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VFE, The Growth Story — 2015 to 2021

12 August 2021 / News

CEO David Byrne shares VFE’s growth story from a traditional manufacturer to a service-first business committed to keeping its customers’ operations running.

Today, Vacuum Furnace Engineering (VFE) puts service first. In the last two-and-a-half years the company’s contracted service business has grown 50% on pre-pandemic levels, driven by a series of new service launches aimed at adding value and maximising uptime across our customers’ operations.

Customer retention rates are high — approximately 90% — demonstrating the quality of our service standards and the trust we build with our customers.

And earlier this month, we announced our acquisition by global vacuum solution specialists Busch, further expanding our service capabilities and driving the next phase of our growth.

But this story doesn’t start with service. When David joined us in 2017, VFE was product-led. Like much of the industry, we still measured growth by materials made and parts produced.

In the four years since then, what has changed and how have our customers benefited?

“The importance of service in manufacturing can’t be overstated”

“Over the last 27 years, I’ve worked for a variety of globally recognised automotive brands, from Ford to Aston Martin”, reveals David. “In this time, I’ve had a front-row seat to quality service, even within traditionally product-focused environments like manufacturing.”

Under his steer, this value has become welded to every aspect of VFE, from its service standards to how it operates. The company has grown rapidly as a result, driven by increased levels of high-quality, specialist aftermarket maintenance services.

“When I joined the company, we were a manufacturing business that occasionally serviced. Now, we’re a service business first. This approach is unique across most capital growth businesses, not just the sectors we operate within, giving us a competitive edge.”

“The importance of service in manufacturing can’t be overstated”, David reiterates. “Every £5,000 service contract is just as important to us as a £1m furnace sale. That's how the business has changed.”

Find out more about the importance of service excellence in manufacturing.

A legacy of growth with Longacre Group

Busch recently acquired the company from Longacre Group, a private equity firm whose initial investment, back in 2014, was the catalyst VFE needed for its rapid growth.

“We couldn’t be happier with the financial support we’ve received from Longacre Group”, David says. “They’ve enabled this growth story. Under the new ownership of a technical business from the same sector [Busch], VFE is now well placed as the UK market leader to maximise the growth opportunity as manufacturing returns post-pandemic.”

Busch’s global presence extends across 66 different countries, opening up VFE’s service offerings to new customers and markets as well as creating new exciting opportunities for our people. 

Tim Hulbert, Managing Director of Busch UK, commented: “This is an exciting time for the new Busch UK team.  2021 is our 50th anniversary in the UK and the acquisition of VFE marks a significant commitment by the Busch group to the UK market, ensuring we are well-positioned for further long-term service and growth.  I’m delighted to welcome our new VFE colleagues to our business.  We are stronger together and uniquely positioned to help UK manufacturers become more productive and sustainable through the application of our Busch vacuum solutions.”

Expanding our service capabilities

“A large part of the story has been cultivating our service engineers and developing our capabilities”, David explains. “Our engineers are the stars who’ve enabled our growth.”

Pivoting the business from being product-focused to service-led required a service drive within the company. For the team to offer expanded service capabilities and ever greater standards of service, we invested in new training programmes and development initiatives.

“During the pandemic, we've grown our service contract business by 16%”, David explains. “While people are spending less, we're adding more, because our customers are confident that we have the technical capability to support them.”

“Our continued growth is a direct result of our training investments such as the Training Centre, the Apprenticeship Programme, the Master's Programme, and a continued drive to grow our service engineers.”

“I’m a great believer in looking after our people first and foremost”, David tells me. “They’re pivotal to our success. Without them, we don’t have a business. Get that right, and they’ll look after our customers just as well. Throughout my career, that’s what I’ve always done.”

The story today

“When I first walked through the door, my brief was to set up the business to become stable and self-sufficient. Working together as a team, not only have we done that, but we’ve continued to grow, even in the face of a pandemic. That’s our story, and it’s not told by the materials we make or the products we sell but the service we deliver, time and time again.”

David remains certain that the growth of the business is predicated on the growth of our service offering and the drive to go the extra mile, whenever a customer requires it, to minimise downtime, improve efficiencies and keep their operations running.

Four years later, his team and he have grown the number of service contracts by 36%. The total value of those contracts has increased by 50%. With existing markets already recovering post-COVID and the move into other high-growth sectors under Busch’s ownership, David’s confident of a robust and prolonged period of further growth.

“We're only as good as the last promise that we kept or the last calibration we conducted or the last piece of equipment that we serviced. That’s how we'll be remembered, so we have to make sure that every interaction with our customers is of the highest quality standard.”

To find out how we could help you to improve efficiencies and keep your operations running, get in touch.

You might also be interested in our guide to simplifying your heat treatment servicing and maintenance. 

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