The roots of Econ Engineering date back to the late 1950’s and the entrepreneurial vision of the late William George (Bill) Lupton.
Bill was the youngest of four children from a farming family in Otley, West Yorkshire. As was the tradition at the time, it was always going to be the eldest son who inherited the family farm, so Bill knew that he would have to make his own way in the world. Bill was an inquisitive individual who was far more interested in tackling and solving technical challenges and less interested in the world of farming. It was this curious mind that led to him spotting an opportunity which he pursued, and which ultimately has resulted in Econ becoming the business that it is – the leading manufacturer of gritters, spreaders and road maintenance vehicles in the UK today.
Jonathan Lupton is the second generation of the family in the business and as he explains, his father was the real embodiment of entrepreneurial spirit: “He (Bill) was working with machinery and came up with a concept to merge a mower with a hedge trimmer to enable the automation of cutting hedgerows. It all started with the purchase of a welding kit and after a few false starts, the first innovative hedge cutters and flail mowers had been created.”
Interest in the business grew until the day when Bill was approached by someone who wanted to buy his business and the business was subsequently sold to an agricultural machinery manufacturer, Bamlett’s.
Bill joined as part of the deal which meant commuting to Thirsk from West Yorkshire, which was not ideal and so, he and his wife Helen, looked to move house. Helen wanted to remain close to family and friends and was reluctant to move south of the A1, so they settled on Ripon. Three sons were born after the move, Andrew in 1966, Jonathan in 1968 and David in 1972.
Unlike many family firms, Bill was an entrepreneurial founder with a plan. His long-term plan was the creation of a business that would provide jobs for all three sons. At the time he was still working for Bamlett’s but had realised that he wanted to be his own boss and circumstances were such that as his contract was soon to expire, he could begin formulating his own plans once more.
Lucky circumstances and perfect timing led to the creation of Econ Engineering. After leaving Bamlett’s, Bill needed to find premises in Ripon and a chance conversation with the town clerk saw him directed to the site owned by Vaux Brewery who were keen to sell. Soon after moving to the brewery, Bill was searching for heaters for the premises which took him to a Bradford-based business called Econheat.
As Jonathan continues, “Bill visited and found that the business was on the verge of liquidation so rather than just buying some heaters, he bought the business, stock included. So, back in 1969, Bill’s plan was to start production of the flail mower, as well as to move into industrial heating through the acquisition of Econheat.”
Initially, business centred on making a success of the heater business and to grow the agricultural side of the business too. Business was good and developed a national profile across the UK but there was a strong seasonal pattern of business between April and August. It was here that Bill decided to create products that could do well over the winter months.
“Following the impact on the UK with the big freeze in 1963, he came up with an idea for a salt spreader,” explains Jonathan. “A blueprint was developed and resulted in two initial designs, a bulk hopper that was mounted on a lorry chassis, much like the ones we make today, and a trailer that could be pulled behind a tractor, which incorporated a spinner attachment,” he continues.
“There was plenty of testing and eventually, in 1971, the very first Econ salt spreader was ready to be launched to the world. The business was up and running and the orders started to come in, Econ moved to a new state-of-the-art factory in 1978.”
Econ is proud to be a British manufacturer based in Yorkshire. Constant investment has taken place throughout the journey to date, something that has continued today, with another location added in the shape of a new, super service site at Sowerby near Thirsk. This building houses 24 service bays to maintain and service the fleet.
More products have been added to the range to enable them to perform year-round tasks on Britain’s roads, including pothole and surface repairs. New ways of working were also introduced to help councils who were struggling to purchase sufficient gritters to keep roads moving during the winter period, and Econ introduced a rental scheme. The introduction of the hire fleet was a transformative business strategy from Jonathan and his brother Andrew. As Jonathan adds, “We are an entrepreneurial family and it made sense to offer the hire fleet solution. It worked out well and continues to help the business grow.”
Innovation is on the Econ agenda and state-of-the-art production is evident for all to see. Mobile technology has been integral to recent developments and across all departments, improvements have been introduced to increase productivity and efficiency.
From starting out on the family farm to where the business is today, is a monumental accomplishment and a real family business success story. Bill would be delighted with how the business looks today but could not possibly have imagined that it would be the size it has become. Econ vehicles are used all over the UK to keep the roads clear and are iconic in their livery of bright yellow with the letter ‘E’ firmly on display too.
Annual turnover is now over £40 million and the business has become an integral part of the Ripon community, not least through the employment of staff, generation of income and creation of wealth, but also through the direct impact the business has on the local community.
As Jonathan concludes, “As a family business we have come a long way and have created something that as a family we can be rightly proud of. Dad would be ‘gobsmacked’ to see where the business is today and really proud of the work that the family and our broader team have done to make it successful.”
“Strong family values are part of the culture here at Econ – honesty, reputation, reliability and service are all integral to what we all do day-in and day-out. We are proud manufacturers based in Yorkshire. We are proud of what we do and the products that we make. Being a family business is special too. Above all, we are committed to continuing the legacy of my father, and the family to continue to build and invest in our future and continue to make products and services that we know will keep Britain on the move, today, tomorrow and long into the future.”