Secrets to my Success: Hughes Safety Showers

With economic recovery expected to be driven by small business growth, the Forum of Private Business is seeking stories from thriving firms as part of its Get Britain Trading campaign in order to pass on the secrets of success to other entrepreneurs.

What’s your company called and who is behind it?

Hughes Safety Showers Ltd, based in Stockport. I’m Tony Hughes, MD. We supply emergency safety showers and eyebath equipment to a variety of markets, though predominantly the petro-chemical industry. However, all industries where employees must be protected from hazardous or toxic environments are included.

What is your turnover, employee numbers etc compared to previous years?

What is your start-up story? How did you seize the opportunity you saw and what barriers did you have to overcome? We were founded in July 1950 by my father, John, a qualified mechanical engineer. In the beginning the company’s activities concentrated on pipework and pressure vessels along with the erection of pipelines and steel work for the chemical and petrochemical industries. Whilst an employee of Hughes was working onsite one day he stepped into a tank containing a sulphurous mixture and sustained burns to his foot and leg. The only equipment on site for washing off the chemical was a domestic cast iron bath full of stagnant, contaminated water. Clearly there was room for improvement in the area of health and safety.

What products or services to you provide? What problem does your company solve? What is your USP?

The company has supplied industry worldwide for more than 40 years and built a reputation for excellent engineering design, stringent quality standards and unrivalled customer service and support. Research is at the heart of the company’s product development programme ensuring that customers always have access to the most effective methods of decontamination.

Close cooperation with end users provides essential feedback on product design to optimise performance with a wide range of hazardous substances and environmental conditions.

Innovation has placed us at the forefront of technical developments, anticipating future needs rather than simply responding to current demands.

Any thoughts on the future of your company (growth plans, new areas of business etc) and your industry?

We are continuously investing in R&D to ensure product value and relevance in all markets and product development means are products adapt quickly to the changing needs of the safety shower marketplace.

The USA is identified as a major opportunity for Hughes in the next 5 years. Investment in the creation of Hughes Inc. offices in Houston now provide us with the perfect platform to expand in North America and sales are anticipated to double organically in 2012 and again in 2013. We were delighted to receive our second Queens Award earlier this year for continued export growth thanks to our sustained export growth over five successive years.

What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?

Our primary operational management structure is in place with an emphasis upon minimal management resource and maximum shop floor empowerment; demonstrated through the production business unit managers (BUM’s) who manage all aspects of operational departmental management whilst calling upon specialist management resources in supporting roles. It is our intention to add to BUM’s responsibilities and reduce their ‘production direct’ activities.

Any other thoughts on employment?

Our people are our most important resource, and we have a stable workforce enhanced by new recruitment, both skilled and unskilled. We also operate an apprenticeship scheme which has seen considerable success.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers, customers and other business relationships effectively?

Communication and great customer service are the cornerstones of our business, both internally and externally. Everyone – customer, employee or supplier – is treated with respect and kept involved in our business.

What about tips on the legal side of running a company (health and safety, contracts etc)?

Hughes has recently employed a full time HR and Quality manager together with outsourced expertise. This has enabled Hughes to maintain internal relationships and ensured that we continue to operate within statutory guidelines and good principles.

And finance and cash-flow tips? This could include tax advice.

Following the chaos caused by the breakdown of the banking sector, we have recently sought funding sources away from typical mainstream banking. There are now a number of alternative funding sources away from the ‘high street’ names. They often adopt a more commercial approach to funding businesses.

What main secrets of success do you think entrepreneurs more generally need to know? What are the most important things to remember when starting and running a company?

Focus on the core business is key, good control of cash and investment, product pipeline and no complacency are the by-words for a successful inventive business.

Any advice for the Government? What policies would help?

Get the Banks working again like banks should. Moving from the current no-risk policies to low-risk will get the economy moving again. Nobody wishes to see a return to reckless lending but a concentration on getting good business’s working again will boost the economy and lift us out of recession.