"But," said Cox, "we' ve always had an interest in being in the wet-side of the business because that's a much more fully developed line and that's what we try to do. We try to provide fully integrated solutions to our customers.”
Bradbury Group was incorporated in Kansas in 1959 and started producing roll-formed metal products and tooling. It has established a strong reputation in metal roll levelling and with a number of other business purchases it has developed a portfolio of steel processing equipment and products including process control, metal building and construction products. It, also has process automation.
The company is global in scope with subsidiaries in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Spain, China, the UK and now Italy, as well as a number of specialised firms in the US.
Who are these guys?
Bradbury employs 650 people, has 700,000 sq ft (70,000 m2) covered construction space and is on track to ship $130m goods in 2014 and $150m in 2015.
“We define sole source rather differently to some other companies, it's not just dealing with one company. A company that says it wants to be in the insulated metal panel building business could come to us and buy every piece of equipment they need. And we build it. It's not that we work with other companies, we build it all,” Cox said.
“We initially got involved in the garage door business and then we moved into the insulated metal panel side of the business,” said Cox.
He added: “We got to know Industrie Pu.Ma in about 2007 on three projects here in the states. We supplied all the roll-forming equipment and they supplied the balance of the line. We spent a lot of time going back and forth to Italy and getting to know some of their people.
“They got themselves into financial trouble and became distressed, which created a buying opportunity for us,” he added.
Bradbury has a record of turning failed firms around, said Cox. This is something "we feel we are pretty good at and have experience doing with other companies.”
“We did it with Metform, which had offices in England and Canada, and we did it with Bradbury Group Australia, which was Hill Eng and Die Craft, both now in Bradbury Australia.
After purchasing Pu.Ma, Bradbury faced a number of problems, said Cox:
"One problem is market reputation, . The professional base wanted to know, 'is there a future?', 'how do we get our equipment serviced?', 'How do we get support going forward?', and ‘who is Bradbury’?”
Much of the first few months since the purchase have been spent ensuring that there is a business to continue. Bradbury spent the time "getting the employees back, getting them re-hired,” said Cox.
Cox’s team has spent time with the 45-strong Italian workforce “to get them to believe in us and know that we're committed to running the business. We're on a plan to get to 70 employees by December 31 and we've been busy re-building the brand in the marketplace.
The second line of activity has been to rebrand as “Bradbury Group Pu.Ma to take advantage of the strength of our name and market recognition of Pu.Ma,” Cox said. This activity has been bolstered by “a successful run of booking orders. We've booked orders for some service revenue here in the states and new equipment in Europe. We're close to some new orders in Northern Africa, and both Eastern and Western Europe is where we are booking our current new order book,” said Cox.
"We had a plan in the first 12 months to sell $16m, we have already exceeded that from a standing start. At its peak, Industrie Pu.Ma was about a EUR 45m ($57m)/year business, said Cox. We had a plan to do between $20m-$25m in year two and $30m-$40m in year three and I think we're going to be ahead of that.
“It is as much about taking market share as there are only so many of these plants that are going to be installed each year. When Industrie Pu.Ma got into trouble it created an opportunity for competitor companies, and they jumped in. We've turned the tide and been successful at landing orders,” Cox said.
Cox strengthened the Italian management team by moving the UK managing director, Tony Green to Tribano, Italy from the UK. “Green has been with Bradbury for 18 years. He knows our history and culture and is trying to get that instilled in the business,” said Cox. He added that “There's been quite an array of people from Kansas going back and forth to get the company set up and running the way we want it to run and get the right systems in place.
When all of that is completed the plan is to "leverage off what the other members of our Group do well, and get that put into the new business.”
Despite its financial difficulties, Pu.Ma was an attractive opportunity, said Cox. "Pu.Ma is a company that probably grew too fast, for the capability of its management structure and that's what led to it being in trouble."
"We are now trying to teach the people that we've brought back in how we want the business to be run. To get our systems in place, that have helped us be successful."
Cox feels that the big challenge Pu.Ma faced was in managing the amount of work that it had, "just the ability to manage the execution of the work, to get it completed on time, correctly and without problems was too much of a challenge," said Cox.
While that was an issue, the financial side of the business also suffered: “If you're not getting paid the way you need to, then you don't have the working capital to manage work in process… that certainly can be a challenge,” said Cox.
Build on existing relationships
"Building on our brand name and our installed base of equipment, it's pretty easy for us to see the projects and sit down and discuss them with our customer base," Cox added.
For example, Bradbury Australia has around 230 lines installed all over the world “couple that client base with Industrie Pu.Ma's assets and we have an answer to any insulation requirement in rock wool or EPS, PU and PIR. That's a pretty big installed base of equipment,” he continued.
