as 'the push-fit people' regardless of where the fitting is being used. We have around 4500 products, but there is great synergy and consistency between those products. They're all based around the ethos of simple, fast and easy connections."
As a UK engineering company, JG is obviously more concerned than most about the availability of skilled engineers. The problem, believes James Guest, is as much cultural as it is structural. He says: "There needs to be a culture change. When you look at Germany, in meetings there, it's the engineer who takes precedence – not the marketing or commercial man. That isn't always the case over here."
James continues: "We often train people because the skills simply don't exist anywhere else. That's costly, but it's also frustrating because you see things that our nation was good at being outsourced to other countries." However, Guest is far from pessimistic, saying: "It's positive to see that British decision makers are realising the need for a much greater spread of skills."
JG has offered apprenticeships since the 1960s, which have provided it with some of its longest-serving and most valued employees. Says James: "It's an incredible advantage to have that skill set and knowledge base."
However, JG is by no means resting on its laurels. Says James: "We're looking to further strengthen our associations with design houses and OEMs to help develop the push-fit systems of tomorrow."
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