Stronger Together has been the binding value that underpins the Bri-Stor Group for decades, yet in light of the pandemic, the Group’s purpose resonates stronger than ever with colleagues and customers alike. In this feature we talk to Bri-Stor Systems’ Managing Director Simon Webb and Alpha Manufacturing Managing Director Paul Clews about the strength of the Group and the value this brings to customers.
“Alpha Manufacturing is the secret weapon in the Group”, explains Paul Clews. “By name association people think of Bri-Stor Systems as the lead business, but never before have the two companies been so intertwined. Bri-Stor Systems is an important customer for Alpha, no question, but from an operational, innovation and cultural position, the strength of our two businesses combined is a powerful mix.”
Establishing Alpha Integrated Solutions in May this year and now launching Chemical Technologies, Alpha’s new 35,000 sq. ft manufacturing facility in Stafford, the sheet metal manufacturing business goes from strength-to-strength despite the widespread economic volatility in the market. While Alpha Manufacturing responds as the production and manufacturing arm to its sister-company Bri-Stor Systems, the van conversion business continues to lead the industry servicing most of the UK’s nationwide fleets, as Simon Webb explains: “We’re operating in challenging times and our close collaboration with our colleagues in Alpha has never been so important. Alongside the other two businesses in the Group – Hex Signs & Graphics and Atlas Coating – we share the same 30acre site in Hixon which brings about huge operational efficiencies. Our racking and van conversion solutions simply pass through a 50 metre tunnel completely eliminating any costly logistics and supply chain bottlenecks. That isn’t something we’ve ever taken for granted, but now more than ever, it’s an invaluable asset.”
The R&D and innovation efficiencies amongst the Group companies are also profound and while the term ‘one stop shop’ is a frequently used expression, it completely sums up the Bri-Stor Group, as Simon continues: “Whether we’re converting a van for a nationwide fleet or a one-off vehicle for a local sole trader, we have the capacity to design and innovate solutions overnight. A great illustration of this point is the recent TRIM-IT contract. Channel 4 viewers will have seen the challenge we faced to work with the customer to design an entirely new interior for the vehicle in a short time frame and this was only made possible by the close relationship we have with our colleagues in Alpha. In real terms, TRIM-IT is just one example, but in truth, every single customer benefits from the skill and expertise of our prototype and R&D teams across the Group.”
While the Group businesses have their own set of unique customers supported by separate leadership and operational teams, the skill-share opportunity across the business brings tremendous benefits as Paul explains: “The Bri-Stor Group started almost 40 years ago and still remains a family-owned business, led by CEO Martin Smith. One of the strongest values of the Group is the investment in people and this is delivered through our People Programme and Apprenticeship Scheme. While these are structured programmes that support the development of individual people, from the customer’s perspective they can be reassured that the very best talent is working on their project. We are so geographically connected as a business, the transfer of knowledge, skills and capability easily translates across the Group. We have a strong long-service culture in the business and many Bri-Stor Group colleagues have worked across both firms – we actively encourage that progression and with almost four decades of experience under our belts, this formula brings huge advantages to the manufacturing and production process.”
Working out of a state-of-the-art facility in Hixon, Staffordshire, the Group has a strong investment plan in place, reflected in the development of a new manufacturing facility on the edge of Stafford and the £8m spend on new equipment and technology in Alpha Manufacturing and Bri-Stor Systems. Simon picks up the story: “We’ve talked about the operational and people advantages of Bri-Stor Group, but having strong backing from the company’s owner enables us to continually reinvest across the Group. We operate a relatively flat management structure and this allows us to make decisions quickly and make change happen. Alpha is continuously investing in equipment and premises for expansion, while in Bri-Stor Systems we’ve just implemented a significant upgrade to our software system that brings tremendous operational capability. We are constantly implementing ways to improve our performance and output and while these are measures the customer will never actually see in physical terms, the quality and innovation that sits behind our product speaks for itself.
Leading the Bri-Stor Group for the last 15 years as CEO, Martin Smith is committed to a strong investment strategy and believes that the firm’s reputation as a customer-centric business is what keeps the Group at the forefront of the markets they serve, he adds: “Recently Paul Clews has spoken about the merits of Industry 4.0 and the need to work towards higher levels of automation and its entirely within this spirit that we continue to invest. Whether it’s in greater degrees of automation, software development or our People Programme and the launch of our Higher Apprenticeship scheme, the entire Group has thrived for almost 40 years by constantly reinvesting. As we launch our new Alpha Manufacturing division, Chemical Technologies, it takes us into a new market which is incredibly exciting for the entire Group and testament to the strength of our reputation and the talent of our teams. Never before have I been more proud of my colleagues flying the Bri-Stor Group flag every single day.”