Sell, service and engineer
One of the first things Bradbury did when it purchased Pu.Ma was to send the service manuals, parts lists and drawings for Pu.Ma machinery to the relevant local offices.
“Then, as our local businesses talk to the Pu.Ma clients they can do so intelligently about the equipment that the customer has and show them that we have your records locally and we can service and take care of you. The network means for example: we have Bradbury employees in Poland and Russia. They talk to the existing customers in their native language, in the same time zone and are physically able to drive to clients in a couple of hours.”
Cox said: "When they arrive they can look them in the eye and tell them who we are and tell them a bit about Bradbury Group as a whole. They say 'we've bought the IP, we've hired the people back, we've got the financial wherewithal to support you; we've got the local presence to support you.'"
Cox "our philosophy is to have sales, service and engineering close to the customer. That's why we are spread out like we are, that's why we have 17 different locations around the world. We have 90 engineers and 70 service technologists around the world. These people may not know Pu.Ma machinery inside out, said Cox, but the can respond quickly and feedback their findings to more experienced colleagues.
Being global has another advantage: it is able to build and price more appropriately for local markets.
Cox said: “For example, when you get into some developing nations there can be price issues, but Bradbury has some flexibility there because we have the ability to build within our own company in China."
Local production could make sense for relatively low tech freight-sensitive items such as conveyor and flipper systems. These take up a lot of expensive freight volume and could be made locally where possible. Foaming equipment and double belt laminators would probably be shipped from Italy though, said Cox.
“We've done that many times. We sold a garage door line here in North America and we built the material handling system, in Australia because that's where the IP existed, and we integrated it as a whole system here. We're very comfortable doing this."
Benefits of scale
Bulk purchasing is another area where Cox says Bradbury has an advantage. The firm has partnerships with Parker-Hannifin, Allen Bradley, Timken, Cone-Drive Gearboxes and others. “We are able to extend that pricing out to everybody within our Group. We might ship hydraulic cylinders from Washington State to Italy if that were a more economic price,” Cox said.
"We did it very successfully with our company in Spain. We bought everything here, put it in boxes and shipped it, saving 20% on that material purchase which went straight to the bottom line. All the subsidiaries get Bradbury Group’s buying power," he said.
Cox is open to non-exclusive partnerships with materials companies should they wish to use Pu.Ma machinery in their technology centres, in the same way that other companies have done.
In the short term the focus is in rigid foam lines.
In the US, Bradbury estimates that there are 22 or 23 continuous PU lines. “This is a very immature marketplace in terms of capacity and installed base of equipment. We see this as a big opportunity,” he said. Industry watchers suggest that there could be between 150 and 200 installed sandwich panel lines.
Non-American firms see the US as an attractive marketplace for rigid panels: “They come here and form relationships with distributors and service companies to try and take on this market,” said Cox.
“We have a very integrated manufacturing facility [at Moundridge] and this is one of several we have in North America, so when we are talking to a customer about the ability to sell and service their equipment, we have that ability here. Our other competitors around the globe don't have the same manufacturing capacity that we do, certainly here in North America.
In terms of other areas Cox said: “There are some other polyurethane foam-based product lines that we are looking at, all tied to construction. They aren't necessarily metal-over-metal laminated panels but will build on the technology we now own with Bradbury Group Pu.Ma.
About Cox and Bradbury.
Cox joined Bradbury in October 1997 and is the third generation of the founding family in the business. Cox is the son-in-law of David Bradbury; the son of Floyd Bradbury who founded the company. He spent four months out on the shop floor learning about the equipment, then moved into his offices in purchasing, planning, scheduling, material handling. Cox became general manager, and ultimately became president.
The Bradbury management team has been together since 2002 with five between 43 and 55 years old.
David Bradbury started transitioning the business to what he called the young lions, in the mid to late 90s, creating opportunities for people to take on bigger roles.
"We've tripled in size since I came on board, and that's a testament to our management group overall," said Cox.
There are 12 companies in the Group: Bradbury Company, American Machine and Rollform Technology, which makes metal coil conversion machinery for the steel framing sector, Metform International making forming equipment for the automotive sector, Beck Automation makes control systems for the metal forming industry; Hayes International designs and makes machinery for roofing and wall cladding profiles, Marion Die and Fixture makes custom dies and fixtures for the metal forming industry, Custom Rollforming produces parts for multiple industries, Bradbury Group Australia makes panel laminating machinery and building trim roll formers, Alliance Machine and Engraving makes calendaring and metal embossing equipment, Bradbury Machinery Shanghai makes metal forming equipment. Athader which makes slitting and cut-to-length lines and, of course, Bradbury Group Pu.Ma. Bradbury also has technical people in the UK, Mexico, India, Chile, Argentina, Turkey and Russia.