View from the top: Commercial evolution

Written by: Simon Fogg | Published:

TFC is extending its services to help customers reduce costs and make more profit. Simon Fogg finds out how.

One of the leading suppliers of technical fastener components, TFC's focus has always been on working with designers to help them produce better products. According to executive chairman Martin Clarke, after a management buyout in 2007, the company is now evolving services with a commercial emphasis.

"Since the new management team took over, one of the emphases we've had is to say we can go further with the customer," Clarke explains. "We talk to the commercial team about how we can reduce the overall cost."

He believes that TFC stands out because it aims to fundamentally understand its customers' needs – a relationship which can benefit manufacturing support operations to help take out cost throughout the process.

This involves aiding the acquisition of small components with systems that help customers manage issues such as storage and internal transport. "We've extended our product supply to a service supply where not only do we talk to customers about the product, but about the way they receive the product," says Clarke.

His example is that the cost of a screw is often only 30% of the total cost of acquiring it and getting it on the shopfloor. There's a lot of administration involved which TFC can take responsibility for and manage because it has the experience to do so. "We've perfected ways of handling small components efficiently in our own business and developed the technology and skills to do the same for our customers in their factories," adds Clarke.

One success story can be found in the automotive industry where the challenge is always to produce smaller and lighter. TFC has applied its wave spring products, a form of compression spring that is smaller than conventional helical springs, and enabled mechanisms to be more compact. Another could be TFC's involvement with connector companies, where Spirolox retaining rings have been used to make connector products smaller.

Once this technical relationship has developed, TFC can then offer to handle the more ordinary commodity products. "We combine the two worlds into a whole," says Clarke, "and we're able to follow the customer relationship, not just from the design side, but right through to the operations director who's responsible for getting their goods out on time."

Clarke observes that with this business model, it's important for customers to know that stock is always nearby. "What we've been doing over the last five years is putting in place the infrastructure to allow us to get more commercial with customers," he says.

This support is not limited to the UK as many customers move abroad to get closer to their markets. Clarke says that TFC has worked hard to ensure that if a customer needs it to support their factory, it has the resources to do so.

He also underlines that the company's focus is both technical and commercial. "We attract new customers through the technical route because that's the way to really get to the core of their product and their factory," he notes. The result is that TFC's turnover has grown from £7m in 2007, to a predicted £20m this year.

TFC has recently honed its systems and spent time developing lean manufacturing. These new services can now help assemble and manufacture a better product. Says Clarke: "What distinguishes us is that we always look to help our customers make more profit."

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