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Allspeeds ahead across the Atlantic

For the last 30 years, three generations of the Grant family in Canada, operating under the name Variators, have been involved in distributing products on behalf of Accrington-based Allspeeds as one of the company’s few carefully selected distribution partners. 

A structured approach to communication, new sales opportunities and a good understanding of the product are the pre-requisites for a good overseas partner, says Keith Elliot, General Manager and Engineering Director at Allspeeds Ltd. 

Allspeeds Ltd are world-leaders when it comes to designing and manufacturing specialist hydraulic subsea tools capable of operating at depths of 6000m below sea.

The company, which has over 150 years’ experience, has gained a global reputation for the quality and effectiveness of its products for industries including oil and gas, subsea, offshore, nuclear decommissioning, aerospace, construction and military. 

All research, design, testing, development and manufacturing are performed at its facilities and head office in Accrington, Lancashire – but the company’s products are shipped all over the world.

Keith explains: “We sell high value products, but our Canadian partner realised that if you stock it, you can sell it. Variators carries stock of our standard products in Toronto that enable them to service the American market, Brazil and the Gulf of Mexico. They order products a couple of times a month and we try and consolidate consignments – unless the customer needs them urgently.”

He said the time difference is both a positive and negative. Although it means that the two companies face a five-hour time difference when communicating between the UK and Canada, having a partner in Canada means they are in the right time zone to talk to their market in America. 

“They’re in the right time zone to talk to the customer, and with stock in Toronto they can transport the products wherever they need to be a lot quicker than we can. A lot of their sales are in the US.

“Our products are not a commodity – they are very specialist. The same products are used in the North Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“As well as handling the transactions, Variators are always looking for new opportunities to sell our products, and any enquiries we get for the United States we refer directly to them. It works very well for us.” 

Allspeeds also have a distributor in Norway, and a reseller in Australia – but neither of them carry stock.

Keith said: “Having a communication structure in place is crucial. It doesn’t matter that they’re on the other side of the world - we can share screens and work through documents together.

“We mainly liaise through email and in the evening if we have big projects on. We also have a bi-weekly web conference call to talk them through any technical issues and new products. It’s a lot easier than it used to be.” 

As well as regular correspondence, a representative from Variators visits the Accrington factory two or three times a year, and Allspeeds support their partner at major shows and exhibitions around the world.
Keith said the key to having a profitable manufacturing company is being able to control the product from start to finish – by designing, making and selling a product either directly or through distribution channels. 

“We design a new product around our manufacturing capabilities at our Accrington factory. This means that development costs for making prototypes are insignificant compared to if we had to outsource the manufacturing.”

Keith attributed the expansion of the company’s product range partly to the ‘risk-taking’ nature of Robert Grant, son of the Variators founder James Grant, who moved from England to Canada in 1953.

“Robert was very instrumental in our growth and development of our Webtool range. If someone came forward with a problem, he would give them a price and then come to us and say ‘we need this’.
His enthusiasm and faith in our capabilities pushed us a lot in developing the product range.” 

Robert has now handed over the reins to his sons James and Charles Grant.

Keith said exporting the goods is usually reliable, but having a partner which stocks items helps to overcome any potential logistical pitfalls.

“The biggest product we have is a tool that cuts subsea cables and umbilicals, weighing in at 350kilos. Most of the time we crate up a consignment and ship it by sea. It is possible to air freight them – it’s
just more expensive. 

“We’ve never had any problems exporting to Canada in the 12 years that I‘ve been with the company.”

When it comes to currency, Allspeeds admit that they like to keep it simple.

“We offer our products in pounds sterling and we get paid in pounds sterling. Variators sells in American dollars, and buy in pounds sterling and are willing to play the market and the currency fluctuations.”

Finally, Keith says that trust and collaboration are both key elements to successfully working with distributors.

He said: “We share technical data, manuals, and drawings so that their website, which is their principal selling tool, reflects the products and protects the brand.”

So, if you’re looking at using a distributor to extend your trade to Canada, find a partner you can work collaboratively with, and someone you can trust to represent your brand.

17 May 17
Keith Elliot, General Manager and Engineering Director, AllSpeeds Ltd