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Foxwood Diesel - Develop and Diversify
Despite the hard trading environment that we all find ourselves in, there are not only businesses that are not only keeping a level keel, but looking ahead and striving ahead to improve their offerings. Among them is Foxwood Diesel of Old Whittington, Chesterfield. B&CB visited this specialist engine remanufacturer to find out the reasons behind their success.
Foxwood has made quite a name for itself in the bus and coach industry, though it does also work with other types of commercial vehicles. MD, Ken Worsdale, reckons that about 90% of the engines worked on are from buses and coaches. His company is capable of carrying out the complete re-manufacturing of an engine from start to finish. All machining work for all makes of engine can be undertaken, as well as any dismantling, cleaning of dirty cylinders and cylinder head assembly. The company's official name is Foxwood Boring and Grinding and, as this suggests, they do crankshaft grinding and polishing, in addition to the boring and gauge testing of blocks. All completed engines are given a coat of paint to improve their appearance and help preserve them.
An Important aspect of their operation is to test all engines and parts before sending them out to customers. Testing is also carried out for other local re-manufacturers, as well as re-conditioning work that other companies do not have the capacity for. On my visit, much of the work that was being carried out was overflow from other local re-conditioners.
Work from operators comes in from across the country. A lot of business is from small independents, but larger operators, including Arriva, are also customers. There are no real customer hotspots for Foxwood, but Ken has noticed they do a considerable amount of work for clients in the Birmingham area, with one of their biggest customers located there.
Not only does Foxwood cover the whole of the UK, the company has the capacity to work on site if required. Technicians can travel to a depot to carry out free inspections as well as engine removal and refitting, and repairs to or replacement of pistons, liners, gaskets and cylinder heads. However, they prefer to bring the engine or components back to the workshop. Ken said "Most of our work is done here in Chesterfield. It's because you don't know what trouble you might run into out at another site. It's just more practical as well." Four vehicles are available for picking up and delivering engines and parts: two vans, a small LDV truck and a 4 X 4.
Foxwood are main agents for Cummins engines, with a wide variety of reconditioned models available, as well as an extensive supply of parts and spares. It was Cummins who approached Ken with an offer to set Foxwood up as a maintenance dealer, an offer that was readily accepted. "Cummins is a good brand to be associated with." said Ken.
Even though Foxwood specialise in Cummins, one of the most popular engines used in UK buses, the company has plenty of knowledge of, and stock for, other products too. Components and re-manufactured engines are also available for Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Deutz, Scania, Iveco, MAN, Leyland and DAF applications, amongst others. As Mercedes-Benz powered buses and coaches become more popular in the UK, with companies like Optare fitting them extensively, the re-manufacturers are focusing more on getting parts and reconditioning products for the brand. Ken said "It is important for the business to keep up with Industry changes and demand. It is one of the ways we have stayed successful whilst others have gone under."
Something else that has ensured success is keeping the shelves well stocked, ready for any call they get for a spare part. The company's stocking system is currently being given an overhaul, which is part of a larger expansion project. Ken recently employed IT Technician Martyn Robotham, to recomputerise the stock control system. This work ties in with another reason why he was employed, to launch a new online ordering facility on their website (www.foxwooddiesel.com). Martyn is undertaking the arduous task of filing stock numbers into the computer for products to be ordered. It is not just engine parts that will be sold on the site; tools for working on diesel engines, a new addition to the product portfolio, will be offered too. The company is trying to engineer it so that if a vehicle owner types in a Cummins engine part number in an internet search site then a link to Foxwood's website would appear. The internet page is also being updated to make it more attractive and user friendly. Ken believes the site gives him an advantage over his competitors, saying "We don't think that there is another engine re-conditioner with an online shop."
The new website is part of Foxwood's effort to remain at the forefront of what they do. Keeping up to date with modern techniques and technology is vital to achieving this. The company has recently invested in training and equipment for Cummins and Mercedes-Benz electronic engine diagnostics, requiring the connection of a laptop to a vehicle's on board computer to find faults. Even though the diagnostics technology applies to newer engines and most of Foxwood's work is for engines between five to ten years old, Ken believes it is important to look ahead and prepare for the future.
Ken said "You've just got to keep investing in your business, you've just got to keep up and stay on top. Buying and training for the diagnostics system for Cummins and Mercedes-Benz engines might cost a lot, but it helps."
Investing in the Future
Money is regularly spent on new equipment to boost services. For instance, the company has invested in a turbo-balancing machine, which has enabled work that has been done elsewhere to be brought in house. Doing this has "saved a fortune". A similar investment was made in a test rig, increasing independence and efficiency while reducing costs. Another way they have generated economies is by tooling and learning how to produce their own fuel systems, which otherwise would cost up to £500 to buy. Not only does this make the company's products look more price-competitive, it also expands their capabilities, which makes them more attractive to customers.
It is not just in new equipment that investments have been made, but in training too. Ken believes that there is a shortage of people with the Skills Foxwood needs. Part of the reason for this, he claims, was the deregulation of buses in the 1980's, which waved goodbye to national apprenticeship schemes that kept companies like his own well fed with new, well trained workers. Keeping the future in mind and to ensure that the skills are still there, the company is schooling youngsters in association with Chesterfield College. In 2009, two were taken on and this year, one apprentice has already joined with one more due to start.
Apprentices work side by side with the skilled technicians, allowing them to absorb some of their experience. However, training is not just restricted to the new additions of the team, as expanding existing employees' skills is another way the company has developed its own services. Training is provided for all new equipment the company purchases, ensuring that they not only have the tools, but the knowledge of how to use them, in an effort to grow their capabilities. Ken believes that constantly training to diversify into different areas and adding the capacity to carry out other tasks is key to the company's success.
Not only does adding extra services add to the buisness' portfolio attract more custom, but training staff in new skills helps keep them interested and busy in their work. The 13 strong team has over 50 years cumulative experience in the industry, most having been in the vocation since leaving school. Helping cope with rising demand, the head count has been augmented with two recruits from the former Sheffield based reconditioners, Beckett and Garner. They are administrator Sue Lodge, who takes care of the paper work and general day to day running of the firm, and Technician Dave Beckett, who is based in the workshop.
The Operation is based on a 10,000 square meter site, half of which includes the workshop and offices, which they have inhabited for the past 15 years. The rest is concrete hard standing used for storage and to provide room for one or two double deckers to be worked on at once. This is originally the company's second home, as they was originally based just "round the corner" on Foxwood Road, hence the name.
Foxwood commenced operations in 1988, when joint founder, Frank Hayes, was made redundant by Cranes and Commercials of Southampton. Frank asked Ken, who was working with Hants & Dorset at the time, to come north with him to start the business. With Ken's background in Buses, it was only natural that PCVs were the first vehicles that they worked on. They have since done work for Volvo in Manchester as well as earning contracts from British Rail. It was eight years ago the company started re-conditioning complete engines, having previously concentrated on Boring and Grinding. Frank retired in 2005, leaving the company completely in Ken's capable hands.
Since starting, the company has consistently developed and grown its capabilities. At the moment, Ken is considering plans for the addition of another site just opposite their current facility to help cope with any future rise in demand for their services.
Currently, Foxwood is experiencing something of a resurgence in engine reconditioning. Ken said "Until the recession hit, we thought engine re-manufacturing was dying out. But now we're finding it becoming popular again. That's because people aren't buying new because finances aren't as widely available any more. They are keeping their older vehicles for longer. That means they have to have them reconditioned, which has helped us. We're looking forward to doing a lot more of it in the months to come."