Entrepreneur interview: Kate Wickham, MD of Gate 7

The managing director of the Newcastle-based manufacturing company explains how success is possible in a niche market.

Kate Wickham, managing director of Newcastle-based component manufacturer Gate 7, has posted impressive sales growth this year and expects more success next year.

 A 38 per cent uptick in sales and buying an 8,000 sq ft of warehouse space and 3,000 sq ft of manufacturing space in the past year shows Gate 7 is optimistic about future prospects. With 44 employees, Wickham helps supply decals and vehicle livery to companies such as Volvo, Bobcat and JCB across Europe, North America and Asia.

When was the company founded and what is its vision?

The company was founded by my father Keith Wickham, who has almost 40 years’ experience in the print industry, and saw a niche opportunity in the industrial label market. His vision was to develop a business to focus solely on the construction equipment and agricultural market and use exporting as the key to market growth.

How much initial investment did the company need to start and where did it come from?

The route to market in this chosen industry does need significant investment especially as exporting therefore travelling was such an important part of the business plan. Funds were sourced privately and the main investments in the early years were on a premises and equipment. Once these were in place it was a case of managing the labour required to keep up with production.

What marketing did the company employ to maximise exposure?

In the early days we marketed Gate 7 through the CEA, Construction Equipment Association, a trade organisation for our primary industry.  We attended networking events and trade shows to improve our profile and build up a network of contacts and we currently attend about one trade show a year. This was really the platform we used to push the business forward. Due to the niche nature of our business we perform best when we are focussed on a particular company and we tailor our products and services to their needs, we don’t expect customers to find us we find them!

Our sales strategy has very much been driven by effective targeting of customers and meeting them face to face. We are very selective on who we work with because we know our business well enough to know who we can be an effective supplier to. We don’t use any third parties as we do all our selling through our current staff base. Training is integral so all staff, not just those face to face, understand the demands and challenges our customers face and how they can improve the service and quality we supply.

Talk about the company’s growth trajectory, from being founded to establishing revenue, to covering costs, to moving into profit.

Winning clients in this market is not easy or quick. It takes time for customers to move supplier and integrate into their supply chain and on our side it is challenging to get the base stock levels in place ready for order call off. As a result, we normally don’t turn a profit in the first 12 months of a new account. The first few years of the business was tough but through a strong sales strategy and efficient manufacturing we were able to turn a profit in the first 12 months. I have worked very closely with our customers and gained an in-depth knowledge of their requirements and the challenges they face. By spending time listening and observing I have been able to translate this into better products, services and solutions we can offer. As a team we have worked hard to be the best supplier we can to our customers in terms of quality, service and cost.

What cultural differences have you encountered abroad, if any, and how you have overcome these issues?

The key cultural difference we find are mainly down to communication. In the far east particularly, communicating verbally can be challenging especially if there is a problem or a new process we are supporting. We manage this by creating visual representations of what we are trying to communicate so we take photographs of parts, the process or materials to help us explain and demonstrate a new process. It is more time consuming however it eliminates any confusion or uncertainty.

How important is an inspirational figurehead to a scale-up company?

I think a great team that compliment and work well together is very important. Finding the right mix of people with skills and expertise is very difficult however when it comes together it can really pull the business forward. My job is to be able to sell the endeavours of that team and because I am passionate about what we do I can be completely genuine about our achievements, it makes my job very easy!

Find out more: Gate 7

Further reading on entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur interview: CEO and founder of Laser Wire Solutions, Paul Taylor