Pandemic-led demand turbocharges an outstanding performance from British engineering firm
If there was a race to find an engineering firm able to give the profession broad appeal, and with a business model as fast and changing as mercury, Forge would have crossed the line before you finished reading this sentence.
Hidden behind what appears to be – and indeed is – a shop window for specialist after-market performance parts for petrol-driven cars, lies a firm of engineers and designers of extraordinary talent and a business which is a leader on the world stage.
Do not dismiss this as a fancy garage for go-faster car parts. From what was a small engineering company in 1983 serving Gloucestershire businesses, and “an upstart motor business in 1996”, it is now a world leader in aftermarket parts with offices in the UK, Asia, and the USA.
If you have the money to invest in even a car of considerable value, near perfect in every way - or just car you wanted to add some reliable oomph to - you would seek out the British-made parts created by Forge. It would be your preferred choice.
“We currently do £6.5 million turnover as a group, employ 52 staff in the UK, five in Thailand and our in Orlando, serving the United States.
“We are probably the biggest performance modified after-market business in the world,” said Peter Miles, who eventually followed his father into what is a family firm, after beginning his own career at Dowty Rotol as an aerospace technician.
Perhaps it is the engineer in him, perhaps it is just his way, but under his leadership (although he would credit his team for much of it), Forge’s journey has reflected the parts that it has become known for. It has looked at the road ahead, fashioned itself to take advantage of the best performance it can, and begun to move swiftly through the gears.
Few businesses, of course, have been immune to the effects of what arrived this year thanks to covid-19.
“In March we were intensely conscious of the last two recessions, we heard what the doom mongers and naysayers had to say was coming and we tightened our belts.
“We also listened to the Government, and we closed the business down and all went home.
“We had not been open for five days when I got a call from Alex Harry, our business manager.
“He said, ‘Peter, we’ve got to work. We’ve had 150 orders in the last five days!” said Mr Miles.
Just ‘going into work’ was not quite that easy. Mr Miles’ daughter was expecting a baby and there were the obvious concerns about his and the family's safety. Not to mention the staff team’s too.
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In the end, the business re-opened, but with the manufacturing side – its machine shop – remained closed.
Pressure to re-stock forced them introduce a slimmed-down version of their usual manufacturing operation – to keep staff safe and distanced - but they could still not keep up with demand. So Forge’s team moved to shift system to make use of all the hours in the day and restock.
“I have come to the conclusion that for some reason the after-market car parts business sits outside of a recession,” said Mr Miles, revealing the firm’s planning for the ‘worst case scenario’ had proved wildly pessimistic.
“Our two biggest growth periods have been the last two recessions. I think what happens if you are earning say £25,000 to £30,000 a year and you were thinking of putting a deposit down on a new car then you probably decided instead to spend it on the one you had. We saw a massive surge in orders.
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Jazz musicians talk about being able to create music, improvising along with anyone, to any tune, and if Mr Miles played he would probably be that type of musician – knowing the score, but knowing every situation demands something else. And you could go on to talk about his staff as the kind of band he might have. You can imagine the analogies.
He doesn’t ‘play’, however, although he is a former rugby player – for Gloucester and Bath – a passion that is possibly only matched by his love of engineering.
Coming from an era which played the team game with the odd-shaped ball with a less high impact more fleet of foot approach is probably a better metaphor to use for his business skills than the jazz musician.
Whatever it is – he modestly claims to have little business plan except working those feet, dodging the blows, pushing for the line together, as a team.
“Above all we have one goal – that is keeping 52 people on full page for as long as we can. We don’t care about making a profit as long as we are paying all our staff.
“The aim is to ride out this term through the first quarter of next year and see how we are,” he said, and when he says it, you know he means it.
It is not false modestly either, but it does distract from no mean ability to lead, allow others to lead and allow others to shine.
Pictured above above and below: Two extremes, both have had the Forge treatment. Take your pick...
Despite a lifetime in the sector he continues to seek new information and question. When the business looked at trading overseas he quickly realised understanding the differences in business, culture and those markets was imperative – and taking on board feedback was vital.
On his own doorstep her recently plugged into The Growth Hub in Gloucestershire. His own attitude to spreading the word about how good engineering is as a profession – for all types of skill-sets – has changed too.
Odds are you will never hear him talk up his own abilities, but he will do it for those he rates.
“As an ex commercial business bank manager Andy Kime has helped us align our accounting function and help me plan our future business ideas, it’s been bloody fantastic, Andy opens many doors to local businesses who he thinks may work well with us, it’s been excellent,” he said, when we asked him what help the hub had given the business.
And as for Brexit?
Surely, a company which has a world-wide footprint and exports its products globally should have a complicated multi-scenario game plan for all eventualities.
“Where I voted leave or stay, once that was decided my attitude is you cannot affect it.
“As a management group we took the decision that apart from having conversations with contacts in Europe to see if they could help us with our freight forward, which they said they gladly would, we can’t really affect, we just need to carry on making the very best parts we can. We’ll worry about how to get those parts to where they need to go when the time comes.
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