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Company Profile: What's in a name? Everything when it is Mikrofill!

This is the second time that Paul Braithwaite has written about Mikrofill.
Company Profile: What
The first time was May 2003 and the company was eight years old then. Owner Roger Cherrington and general manager David Cox were beginning to see the fruits of their labour. Cherrington invented and patented the Mikrofill electronic filling device (EFD), a unit which allows water from the mains cold water supply, to fill the heating system. He said that, with hindsight, inventing it was the easy part, gaining approvals, both water and worldwide electrical, took much longer and only his wife stopped him for throwing it all in and 'getting a job working for someone else'.

Another four years on, Cherrington has a different perspective on life. Because of the success of the recently introduced domestic boiler range, a new dilemma emerged.

Does it rebrand to a new customer friendly name, as many companies of late have done, or stay with the well-known Mikrofill name albeit with its specialist association with pressurisation equipment?

Not a bad dilemma to have, I suggested. No, he agreed, but Cherrington believes in doing nothing by halves.
'Get this wrong and it could set us back years,' he reckons.
So the company enlisted the help of a specialist market research firm. The results of its research were overwhelmingly in favour of retailing the known and trusted Mikrofill name but introducing the boiler name alongside it.

A brand has to be memorable, have a quality feel and explain what it does.Mikrofill helped the company expand into the boiler market because at shows, for instance, the Mikrofill name attracted the visitors because of its quality branding and they were much more amenable to new products on the stand. The 18 high-end domestic and commercial boilers also offered a full range which helped too.
Cherrington and Cox are now tinkering with the logos to achieve the desired effect.

'Both have been streamlined and are now the same colour to associate the companies.
Mikrofill has expanded beyond all recognition. The original product was a mechanical unit and virtually as soon as it was invented the company embarked on research and development for an electronic version which went into production seven years ago.
'It took a long time to get Mikrofill off the ground but there are now 40,000 of them in service in the UK.'

All very different from the earliest days when Cherrington built the units in the evening in a loft and sold them by day.
'The company is now market leader in the supply of water pressurisation units.'

Cherrington says he always knew the Mikrofill product - however successful it was - would not be enough to drive the company forward at the rate he wanted.
Hence, he reverted to type and introduced a range of commercial boilers.

There are 18 commercial boilers (and high-end domestic) and cylinders which were desgned and approved Mikrofill in the UK but made in the Netherlands.
Now 70% of the output comes from Mikrofill's factory in Redditch, West Midlands.

'We design the boiler ourselves and if the design fits our economic model, then it is produced in our factory here.'
The domestic boiler is still made in The Netherlands while the new commercial boilers and the pressurisation equipment are made here. Further more there is now a need for new literature hence one of the urgencies about the rebranding.

The company has been so successful with its product sales that it has already extended the production line and is nearly ready to add an extension to the factory.

'The demand for the domestic range of boilers has been phenomenal,' says Cherrington. He says it has a niche range, with, for instance, the 54kW combi which is either for a big house or light commercial use.

'It was developed for the bottom end of our light commercial range - a 54kW combi which could be used in a light commercial unit or a big house with en suite facilities and a couple of bathrooms and even its smallest combi, the 36kW, is too large for the average semi.'

So now the company has two strong brands: Mikrofill and Ethos.
His thinking at the moment is for the Mikrofill name to be used overall - The Mikrofill Group of Companies - as well as the generic name for the pressurisation unit, while the Ethos name will be used for the boiler products.

But the boiler division is now 50% of the turnover. Both divisions are self-sufficient. However, the boiler division has received a recent boost from a change in the guidelines of the NHBC (National House Builders Council). Previously, it recommended that only houses with one bathroom should have a combi boiler.Now it says houses with more than one bathroom may use bigger combi-boilers if the boiler is designed to suit. The company is, therefore, becoming a specialist boiler manufacturer.

'Larger properties benefit from using combi boilers because they condense extremely effectively when generating hot water and this represents a considerable saving over traditional storage.'
But: 'we have to be realistic. We cannot compete with the large multi-national companies. We are selling a quality product into a niche market.'

Any move into the mass domestic market would mean manufacturing high volume, cost-engineered products and Cherrington admits it could not be done with his set up - nor does he want to.
'That is not our ethos!'
So innovation is the watch-word. The company has a full research and development department and there are four new products going through the R&D process But, no, Cherrington was not going to reveal all.

What he did say was that one of the innovations was a domestic version of the Mikrofill which was already being engineered for production. And, he adds, this is a product which has tremendous potential in the domestic market.

'In the commercial applications market there is usually someone who checks the system and the pressure.'
In the domestic scene, combination boilers in sealed systems rely on the householder checking the pressure gauge and topping up usually with a proprietary filling loop.

'The problems arise when older or infirm people are expected to check systems or where there is also the possibility of vandalism - especially in local authority properties - with, perhaps. a flood resulting in, for instance, a high-rise block which could effect many properties.

'What we have aimed for is a device which will top up the system automatically when the pressure drops,' he insists.
In line with its innovation, Mikrofill has launched its new website.
This, he hopes, will become more of a virtual salesman for the company.

And while there may be separate sales divisions in the future, Cherrington does not see unnecessary milageage by salesmen. It is both financially and environmentally unacceptable.
'The last thing I want is salesmen waving at each other as they pass on the motorway. It is not cost-effective for the company and it would substantially increase the carbon footprint.'

And being a small company means that it can grow its own people. For instance, Cherrington adds that people who work in the factory who have the inclination to be trained in sales can do just that.
So will we see the sort of changes which have taken place in the last four years in the next four? Somehow the Cherrington smile said it all.
1 November 2007

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