MY BIG mistake was in spotting a gap in my own market but failing to see its real potential until it was too late. I had already made a mistake in thinking I could enjoy sitting around doing nothing after our family had sold Britax, the seatbelt company we had worked so hard to build up.
Early retirement was impossible for me, so I decided to start over, buying a small engineering company in 1973 which I named Securon. After four successful years concentrating on exports, Securon purchased a company that manufactured and sold automotive lighting products. The company, London Bankside Products, had a very good UK sales force, and it was a natural progression for us to start using them to sell our seatbelts in the home market as well.
While our business was passenger safety, it was around this time that I invented a central door-locking system. This was in the days before vehicle security became so important.
I decided we should have it manufactured in Taiwan, where everyone was having their products made at the time. I spent the next 18 months going back and forth, talking to Taiwanese experts, but in the end they could not provide the quality I wanted. I dropped the idea.
The conclusion I came to then was that if a job was to be done properly, we would have to do it ourselves, which is what we have done ever since. We manufacture virtually all our own parts, which also means we can react quickly to market demands.
It was only seven or eight years ago that I realised we should have pursued the idea of vehicle security, despite those initial difficulties. I had presumed at the time - wrongly, as it turned out - that people were more concerned for their safety than for that of the vehicle. I never imagined how big the market for vehicle security would become - or the rate at which car crime would grow.
By the time I faced my big mistake, there were so many companies supplying car security products that there was no point in being a late arrival. Looking back, what we should have done was to seek out the people who we felt had good ideas for that business. We should have invested money in retaining the services of electronics engineers, developed a state-of-the-art product, and turned that market to our advantage by focusing on the broader aspects of safety both in and outside the vehicle.
Instead, we continued to concentrate on a single product - which, in retrospect, is perhaps something a company should not do.
Had I had the vision to look at the wider market, it could well have doubled or tripled our turnover.
On the other hand, we might not have been concentrating as much on the safety of occupants as we are today. We have been campaigning for passenger safety for years. And while it is tragic that it takes a disaster for many people to realise that safety is a very serious matter, at least there is an awareness today of the need for seatbelts in coaches and minibuses as well as in cars.
My mistake has taught me to be more careful in keeping an eye on the way an industry is moving, to pay more attention to market research and to develop a feel for trends instead of relying on hunches and instinct.
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