Gripple Automation – Owning Your Success
Gripple Automation began as a simple subsidiary serving the needs of their parent company, but they have become much more than that.
Gripple Automation was formed through the requirements of its parent company, Gripple. Gripple is a world-leading manufacturer of wire joining and tensioning systems, but they needed to automate more of their manufacturing. So Gripple Automation was formed.
Today the company is offering bespoke automated manufacturing solutions that utilise the latest robotic and automation technologies, to improve productivity, quality and safety, whilst reducing costs.
“It started maybe ten years ago as a small team of five people and over those ten years it steadily grew, looking at small automation projects in-house and as time went by it became clear we were getting good at automation,” explains the company’s Managing Director.
Gripple Automation now operates as a stand-alone business that uses the knowledge and experience of Gripple to deliver automation solutions to customers in the automotive, industrial, food, assembly and handling sectors.
From there the company has grown in leaps and bounds. Darren tells us, “Now we have 25 full-time staff. We have all areas of the business covered in-house, from mechanical, controls and software design to manufacturing and commissioning. The real growth came over the last two years when our turnover went from £600,000 at the end of 2017 to £2.5 million this year.”
Every company makes claims about the quality of their products, but the proof of Gripple Automations’ products is in the fact that the company is using its own products on its production lines.
“Our unique selling point is that we run our own machines, because of Gripple being a manufacturing company,” Darren says. “We build and design automation equipment and put it into production as well. We are not just a supplier. We run our equipment in a production environment every day. Our automation solutions are designed, engineered and built by manufacturers for manufacturers’.”
That rapid growth is a challenge, but it is also a necessity, especially as their biggest customer is their own rapidly growing parent company.
“The biggest challenge is coping with growth. Gripple have 10 to 15% growth year-on-year, and 70% of our work is for Gripple, so we have to grow in line with that,” Darren admits. “The challenge comes from finding new people to join the team with the right skill sets. We start with apprentices and train them up but you can not train people quickly enough.”
Gripple Automation makes use of their parent company’s apprenticeship and graduate programmes. Darren tells us that any new positions within Gripple Automation are advertised internally so that they can draw on Gripples’ own reservoir of experience and engineering talent.
That growth has been going faster than ever this year, resulting in a steep learning curve for the company.
Darren reflects, “In the last year we have seen the biggest part of the growth, a lot of learning, a lot of new people introduced to the business and we have identified we do not have enough space, with only 4,500 square feet inside one of our sister companies’ factories. So we are in the process of building a new factory, specifically for Gripple Automation, with 26,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space on Foley Street in Sheffield.”
One challenge that many companies face when undergoing a process of rapid growth is the difficulty of maintaining the culture of a small, close-knit team when the business is becoming bigger all the time.
“That is the biggest priority of our recruitment process,” Darren says. “We are not necessarily looking for people with 100% the correct skillset. We want people with the right attitude who hit the ground running from a core values perspective. You can teach skills. You can’t teach attitude.”
But another factor that has been essential to Gripples’ culture, and one Darren is excited to talk about, is the real sense of ownership employees have over the company. Again, lots of companies talk about their employees feeling “ownership”. But Gripple means it literally.
“We are an employee-owned business. Every employee has shares and that way you really get people working together,” Darren says. “They all have the same goal and want the business to succeed. We have weekly, monthly, periodical get-togethers. We all socialise together. We go rock climbing and cycling together, which helps to maintain those values. We also heavily invest in training and continue to invest in our people.”
Indeed, employee ownership is a huge part of Gripples’ identity as a company.
“Employee ownership is a big thing,” Darren says. “We are part of the Employee Ownership Association. Our chairman sits on their board. He has a big part of employee ownership in the UK, promoting it in other companies demonstrating the benefits of taking this ethos on board.”
It all started when Hugh Facey, the company’s Chairman, began gifting his shares back to the employees over a 10-year period.
“He still works at the business and is actively involved, but over time the employees will take ownership of the majority of the shares and manage the buying and selling of shares themselves,” Darren says. “It creates a very positive culture within the business. After 12 months you have to decide if you want to stay with the business and then invest £1000 of your own money, and then you receive a dividend every quarter based on what that makes.”
Right now that share purchase looks like a solid investment for the future.
“I think we will continue to mirror Gripples’ growth,” Darren predicts. “We have our own growth plan of between 10 and 15% a year. I want us to be a £5 million turnover business in five years’ time. As we grow, our reliance on Gripple will become less, we will need more external companies in our order book, and we are doing that.”