Sponsored by Toshiba - Information Systems - Household & General: Highly Commended - The Amtico Company.
The Amtico Company
Activity: Vinyl flooring manufacture
Task: Custom-design and assembly of floors to tight cutting tolerances and short delivery times
Size: 350 employees
Outstanding Features: Development and commercial exploitation of process technology; fast-turnround 'small order' cell; astute marketing of manufacturing capability
In the nature of things, winners of the Best Small Company award are seldom household names. This year's winner, The Amtico Company, is a notable exception. Not only is Amtico market leader in the vinyl floor coverings sector in the UK - surmounting the hurdle of a 30% price premium - but the brand is also known and respected globally. Its distinctive and hard-wearing product is much in demand for homes around the world.
It is also popular in stores and in most places where people congregate in large numbers, such as aboard cruise ships.
Far from being the typical British small company, Amtico is, says chief executive John Harris, 'a big company trying to think small'. One reason for this is the culture change now taking place in the wake of the recently completed management buy-out from Courtaulds.
Amtico has been featured in the pages of Management Today once before, when going through changes of a different kind. For several years ago, management of the Coventry factory turned to US guru Richard Schonberger to assist its conversion to just-in-time, cellular production and kanban-based production control. The aim was to make the manufacturing process more responsive to customer requirements.
The effects are still visible. The two-to-three weeks that were needed to produce a standard floor five years ago have since been trimmed to two-to-five days. Amtico makes some 800 standard floors each week, although it's fair to say that its view of what constitutes a standard floor is unlikely to coincide with that of its competitors. And aside from the wood and stone lookalikes in its extensive catalogue - which can be arranged in countless combinations - the company is ready to provide whatever detail the customer chooses to specify.
The ability to produce base vinyls in forms which closely mimic natural materials is only one of Amtico's fundamental strengths. Another is knowing how to cut these to make mosaic-effect floors, complete with borders and motifs that may be custom-designed for any location. Although the company's computer-aided design (CAD) technology 'isn't especially proprietary', its computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) technology emphatically is.
This combination of cutting technology (a jealously guarded secret) and slick CADCAM processes is what allows the company to offer floors of dazzling complexity, of sweeping curves and intricate mosaics. It is what, says Harris, 'makes life difficult for our competitors'. Interior designers around the world are encouraged to exploit this capability to overcome tricky layout problems. 'We love customers who have problems,' Harris insists. 'If they have problems, they don't talk about price.'
But exploitation of process technology is only half the picture. Schonberger's lessons have been learned well, and cellular manufacturing techniques are intelligently deployed. (Equally intelligently, they are not deployed where they would offer no particular advantage.) The quick-turnround Galaxy cell, which produces smaller floors for the residential market, is owned and managed by the sales function which it immediately adjoins. 'Within the small group of people in the cell, we've got around 130 years of experience,' says cell manager Nigel Ford. 'The person cutting the floor is working within feet of the person who designed it.'
Now free from all constraints imposed by membership of the Courtaulds family (although the group retains a 10% interest in the company), Amtico is gunning for new markets. An £11 million capital investment programme will increase capacity by 50%, and a major push has been launched in the US. 'We've taken on new salespeople there, and told them especially to target customers' problems,' says Harris. At Amtico, manufacturing excellence translates other people's problems into profits.
Small Business Award - Sponsor: Toshiba - Information Systems
Toshiba has a long business history with its roots in late 19th century Japan. Over the past 100 years it has advanced to become one of the world's largest global groups with a proud record of technical innovation in electronics and electrical products. With a worldwide annual turnover of over $54 billion, Toshiba has over 190,000 employees working in over 170 Toshiba companies all over the world. For many years, Toshiba Information Systems has been committed to selling high-quality personal computers, copiers, fax machines and telephone systems worldwide. The first-class quality of products and service that Toshiba offers all its customers has helped it to become one of the leading suppliers of plain paper copiers in the UK and throughout Europe.