KIRKCALDY-headquartered Astrak UK has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the leading suppliers of undercarriage and wear parts in the industry.
Recent developments include the launch of new stabiliser pads for Brokk machinery and being appointed an authorised distributor of Eaton final drives. The firm has also enjoyed success with its DuraLine Plus road-liner rubber pads for steel tracked plant, which were developed in conjunction with OEMs.
Greg Paterson is Astrak UK’s OEM sales director. He’s been with the business since leaving school more than a decade ago and has helped drive forward organic growth and innovation. He recently told Project Plant’s Gary Moug about how the firm stands out in a competitive market, adapting to Covid-19 challenges, and the growing impact of environmental matters on the company’s decisions.
Q) WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE BUSINESS AND HOW DID YOU BREAK INTO THE PLANT INDUSTRY?
A) To be honest, there wasn’t much strategy about it; we kind of fell into it by accident. My father’s brother John moved to Denmark and started selling rubber tracks in 2003 after being given the idea from a friend who was already selling them in Ireland. The business went well over there and my father was quite involved in helping him set up. In 2007, he started doing one day a week in the UK on a part-time basis and the business as we know it now grew from there.
Officially I started working for Astrak in 2010 and I worked setting up the warehouse and logistics. In reality, I was working here before then as I often came in after school every day to help in the warehouse from 2008.
Over time, my product knowledge grew and I gradually moved away from the shop floor and into the sales arena and have been there ever since. I now have two responsibilities, one as head of UK sales and the other as head of OEM sales.
I’m generally in the office by 6.30am and we have our morning sales team huddle at 8.30 by Teams. The majority of my day is spent supporting our 15-strong team UK sales team. I also work closely with our OEM customers and our product development team.
Q) HOW COMPETITIVE IS THE MARKET AND HOW DO YOU STAND OUT?
A) It’s a very competitive market and at Astrak we work hard to differentiate ourselves from others by exceeding customer expectations.
We have gone from being nothing in 2007 to being probably the leading undercarriage supplier in the UK. I am confident in saying that there is no other firm in the country with a product range as broad as we currently have distributed across our various stocking locations. We stock parts for machines from one to 90 tonnes and everything in between.
I truly believe that there is nobody else out there who is as much of a one-stop-shop as we are in terms of undercarriage.
Q) HOW IMPORTANT IS INNOVATION AND CONSTANTLY OFFERING NEW SOLUTIONS TO CUSTOMERS?
A) It’s very important. Typically speaking, this is an industry where people just copy what else is out there. Over the years we have brought new products to market and our DuraLine range of rubber pads is a good example of this. All of our new products have features and benefits which have never been seen before by our industry. We now offer a full range of rubber pads for robotic demolition machines. We are constantly leveraging our supply chain to bring new products to the market, which I think is extremely important.
Q) HOW SIGNIFICANT IS THE SCOTTISH MARKET TO THE OVERALL ASTRAK BUSINESS?
A) It remains an absolute focus and, because of our location, Scotland is a market that we can serve very well. Our main stockholding is still held here in Kirkcaldy and the workshop facility for the whole group is also here. Scotland remains a very important part of the market for Astrak.
Q) HOW DID ASTRAK RESPOND TO THE CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH COVID-19 AND WHAT MEASURES DID YOU PUT IN PLACE TO MITIGATE THE IMPACT?
A) The way that we were very quickly able to adapt to home working situation is an absolute testament to the people and teams we have within the business, especially our IT team. Unknowingly, we were fortunately already prepared for the pandemic as we had already significantly invested in cloud-based systems and processes which enabled us in the course of one day to send 50 people home without affecting our high customer service standards. Our warehouse and workshop teams now work in two separate shifts to minimise the risk should we be unfortunate to have an outbreak within the teams.
Q) WILL YOU REVERT BACK TO THE PREVIOUS WAYS OF DOING THINGS ONCE THE PANDEMIC IS OVER?
A) We’ll be open minded as to that. Some roles perform better in an office environment with a team around them. In some other roles, if it’s the right thing for the business, we may split working from home and the office. We are not restricted as to how we come back.
There are certain aspects you can’t change, like the warehouse and workshop operation. They have remained open throughout. In terms of the way we have communicated with our customers through video – especially with our overseas customers – I can certainly see that aspect continuing as we are embarking on an environmental impact programme at the moment. We’re becoming more conscious of the impact of jumping on a plane and flying to Norway, Sweden, Poland or wherever, if that type of thing can be easily done by video here in Kirkcaldy.
Q) WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR CAREER HIGHLIGHTS?
A) One of them would be attracting other young people into the business and giving them an opportunity to work in the plant industry, which may be seen as an ageing industry.
A personal highlight for me is that my sales team internally has an average age of 26-and-a-half. Another highlight would be breaking into some of the world’s major OEMs and becoming a key supplier to them.
Q) WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE CONSIDERING A CAREER IN PLANT?
A) Find a company that will invest in young people. Find a company that has got plans for three and five years down the track. Don’t always think of the plant industry as somewhere you’re going to get cold and wet.
There are plenty of exciting careers within the plant industry that offer significant opportunities.
Q) WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
A) The thing that sticks in my mind the most is that if something seems too good to be true, it generally is. That was my father who said that. That is advice I’d give to any young people in business today.
Q) HOW DO YOU RELAX WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING?
A) With difficulty as I have a two-week-old baby daughter!