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Gibbons Group at 45: Martin Gibbons interview

Gibbons Engineering Group is celebrating 45 years in business in 2014 and we spoke to Chairman Martin Gibbons about his memories of getting the firm off the ground, the challenges he’s faced and the importance of remaining a family-run company.

How was Gibbons Group formed?

In 1969 my father was working for a company called Myson Fans in Colchester, which has subsequently closed. When the company was downsized, they got rid of some people including the motor rewinds department, but they still needed the work doing. My father Wilfred spotted an opportunity and got together with two people who had been made redundant, suggesting the three of them do the rewinds for Myson Fans.

So I formed the company for them and they began trading out of a little shed in Tollesbury. They were there for some years and bit by bit the company developed and we started to expand. The firm went from rewinds to selling electric motors and progressed to all kinds of services.

What were the early challenges you faced?

The early challenge, as with any new business, was to generate customers. Starting in a traditional way of business is very difficult. A modern internet business gives you a false sense of your position because you can have a product on the internet and you don’t have to know your customer – the internet finds your customer. At that time we had to go out and find our customers and convince them that we had the right product at the right price. So we had one or two ups and downs in the very early years and there wasn’t a lot of money available, so we had to scrimp and save.

When did you become actively involved in the company?

My background is in finance and I came into the company full-time over 20 years ago because it had got to a point where it needed more management and also my father was approaching retirement. I started to develop the business and as I’m not an engineer it was very challenging but over the years we’ve successfully developed a reputation for great products and service.

Have the premises always been in Tollesbury?

Yes, and although we haven’t always been on the current site we’ve never moved from Woodrolfe Road. We’ve acquired new premises as the business has grown, in particular major expansion in 2005 when we bought some of the neighbouring field and built a new workshop and office complex. Our workforce has expanded rapidly in recent years so we developed the building last summer in order to extend our offices.

What has running the business taught you?

Not to be reliant on anybody. For a good number of years we were the main UK manufacturer of swimming pool and Jacuzzi pumps for ITT who were very big in those days. At the peak of the operation we produced around 60,000 pumps in one year. However, they ended up moving to Saffron Walden which meant we lost their business. Since then we’ve made sure we’re not reliant on any one customer, product range or bank. We don’t have any borrowings and everything we have here we own. There are no mortgages; all our working capital is provided by ourselves.

How has Gibbons Group developed its wide range of products and services?

If a customer asks for something and it’s not within our product portfolio or immediate capabilities, we’ll go out and source it. Gradually, we’ve added extra departments to the company and we now have nine separate divisions. Very often a customer is able to use us for their whole project; we’ve found that many clients like to deal with only one firm.

Being a provider of energy-saving products has also helped – it means we’re not only an essential service but we can reduce our customers’ energy costs too.

Is retirement on the horizon for you?

I can see myself carrying on for many years, although I’m coming to the point where I do want to take it easier. I’ll still keep an overview on things but I want everybody here to move forward, using their skills to push the business onwards. It is hard to take a step back, though I’m enjoying not having to come in early every morning and deliver urgent motors at weekends as I used to.

What does the future hold for Gibbons Group?

It’s important to me that this remains a family-run company. It would be very easy for me to sell the firm, but I don’t want that to happen. My son Matthew is in the business and he enjoys it, but also, once you sell to a big corporate, the heart goes out of it. It’s not the same for the staff; you’re employed by some anonymous figure and you lose some of the enjoyment of working for the company.

My philosophy is to keep re-investing profits back into the business. I want this to be a strong, successful business – not just for me but for everyone who works here. I want everyone to have a good, secure and enjoyable job for the future.

Electric Motors

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