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Vision for future key to productivity performance growth

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Dale Cowie


KBM Machinery_Business Hawke's BayKevin Bignold is an ideas man with a very practical bent. Give him a machine that needs repairing, improving, or adapting to work better, and he’s your man, but while that’s earned his business KBM Machinery many satisfied customers, it has ironically hampered business growth. Up until six or so months ago that is.

Since then Kevin and his team of specialist technicians and two support staff, have been working on his vision to grow the business; the result being two more staff, new customers outside of Hawke’s Bay, improved productivity to cope with the extra business, and “small but steady” profitability gains.

Kevin has been working with local business improvement firm Smarter, Better, Faster (SBF) under a High Performance Work (HPW) initiative offered by Business Hawke’s Bay (BHB) in partnership with Hastings District Council and co-funded through Callaghan Innovation. The benefits have been many, says Kevin, and some quite unexpected.

“Having someone who has listened to my ideas and gone ‘Wow, that’s huge’ then encouraged me to go with it, and given me ideas of how to do it has been brilliant.”

KBM Machinery is the largest of three specialist hospitality machinery repairers in New Zealand. In addition to repairs to all leading brands of mechanical, electrical and refrigeration equipment, KBM has an extensive spare parts supply, and a loan service to ensure customers carry on business while their machinery is under repair. It also offers preventative maintenance and servicing contracts to the likes of rest homes, supermarkets, bakers, insurance companies, restaurants and coffee chains.

A large portion of KBM’s work has traditionally been in Hawke’s Bay, with a significant amount undertaken onsite at customers’ premises. And while this has kept Kevin and his technicians busy, Kevin’s vision is to grow the business by attracting more ‘in house’ work from outside the region into his previously underutilised workshop.

“Freight is pretty reasonable these days, and even with the freight, it’s cheaper for a business to send their machine to us than to pay for a local inexperienced tradesman to try and work out what’s wrong and then how to fix it,” says Kevin. “We’ve probably fixed that type of machine hundreds of time before, we know how, and unlike someone inexperienced who may put new parts in thinking that will be the solution, we know, we don’t guess. It’s actually far more cost effective.”

After voicing this idea with his SBF advisor and developing that into a vision for the business that has been articulated on paper, Kevin then shared it with his team. The result has been extremely pleasing.

“There has been great buy-in. Now the team is on the same planet as I am. They’ve seen what’s in my head and morale has picked up because we have the same goal. We’re having more regular staff meetings and more and more ideas are being brought up, both positive and negative.”

One area that has improved out of sight is the flow of work within the workshop. Kevin had bought the Onekawa building in late 2006 but it was being underutilised. All machinery under repair had congregated into one area, making it hard to work efficiently. Now a workshop plan has been drawn up (again capturing what was in Kevin’s head) with specially developed and built testing stations separating wet (the likes of dishwashers) and dry (such as ovens) machines.

“It’s something we are developing all the time. A machine comes in and someone thinks it would be a good idea to put it there, or change this or that.”

Another aspect being worked on to achieve the vision, and aided by the better organisation, is developing staff. Roles have been changed and clarified with newly promoted supervisors dealing with day to day matters, freeing Kevin up to concentrate on bigger contracts and to develop the in house servicing vision.

And the age-old issue of attracting specialist staff is being addressed too. Kevin says it takes 10 to 15 years to develop the experience needed for this specialist field and attracting such talent to Hawke’s Bay is near impossible. KBM boasts a collective experience of 189 years; the production-line development has allowed Kevin to employ more trainees that are benefitting from this experience while they learn on the job. To date there are two trainees but Kevin says he’s on track to have nine in his two-year plan.

An unexpected benefit of participating in the HPW initiative is the networking amongst participants that BHB facilitates. At a recent session, Kevin’s ears pricked up on hearing how Brad Turfrey had employed technology to automate his specialist plumbing business.

“I had a good chat to him and he invited me to see how it worked for his business. We had tried to automate three years ago but now the technology is here. That’s our next step to have the new software in place so our staff can enter timesheets, create invoices, order parts, and customers can login their jobs and follow progress. Exciting stuff.”

Then there’s the website to rework, advertising outside of the region to organise, and always more machines to repair.

“We’re making small changes and small gains but steadily. There’s a lot to do and nothing happens overnight but now that we’ve got our vision in place, we are moving forward.”