Mark’s entry into the fluid power industry was more than a little by chance but he now finds himself leading a team of ‘go to’ hydraulic consultants for an impressive portfolio of UK and global clients alike
Having studied mechanical engineering at the local technical college in Crewe, Cheshire, he was invited to interview at a local hydraulic component distribution business. “They were looking for someone with mechanical aptitude,” Mark explains, “and within two weeks I had started on the job.”
The position gave Mark a firm grounding in hydraulic engineering. “Pretty much everything I know about the fluid power industry has been learnt from within,” says Mark.
A leap into the unknown
That first job was nearly 30 years ago. And in the years that followed, Mark has built up an extensive network of industry contacts worldwide and worked for just two businesses: his first employer and Hydraulics Online.
“About 14 years ago, the company that I was working for underwent significant restructuring and I could see the writing was on the wall,” says Mark. “Helen and I had only recently found each other again and my main thoughts were about keeping the house, the mortgage and providing for our young family.”
While thoughts of building a globally trading business might have been a long way from Mark’s mind at that time, he did know of half a dozen customers who couldn’t find the hydraulics supply service they needed and who were keen to buy from him.
“So that was it – we decided to go for it and set up Hydraulics Online from a spare desk at home. And not in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day we would be trading around the world the way we do ,” Mark says. “But we’ve always been geared up to giving good, professional technical advice and getting the customer service right – and, if you do that, people believe in you and come on board. Hydraulics Online has just blossomed… it’s far exceeded any expectations I had.”
When Mark’s previous firm then went into administration, a few year’s after Helen and Mark established Hydraulics Online, Mark was in the privileged position of being able to offer a job to a former colleague whose approach he has always valued.
“Steve was our first member of staff when we recruited him into the technical team,” remembers Mark. “He has been with us for over 8 years now, and I think we have about 60 years of industry experience between us.”
Hydraulic consultants – never just box shifters
Working with the extensive contacts Mark and the team have established across the industry over this time is one of the perks of the job for Mark, while at the same time being one of the value-adds of the Hydraulics Online offer.
The good contacts and substantial experience and know-how of Mark, Steve and the rest of the technical team mean that Hydraulics Online generates real value add as hydraulic consultants to its customers; and has avoided the trap that so many online businesses fall into – of becoming ‘box shifters’.
“Of course we can ship repeat orders or replacement parts rapidly, if that’s what you need,” says Mark, “but we’ll also challenge you to make sure that what you are ordering really is the right part for the right price.
“Because of the preferential pricing we enjoy with the major suppliers and – through our independence – the sheer reach of our product range, many of our customers use us as a single source of supply, consolidating previous relationships from multiple hydraulic suppliers.”
“We offer the complete package,” says Mark, “and as hydraulic consultants that means we get involved with some nice, complicated systems design projects. It’s work that our own suppliers really recognise us for too.”
Hundreds of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have taken advantage of this technical expertise over the years, asking for support in bringing all sorts of – sometimes crazy – ideas and innovations to life. “I genuinely can’t think of an industry where we haven’t been asked to work,” says Mark, “But most of these projects are highly confidential: we’re talking new product development – helping our customers to gain competitive advantage and be first to market with their ideas. That means signing non-disclosure agreements, which we are always happy to do, of course.”
Some of the non-confidential projects to which this approach has opened doors include working with Heritage Concorde to bring the iconic aircraft’s droop nose to life again at both the Imperial War Museum, Duxford and Brooklands Museum, Surrey and a unique project with students at the University of Edinburgh.
Hydraulic Consultants for the future
“When we were asked by the HypED team to help them develop the hydraulic systems for their entry in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop challenge, we were just thrilled to be a part of their project as the hydraulic consultants to their team,” remembers Mark. “We needed to get them to the point where they had a fail-safe system, so we compiled a small test rig with our partners at Fluidlink. Getting that system off the drawing board and seeing it perform perfectly the first time we tested it was a brilliant feeling of achievement. Taking something like that one-off design from a design concept on paper into production gives us an indescribable sense of satisfaction when it works.”
“It also evidences that customers value what we are offering. I remember Helen asking the president of HypED why they had chosen to work with Hydraulics Online. And his answer was spot on when he said it was because ‘we are a truly integrated hydraulics supplier – not just the sales extension of a larger company,’ ” said Mark
Today, the technical team has grown to include two more hydraulic experts: Ian and Kyle – bringing the combined technical expertise to nearly 100 years and enabling Mark to concentrate on larger and bespoke projects.
“There’s always something new to design on my desk,” says Mark, “but now I have such a great team with me, I can step out of the engine room every now and again and take a more strategic view of the business alongside Helen.