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A spring in his step

A spring in his step

26 Feb 2014

Marcus Gerrard, Director of Safetyflex Barriers, talks to the NBA about the impact of its Innovation Award on the business

If you’ve booked a table and hotel rooms in London for your team for a night at an award ceremony, you must be confident of winning an award, writes Alex Evans, Programme Director of the National Business Awards.

“When we met the finalist who had developed a highly sophisticated piece of software in the waiting room before our presentation, we thought we had no chance of winning,” says Marcus Gerrard, Director, Safetyflex Barriers – winner of the 2013 Innovation Award. “We were over the moon to be shortlisted in the first place, and wanted to celebrate with the people that got us there whatever the result.”

Up against nine diverse finalists including Mirada Medical, Warwick Music and Intelligent Energy, Safetyflex impressed judges with its story of game-changing innovation that helped to protect the 2012 Olympics with their new innovative anti terrorist bollards.

“We had spent the last 40 years manufacturing suspension springs for clients like Morgan Motor Company but recently developed a flexible spring steel barrier system that could be used on motorways,” Marcus explains. “A government body heard about it and asked us to design a new anti-terrorist barrier system that could stop a truck at 50mph. Our system not only saved LOCOG millions of pound, but offered greater protection than many existing products.

“It’s great to now be able to shout about our role in such a big national event, as most of our work has been classified and that’s why we decided to enter the National Business Awards – to gain recognition through Britain’s biggest and most prestigious awards.”

Events like the Scotland Airport attack in 2007 intensified demand for anti-terrorist barrier systems, but by focusing on function and aesthetics Safetyflex has won clients ranging from Canary Wharf, London’s financial centre, to the Titanic Centre in Belfast. “We work with architects and developers who want the most effective, best looking and lowest cost solutions,” says Marcus. “We’ve been able to de-engineer 500mm wide and 3m deep bollards to 100mm wide, 200mm deep products because of our special steel composition. When I present our bollard in meetings it sells itself.”

Being a family business, design and R&D at Safetyflex are led by managing director Rob Gerrard, with sales headed up by proud son Marcus. “My father manages the hard engineering while I focus on the client’s challenges – which are either aesthetic or wholly driven by cost and foundation,” he explains. “We need to stay at least 5 years ahead of the criminals and terrorists and we do that by asking clients what their wish list is and the shortcomings of existing products.”

While clients have traditionally found Safetyflex, especially govt ones, the media coverage around its recognition has significantly enhanced its profile. “Our piece in the Telegraph not only boosted our site’s hits from the tens to the thousands but it was seen (before us even) by an agent in America who was very impressed; this could help us get a foothold in that market,” says Marcus.

The combination of prestige and profile is helping Safetyflex with its export strategy. “We’re getting a podium made for our trophy when we exhibit in places like Dubai and Qatar because we’ve seen the local response to exhibitors displaying far less prestigious awards than the NBA,” he says, adding that Safetyflex has been selected as one of a delegation going to Qatar to bid for work at the 2022 World Cup. “It’s a real badge of honour for us that sets us apart.”

Winning a National Business Award has certainly made the judging process worthwhile but were there any unanticipated benefits of participating? “The networking side was something I hadn’t considered, meeting other directors and owners at the ceremony and judging,” Marcus recalls. “But the live presentation to the judging panel was a major highlight. It was a real Dragon’s Den experience that we really thrived on and gave us the opportunity to answer hard-hitting questions – like the role of innovation in our export strategy and how it can help win big clients overseas.”

Do you have a game-changing innovation, or an innovation culture, that has enabled your organisation to achieve market dominance or exceptional commercial performance? Find out if it’s worthy of an Innovation Award at www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk

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