At the time of its inception, financial projections for Staffordshire, U.K.-based De/S/eM Lifts Ltd. indicated the going would be tough. But the company soon realized it had seriously underestimated response from its chosen market: self-storage. “Our original £350,000 sales target for the first year was exceeded within the first trading quarter,” says Mike Carp, sales manager. The company’s revised target is £1 million for the fiscal year ending in May.
How did a company formed less than two years ago achieve such remarkable results? In May 2003, owners David and Louise Martin incorporated a lift manufacturer to serve the storage industry. Their philosophy comprised a strong belief in customer care. The company’s first nine months were spent developing quality-control manuals and seeking approvals to design, manufacture, install and commission goods-passenger lifts. No start-up company had attempted to achieve these standards since the implementation of the Lift Directive in 1997, making De/S/eM’s application the first.
Achieving ISO 9001 and the Notified Body approval was a considerable challenge, says David Martin. One approval depended on the other. But despite the difficulties of the process, the company succeeded in meeting all requirements, and approvals were in place just in time to install the first lift for Armadillo Self Storage in Liverpool.
“Customers and contacts made during the Martins’ previous employment were very keen to get De/S/eM and the Lift-Master goods-passenger lifts in their new facilities,” says Carp, who joined the company in March 2004. The “his and hers” lift-package concept has received tremendous support. It consists of two lifts in a twin-shaft steel structure. One lift has manual doors—proven to be more reliable over prolonged use—and is used to move heavier items. The other has automatic doors and services lighter, domestic goods.
A Lift for Everyone
The Lift-Master packages are designed to minimize running, maintenance and compulsory testing costs, which buyers often overlook. The initial cost of most lifts is a major expense, and operating costs over the first 10 years can often match the purchase price. De/S/eM “designed out” as much as 70 percent of these ownership expenses by using direct-acting hydraulic rams, which eliminate the over-speed governor and its corresponding counterweight, as well as their monitoring devices and circuitry. Fewer components mean savings in annual, 5-year and 10-year tests in addition to maintenance and repairs.
The firm’s technical expertise is self-evident, particularly in projects that involve design innovation. For example, a facility may have to install a lift in a particularly tight space, or need a mansard in the roof directly over the lift shaft to create the necessary headroom for engineers. Clients often overlook this requirement or are reluctant to address it, especially where municipal consent is mandatory. By using alternative arrangements of the hydraulics, Lift-Masters use the minimum possible headroom. Another of De/S/eM’s innovations is a “top hat” section that can be incorporated into the rear of a specially designed lift to accommodate long items that don’t fit horizontally.
Close attention to detail and a willingness to experiment have allowed De/S/eM to expand its customer base. Recent contracts include several London hotel projects as well as some with a local engineering company. Orders for several goods-only, pitless lifting machines (which the company imports from Holland) have also started to flow in. Lift-service contracts are self-generating as projects are completed, and some clients even opt to purchase service contracts for their other lift stock.
With business moving forward at a staggering pace, the Martins realized a new base for operations would be necessary. They converted a 2,000-square-foot brick warehouse—a former pottery factory—in Longport, Stoke-on-Trent, into new offices, a product-storage area and small manufacturing plant. Though it involved major time and effort to make the move while meeting project deadlines, it was necessary to decrease costs and lead times in the long term. “Despite the long hours, our employees’ cooperation meant all lift-project targets were met, some ahead of schedule,” Carp says.
This is a remarkable feat considering installation sites for the company’s clients cover the breadth of the United Kingdom, from Dundee, Scotland, to Portsmouth on the U.K.’s southern coast, to Belfast, Ireland. De/S/eM’s central location is ideal, with the nearest new site in Derby, less than 40 miles away.
And a Cherry on Top
The company’s phenomenal first year was topped off with an unsolicited nomination for a new enterprise of the year award, part of a regional industry-awards program. The business continues to grow at a rate surpassing expectations. De/S/eM is considering the manufacture of several new products “without diverting attention away from the original concept of being a committed, self-storage supplier,” David Martin says. “Our aim is to become the preferred supplier of lifts to the industry, and current projections suggest this is readily achievable.” For more information, visit www.desem.co.uk.