Per­fect para­dox pays div­i­dends

How do busi­nesses fu­ture-proof them­selves? takes a look at older busi­nesses in ru­ral com­mu­nity to find out what keeps them tick­ing along.

The Southland Times - - NEWS -

As you head north from In­ver­cargill on State High­way 6, blink as you hit the 24km mark and you’d be for­given for miss­ing the unas­sum­ing-look­ing sheds of Lochiel Trail­ers.

Lochiel Trail­ers – the trad­ing name for Lochiel En­gi­neer­ing 2000 Ltd – con­tin­ues to go from strength to strength thanks to a para­dox­i­cal blend of stub­born mar­ket­ing per­sis­tence, al­lied with a flex­i­ble, ever-chang­ing em­brace of the lat­est tech­nol­ogy.

Hus­band and wife Colin and Chris Hitchen took on the then­strug­gling firm in 2000, dur­ing a pe­riod of ebbing for­tunes for Lochiel as a re­sult of farm­ing sec­tor belt-tight­en­ing.

At the time, the Hitchens, who met while study­ing at Lin­coln, had been in­volved with farm­ing for sev­eral years, with Colin al­ways sup­ple­ment­ing his farm in­come with ‘‘off-farm in­ter­ests’’. Those in­ter­ests in­cluded shear­ing in­sea­son, and a grow­ing in­ter­est in build­ing and selling steel and al­loy prod­ucts out of sea­son.

Al­though Colin al­ways en­joyed – and con­tin­ues to en­joy – the de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the busi­ness, he quickly re­alised his true skills per­haps lay else­where.

‘‘From those early days, I re­alised I en­joyed and was rea­son­ably good at de­vel­op­ing and mar­ket­ing the prod­uct rather than build­ing it, so at Lochiel I’ve al­ways made a con­scious ef­fort to em­ploy bet­ter than me to build the gear, and stick to what I en­joyed do­ing - which was find­ing out what the client wanted and mar­ket­ing it,’’ he said.

Lochiel, which had been run­ning as a gen­eral en­gi­neer­ing firm since 1950, en­joyed a strong rep­u­ta­tion for the en­dur­ing qual­ity of its trail­ers, and Colin de­cided to cap­i­talise on this as­pect of the busi­ness.

‘‘The orig­i­nal own­ers es­tab­lished the com­pany as Lochiel Mo­tors and de­vel­oped the en­gi­neer­ing as a side line, which rapidly took over. In those days there was a rail­head on the premises, and a lot of farm gates and so on were loaded out from here for the Lands and Sur­vey farm de­vel­op­ments be­ing done in the Te Anau basin.

‘‘Aside from that ex­ten­sive range of farm-re­lated prod­ucts, there were the trail­ers, and that’s where we’ve con­cen­trated our ef­forts over re­cent decades, of­fer­ing a range of about 60 models to­day.

‘‘We be­lieve in stick­ing to what we do best, and get­ting that mes­sage out to our cus­tomers.’’

In stark con­trast to Lochiel’s heels-in-the-ground ob­sti­nacy on the mar­ket­ing side is the firm’s at­ti­tude to­wards lever­ag­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy in or­der to achieve its mis­sion.

Here, Colin and Lochiel Trail­ers couldn’t be more flex­i­ble, al­though adap­ta­tion wasn’t with­out its chal­lenges.

‘‘You have to learn how best to use the ever-chang­ing tech­nol­ogy we’re bom­barded with th­ese days. This takes a lot of courage, and a lot of de­vel­op­ing the grey mat­ter to learn and im­ple­ment,’’ he said.

‘‘De­spite that, we’re al­ways adapt­ing in or­der to work to­wards a con­sis­tent and gen­uinely pre­mium prod­uct.

‘‘For ex­am­ple, we use Os­tendo job-cost­ing and in­ven­tory soft­ware to care­fully man­age costs and profit mar­gins and, on the client side, to demon­strate the val­ueadded ben­e­fit of pur­chas­ing qual­ity with the back-up and ser­vice of a life­time guar­an­tee.’’

Colin was also ex­pect­ing new 3D de­sign soft­ware Auto Desk In­ven­tor to gen­er­ate a par­a­digm shift in Lochiel’s pro­cesses and end prod­uct dur­ing com­ing months and years.

In­vest­ment in qual­ity bred fur­ther qual­ity, he be­lieved.

Re­ten­tion of staff was crit­i­cal to main­tain­ing the high­est stan­dards, Colin said.

‘‘One of the chal­lenges we face is suc­ces­sion.

‘‘I’m con­tin­u­ally hit­ting my head against a brick wall with school ca­reer ad­vi­sors push­ing var­sity over a hands-on, tradere­lated ca­reer.’’

Com­pe­ti­tion from ‘‘cheap and nasty’’ for­eign prod­uct was also a bug­bear.

‘‘We’ve al­ways built all our prod­ucts here in South­land, with South­land staff, us­ing New Zealand/Aus­tralian steel.

‘‘Un­for­tu­nately, our cus­tomers to­day have a world of choice at their fin­ger­tips on­line, with some man­u­fac­tur­ers, both here and else­where, mak­ing in­fe­rior copies of our prod­ucts, and un­der­cut­ting us in price. In most cases, the re­sults are not good for the end user.’’

Lo­cal, south­ern pride in a ‘‘good job, well done’’ re­mained key to fu­ture suc­cess, Colin be­lieved.

‘‘South­land peo­ple are down to earth, do busi­ness on a hand­shake and ex­pect the same.’’

KAVINDA HERATH/STUFF 634518777

Win­ton Lochiel Trail­ers man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Colin Hitchen, mid­dle, and his wife Chris, left, with truck driver Mutt Don­lea.

KAVINDA HERATH/STUFF 634518780

Win­ton Lochiel Trail­ers man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Colin Hitchen and his wife Chris, with grand­chil­dren Casey and Jonty Malan.

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