In October this year, TM Machinery will show their current offering of Striebig vertical panel saws, Viet wide-belt sanders and AL-KO dust extraction solutions to eager W14 visitors on the company’s largest stand to date.
Leicester-based TM Machinery is highly-respected and rightly renowned for supplying Striebig vertical panel saws to the UK market, alongside Viet sanders and AL-KO dust extraction equipment. In addition to that, the company’s other key attribute is also all-important machinery service capability. Of course, numerous firms supply and service machinery, but few can compare to the quiet, capable professionalism and exemplary record earned by Tony Morris and Matt Pearce at TM Machinery.
Tony Morris is one of those evergreen positive people who, despite seemingly being around for as long as anyone can remember, ages very little and is always to be found with a cheery disposition. Having reached a certain maturity in life, Tony can look back on over 30 years’ service in the woodworking and allied industries with pride and a considerable degree of satisfaction.
Tony has run a business supplying and servicing panel saws and other machinery and equipment in that time. A modest man, Tony is also a naturally self-motivated individual whose innate entrepreneurial skills inspired him to leave a good job to strike out on his own. Hard-working and principled, Tony is not jaded by the passing of time in his chosen profession. He still finds a certain pleasure in what he does for a living – to him, it seems as though it is more of a hobby than a job.
Tony started out in the business with Wadkin – as did many engineers: “I had a good job at Wadkin,” says Tony, “for many years I was the service manager and held a good position in the firm for some time. But deep down, I also knew that, ultimately, I wanted to work for myself at some point.”
Wadkin at the time was the pre-eminent British woodworking machinery powerhouse, dominating the market with an impressive range of machines and a proud legacy spanning generations.
The opportunity to strike out on his own presented itself in 1983 when Wadkin was looking to fulfil a substantial job in Egypt – Tony was asked to lead the installation. Tony recognised his opportunity and said that he would go, but would prefer it if he was working for himself.
“So I became a self-employed service engineer for Wadkin towards the end of 1983 and set up TM Services the following year. It seemed to work very well for both parties, and because I was the most experienced Wadkin engineer they had, Wadkin asked me to continue servicing for them.”
In 1985, Tony employed another ex-Wadkin man who had been ambitious to work for himself.
“One of the things I was really adamant about when I was a service manager at the agencies, was having my own kit. Wadkin was against people having their own kit – one set of pulley pullers between five engineers, it was ludicrous! When you went out, you had to hide this kit. I had been in the navy for a bit of time as an officer in the engine room, so I already had that expertise of looking after myself and being resourceful.”
The first location of the business, as with many fledgling firms, was Tony’s home in Leicester, he still lives there today. That was T M Machinery HQ for quite a few years and then it moved into an office which was in the centre of Wigston above a video store.
After that, Tony rented a unit on his aunt’s farmland and it was here that he discovered Striebig. “I started doing servicing on all types of woodworking machinery, then Peter Cross came along and offered me the opportunity to install Striebigs because he’d heard about me.”
Peter Cross was the southern agent for Striebig UK, before representing them all across the UK. He was instrumental in building the Striebig name.
“I did a couple of installations with him,” says Tony, “and I’d already been repairing sanders for him because he, in the early days, did a lot of work on wide-belt sanders. He saw my engineering capabilities and said I want you to come along and help me do this.”
Peter and Tony worked well together, with a few ups and downs – Peter was quite ill for a period and Tony stepped in and ran his business for a short time.
“I think Peter appreciated that, working together. So off we went to Switzerland and we met the Striebig team and I was quite amazed when Peter introduced me as the possible new owner of Striebig UK. I thought, bloody hell! – how much is this going to cost me?”
Peter retired in 1997 which was when TM Machinery took on the selling, carrying out several installations a week in those days. The true dynamism of Tony and his colleagues at that time was impressive and Tony says that this definitely helped Striebig gain a foothold, in that not only was the company selling a really good product, but TM was able to install the saws quickly and provide excellent back up service.
Tony’s philosophy is common parlance today, but 15 or so years ago, the service ethos was not as high on the agenda as it has been in more recent years.
“The whole idea behind my business was to be the best you can be in terms of service,” says Tony. “When you can prove to somebody that you’re good at repairing and looking after the kit, that was a great benefit when I took on Striebig.
“As we went along, we outgrew the offices and we were storing the machines at in a rural unit, we had an extension put on that unit with a a demonstration area. We had also started going to shows…
“Then, out of the blue, I was driving around Oadby Industrial Estate in Leicester and I drove past a building and saw it was empty. By then, we had about four or five engineers, and a back office team working out of the office in Wigston. I approached the owner, the building was all higgledy-piggledy, and we came to a deal. We rented it for two years and eventually I bought it and we moved in and converted it in 2002.
In 1997, Matt Pearce joined the firm as a sales co-ordinator. Matt is a consummate professional with an irrepressible drive and determination to provide an outstanding service to the company’s customers and to help guide the business going forwards.
