The Exporter

Colin Simpson, Tomlinson Hall

UK manufacturing excellence still opens plenty of doors around the world – just ask the team at Billingham-based Tomlinson Hall, the global pump distributors. Mark Lane reports

The Chinese are taking over the world, apparently, when it comes to exporting – or so we keep being told. Actually, as any experienced exporter will tell you, the global export market is somewhat more nuanced than that.

Quality will always trump quantity wherever you are in the world, and for some interesting anecdotal evidence of this, consider the words of Colin Simpson, business development director at Tomlinson Hall (pictured).

His company is an approved global distributor of a wide range of leading pump brands – and a bona fide North East export success story.

“We have quality products that people want,” he says. “British engineering and British engineered products are still a fantastic benchmark for the rest of the world. I was told by a Vietnamese official only recently that they love our products because the Chinese ones are unreliable!”

While we’re not going to use this as a basis for denigrating all Chinese- made products – there are good and bad products from all countries – it is interesting that I have heard similar stories before.

If anything, such stories serve as a measure of the quality and attention to detail of British-made products and the fact that our exporters can hold their heads high in global markets – Brexit or no Brexit.

Touching on this point, Colin makes an eminently sensible suggestion. “Like many businesses we don’t know what the final product of Brexit will look like,” he says. “However, like the millennium bug that didn’t happen, our view as a business is that we should go on the front foot and look to strengthen our relationships both close to home with our near European neighbours.”

Tomlinson Hall has grown its export activity by a remarkable 40 per cent in the past year, leading to record sales. The business has now exported to no less than 72 countries, with Colin proudly telling me that the most recent of these was Cameroon.

Exporting is about relationships, points out Colin – this is a people business. Accordingly, when discussing expansion, he is keen to specifically mention people in his team responsible for the success being enjoyed.

He says: “We are enjoying increased sales to southeast Asia, which follows excellent client service and development by our in-house export department. Shirley Simpson, who heads the export department, supported by Shanene and Sara, regularly attend events hosted by the North East England Chamber of Commerce and Department for International Trade (DIT) officers to keep abreast of an ever-changing export market and regulations.

“We also benefit greatly by having wonderful support from our local DIT representatives. Stephen Muir in particular has been a constant source of support to us as a business since 2013/14 and we consider him to be very much part of our team.”

Tomlinson Hall has the benefit of having built an incredibly strong relationship with various pump manufacturers to the extent that it has been named as the sole distributor in the UK for leading pumps including DEPA, ELRO and Richter.

Adds Colin: “We are also in a unique position as a pump manufacturer and are proud to be one of the few companies to wholly manufacture a British pump – the Liquivac – a very innovative and niche pump that is exported across the globe.” Awards, inevitably, have been won by Tomlinson Hall, which was recently named as one of the DIT’s North East’s 2019 Northern Powerhouse Export Champions for the second consecutive year. It was also awarded SME of the year at the 2019 North East Automotive Alliance Awards, and runners-up in both the Innovation and Export sections at the 2019 North East Businesses Awards.

The company is also celebrating for other reasons this year. 2019 is its 100th year in business having been founded in 1919 by Alfred Tomlinson and Frank Hall, the former being the grandfather of the present managing director Tony Keville. A centenary birthday coupled with great prospects and record revenues have ensured 2019 is a year which will last long in the memory for the business.