Will Butler-Adams, CEO of Brompton, explains why London is the perfect base to make one of the world’s best-loved bikes
In 1975, our founder Andrew Ritchie hand-built the first Brompton bicycle in his flat overlooking the Brompton Oratory. Now the city is in our blood. Being based in London, with its unique combination of craftsmanship, quality and creativity, is fundamental to our reputation with our customers.
Our home is in Brentford, where our team designs, tests, manufactures and assembles bicycles comprised of 1,200 parts, of which more than three-quarters are unique to Brompton. In addition to this, our factory is packed with the machines and tools we have developed over the year to ensure that 27,000 Brompton’s leave our factory every year.
As a scaled manufacturer working in a niche area, we use innovation and craftsmanship to find simple and elegant solutions to problems. To achieve this we employ more than 80 specialist craftsman, who come from all over the London area. Fortunately, diversity of skills is something that London does not lack.
Take, for example, Abdul, our brazing supervisor. Brazing is a method that allows us to deliver a lighter and more accurately aligned frame than would be achieved with conventional welding. Abdul is an expert in this method and has helped rejuvenate it in the UK.
The result of this in-house specialisation is excellent quality control and a final product that is fit for purpose.
Moving production offshore in search of lower labour costs, business rates and taxes would certainly bring short-term benefits, but these would be outweighed by the consequences of losing control over quality, which is at the heart of why our customers buy our product.
Manufacturing drives London exports
In the latest London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Quarterly Economic Survey, it was revealed that London businesses continue to perform strongly in the export market. This has, to a large extent, been driven by London’s manufacturing sector.
Taking the figures for export sales in Q2 of this year, the LCCI survey found that 33 per cent of all London business reported an increase in export sales. Looking at just manufacturing companies, the same figure stood at 48 per cent. Similarly, for export orders, 31 per cent of all London companies reported an increase in orders over the same period, compared to 47 per cent of manufacturing companies.
As our political leaders wring their hands over the future of the financial services sector and debate how to rebalance the economy, this is a story that London manufacturers should shout about.
Taking Brompton as an example, last year 70 per cent of our bicycles were sold overseas in 38 markets, from Japan to Singapore, Ireland to Israel and Argentina to Canada – every one of them handmade in London. Central to this success is London’s innovation in manufacturing quality and as a centre to reach global markets.
London’s status as a global trading centre is not simply an opportunity for traders to swap derivatives with international investors, but for small innovative companies to sell to buyers from every country in the world. For all the challenges of operating in London, manufacturers in London enjoy a unique advantage in this respect. It’s an opportunity we must all seize with both hands.