An Interview with Melanie Bennett, Managing Director of Viking Industrial Products Ltd.

Based in Keighley, Viking Industrial Products Ltd is a family-run business specialising in the distribution of industrial tapes, adhesives, abrasives and packaging products to clients across a wide range of industries. The globally renowned company is headed by Melanie Bennett, who has been in the business from its inception 32 years ago. Having graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business programme, Melanie has continued to provide the team with her unparalleled knowledge and expertise. She has worked hard to uphold company values and keep the business focused on growth despite the challenges of the past year. We spoke with Melanie to find out more. 

How do you decide what brands and products you stock?

We predominantly look for brand leaders who are best in class. When we set the business up in 1989, we earned a 3M Preferred Distributor status. It is an enviable position to be in given there are only 10 within the UK. We had identified that there was a lack of 3M coverage in the Yorkshire area especially bearing in mind the internet was in its infancy so local coverage for business was important – there was no Googling a product or supplier back then. Because of the 3M feather in our cap other brand leaders approached us to distribute on their behalf. We are proud to have a long relationship with all the manufacturers that we represent and even three decades on they are still important players in the market. More recently, we have added imported products into our portfolio which gives us a second, more cost effective offering to our customers. We value our suppliers as much as our customers – one would not exist without the other.

Who are your typical customers?

That’s an interesting question as the answer is we don’t have one but if I was to sum it up it would be anyone who needs to make, wrap, stick, abrade, protect, and pack an item. Due to our website we reach not only business customers but also consumers. We recognise that not all customers require a large quantity of product so we have no minimum order quantities. Whether you use 100 rolls or one roll, we can facilitate your requirement and latterly have added more retail-orientated products into the mix. We recognise our customers may want to purchase via different platforms such as eBay or Amazon so we have stores on both – it’s all about the customer experience and we are driven by and adapt to what they require.

Are you noticing any new trends or shifts in consumer demands?

Yes, I think the consumer requires flexibility, convenience, and speed in this current climate. I can plot from our online sales that given COVID-19, consumers have relied on and got used to ordering online. They expect the service that the large players like Amazon provide and that can be challenging when you do not have their deep pockets. We have worked hard on CX (customer experience) with regard to our website and stripped back the journey from landing on the site to purchase. Our products can be technical and it can be daunting when faced with all the choices; our website constantly evolves to make it as clear as possible and we have a free technical helpline. Unlike a lot of websites, our phone number is on every page. We welcome talking to our customers and as they say ‘it’s good to talk’.

To what extent do the demands vary from sector to sector?

Demands can be very varied depending on sector. For instance, the aerospace sector demands certificates of conformity as part of their ordering process. Many sectors, such as construction, require specific lead times in line with their schedules and manpower. If they have deadlines to meet or a workforce delayed due to a late delivery, they can incur penalties. Most sectors now require product safety data sheets and due to the change in rules regarding exports, more often than not commodity codes to allow for custom requirements. Fortunately, we are agile enough to adapt to their needs and build them into our systems.

How do you determine whether tapes, adhesives or abrasives are most suitable for a particular job?

This is all about the blueprinting process which essentially means asking the right questions at the point of enquiry. An easy way to remember the pertinent questions is by using the SEAL acronym:

S = Substrates (what two surfaces need to be bonded or protected)

E = Environment (what is the environment where the bonding will take place and what environment will the final product be in, for example is it hot, cold, wet, etc.)

A = Application (what is the product used for or doing)

L = Load (is there weight or stress on the bond and if so is it above head height)

S = Spend (what is the budget)

We are fortunate to have three dedicated technical people within the business so guiding our customers to the right product is something we excel at. We offer a free technical helpline and can then guide them to the product on our website should they want to order. It makes for a seamless process.

Our judges were impressed to learn about your new machinery. How will this transform the way in which Viking Industrial Products operates?

Our new slitting machine has enabled us to increase productivity and being a newer machine it is faster. Basically we take master log rolls, often over one metre in width, and cut them down into different widths. This enables us to offer flexibility to our customers, offer non-manufactured widths, give a better lead time, and reduce holding unnecessary stock on the shelves. We also take on contract slitting and slit for a number of other tape companies. It enabled us to open up a job opportunity. It felt really positive to be generating employment given the current climate.

Are there any other changes on the horizon?

We have completed stage one of obtaining our AS9120 Aerospace standard which will enable us to become a first tear supplier to the aerospace industry. The standard will incorporate our existing ISO19001 standard and open up more technical opportunities to us. We are currently investigating replacing our diesel vans with either a hybrid or fully electric vehicle which fits with our environmental standard. We are embarking on a customer retention programme and evaluating how we keep in touch with our customers and what content is relevant to them. As part of the process we are actually sending out physical catalogues which feels quite retro considering most things are virtual these days. We still feel there is a place for a physical catalogue that you can keep, pick up and refer to when needed. So far the reaction to the programme has been really positive.

Can you tell us more about your upcoming retail range?

When we started investigating different routes to market, including Amazon and eBay, we realised that our consumer business was growing because of our website. This was propelled during lockdown so much so that we made single items available where customers did not require a box or couldn’t fulfil a larger minimum order. We paid attention to the aesthetics of the products and purchased a shrink wrapper which presented the single product well and protected it during transit. We have a healthy retail range sold via our website, eBay and Amazon which means our customers have a range of options in the way they purchase from us.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Yes, we would be nothing without our team and this award is testament to the team effort that goes in to servicing our customers and enhances our relationship with our partner suppliers. I dedicate this award to the Viking team as without them there would be no Viking.

Viking Industrial Products Ltd. has been awarded Industrial Product Specialists of the Year by Yorkshire Prestige Awards 2021. The judges were impressed by the extensive range of products as well as the exceptional customer service which ensures all clients get the product that best suits their individual needs. For more information, please visit www.vikingtapes.co.uk.

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Prestige Awards