His efforts have to be seen as instrumental in helping to cement the foundations Tony, and before him Peter, laid down. Over the last 15 years or so, Matt, together with Tony, have become a very familiar team in the marketplace – a truly dynamic duo.
“When I started in 1997 there was Tony and three engineers… now there’s Tony and 11 engineers,” says Matt. “The back office has expanded from two to now five personnel.”
“I’ve always been a big believer in this business and the maxim of leading by example,” says Tony. “I much prefer to be out there with the guys doing the jobs – customers like to see me – even though they know I own this business, they might think I’m just sat in my office or in my car. I like to go out there, and the business is a great team effort.”
“The Striebig agency has been the driver for a lot of the expansion,” says Matt. “It has happened organically, there’s not been a point where we’ve just suddenly doubled in size, it’s been quite steady, which meant that with the recent recession, we weren’t in a position where we’d over-stretched ourselves, we stayed profitable throughout that period and we only take out of the business what we can afford.”
Matt underlines the scale of the business today. “The serivce team comprises 11 engineers – ten engineers on the road full time plus the in-house engineer.
“This is backed up by the service manager, Dave Roberts, and his apprentice assistant, as part of back office team of five. Dave has been with us for 12 years. Since 1997, only one engineer has left – and that was just to retire early, not to work for anyone else.
“I like to think they can call on me any time,” says Tony, “they can ask me any questions, talk to me about anything that’s troubling them. We’re a good family, a good team. When you get the bigger companies, they can lose sight of what it’s about. We can expand this company, but how far do you go and how big a slice of the cake do you need? We’ve got products that sell really well, we’ve got a good loyal customer base, and as long as it keeps that way, we’ll go on forever.”
Tony and Matt define TM’s customer base for the machinery it offers as the small- and medium-sized operators.
“The customer base for the Striebigs is the small or medium joinery shops,” says Matt, “we don’t get involved so much in the larger manufacturers that are typically using big automated lines. Of course on the service side of the business, with the mix of engineers we have, we can cope with repairing pretty much anything – classical machinery, moulders, sanders, that sort of thing.
“Growing steadily has been quite successful for us. We’re at the point now where we could possibly do with another engineer – we might get away with it for now because in the next few months, the apprentice engineer will be ready to head out on the road on his own, which will alleviate some pressure.”
Matt says that reacting to additional areas of the market for T M Machinery to explore – and potentially represent – is something that is always on the agenda.
“In the past we’ve had various things crop up, there’s been options to start selling additional products but we have to be careful that we only bring things in of a good quality. You wouldn’t want to spoil the good name you’ve built up! If something dropped in that was right, we’d certainly look at it.
I can see us endeavouring to build the market on selling more belt sanders,” added Tony, “that’s one thing we’ve done over the years that we’ve been consistent at.”
“Of course, we’re very spoilt with Striebig,” says Matt, “with the spares and the technical back-up we get, everything from the documentation to the technical advice over the ‘phone to the spare parts availability is far better than we’ve experienced from any other manufacturer.
“What we don’t want is to work with an agency which knocks our credibility. When you’re going up against companies that sell a whole range of stuff, they sell the stuff but sometimes don’t know enough about it, it has its advantages.”
In terms of volumes of Striebigs sold into the UK market, Matt says that before the recession, sales of new machinery was approaching 100 per year.
“We are starting to get back to these levels but we have not quite caught up yet. Last year was our best ever on the service side and we’re ahead already again this year.”
TM Machinery has been a fixture at W14, the industry’s most important trade show, despite the last two outings being a little tedious – both Tony and Matt have high expectations for this year’s event.
“For W14 this year, we are moving from our traditional location taking an island stand showing three Striebig machines – on a bigger stand too! It’s genuinely quite exciting to have something new to take to the show this year in the form of the new 4D machine. We will also be showing the Viet range sanders and the AL-KO dust extraction too.”
So what does the future hold for the quietly successful T M Machinery? Essentially, to keep doing what the company has always done.
Matt explains: “We are focused on keeping the growth going that’s been happening over the past few years to get back to where we were. We are in a period of growth at the moment and we need to capitalise on that – and that’s why we’ve taken on an apprentice, to meet the demand that’s there. We have no major plans for expansion of range at the moment – if the right thing arrives that complements the business, then we’ll look at it and see if it works for us, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.
And what about complementary products? “The thing is that there’s not many companies now that are doing individual machines. If we needed to expand, we could do so quickly. Perhaps a classical range of machines would fit nicely with our engineers,” says Matt.
Matt concludes by praising the company which has been part of the TM Machinery make-up since the beginning: “Striebig’s products are first-class, they are not the cheapest, but they are very well designed and built – I believe they are the best-selling vertical panel saw in the UK.
“As long as Striebig strives to look for new innovations, we’ll go forward. The last time we looked, the UK was the fourth or fifth biggest Striebig market in the world and we see no reason why that will change any time soon.”