Econ Engineering is the UK’s largest manufacturer of gritters, snow clearance and highway maintenance vehicles. For over 45 years, their gritters have been at the forefront of the UK’s winter maintenance operation. Based in Ripon, North Yorkshire, they manufacture gritters, snowploughs, multi-purpose highway maintenance bodies and road patching bodies at their purpose-built site. With a fleet of over 1,000 spreader vehicles, they are also the largest UK gritter hire company. Paul Andrews spoke to Andrew Lupton, Director at Econ Engineering to find out more.
When was the business founded?
Tell me a little about the history of the business?
My father, William Lupton, was a farmer’s son and born inventor. He founded Econ Engineering after the success of his first invention, a mid-mounted hedge and verge trimmer called the Lupat. Inspired by a couple of harsh winters in the 1960’s, he developed the first spinning salt distribution gritter, which launched very successfully.
Through the 1970’s Econ developed a range of products which automated agricultural processes, before moving fully into the road maintenance sector in the 80’s. We’ve developed a range of innovative solutions to aide more and more effective salt-spreading, as well as diversifying into vehicles that assist with road patching, like hotboxes.
What generation are you and what are your first memories of the family business?
I am the second generation, along with my brother Jonathan. The business was always very much central to our childhood as we grew up.
My earliest memory of the business was going with my father to look at an old brewery that he was going to convert into a factory. I must have been four years old. I think that memory, even at such a young age, has really stuck in my mind because I was shocked at how dilapidated the brewery was! A real ‘all this will be yours one day, son’ moment!
Are there any other family members working in the business?
My brother is the joint Managing Director, alongside me. While I manage sales, he’s Operations and our Hire Fleet Director. And then my son is in his second year with us, having graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. He now works in our design team.
What was your journey into the family business and what do you do now?
I left home – and Ripon – as soon as I could, wanting to see the bright lights a bit, as is only natural! I went to a polytechnic in Leicester, to get a degree in business studies. As part of that, I spent a placement year with IBM.
After graduating with a well-earnt drinker’s degree, I worked in some other IT and computing companies until I was 28. In those days, it was just becoming normal to have desktop PC’s.
Then when I was 28, I returned to the family business, having seen a bit of the world and with some great experience under my belt.
I now work as joint MD alongside my brother, looking after the sales and commercial side of the business.
What has helped drive your success to date?
When my brother and I took over the business from our father, it was, day-to-day, more a supplier to the agricultural sector. We made the decision to move the business away from that to focus purely on the highways and road maintenance sector. That was a pivotal moment in Econ’s history.
We’ve also invested heavily in research and development, again to move the factory away from agricultural fabrication and towards a modern manufacturing facility. And then latterly we’ve built up a hire fleet of winter maintenance vehicles, as we found this model works well for our customers. This now accounts for just over half of our turnover.
What values are important to the family and the business?
We like to think we’re gentlemen.
Do you build the family ownership into the marketing and brand narrative and if so, how?
We don’t build it in as much as some other family-owned businesses. Instead, we emphasise that we’ve been around for over 50 years. We blend together that history and legacy with a very modern manufacturing facility with strong investment in R&D.
What do you think makes working in a family business special?
As two brothers, having different interests has helped us to be successful, as it means we don’t step on each other’s toes. But ultimately, we do share the responsibility of both successes and failures.
Are there any disadvantages associated with working in a family business?
I think that moving from one generation to the next is always a bit of a challenge in a family business. Moving from a father to two sons is a more emotional change than in a normal business where the old director retires and a new one succeeds them.
Is there a next generation in the wings?
As I said, my son currently works in our design team. But it’s an option for him – he might not necessarily want to take the business over.
What advice would you give to anyone in the next generation considering joining their family firm?
The same advice that I’d give to anybody about to take a business over – if you find yourself in a lucrative sector, with a clear future ahead, focus on that sector and build on the brand that you’ve got.
If you could talk to your younger self before you joined the business, what would you say?
It won’t be as bad as you think it will be – you might even enjoy it!
If you could sum up the family business in three words, what would they be?
Engineering, Excellence and Service
Find out more about Econ Engineering here