14 February 2011

Landmark year for leading hose clip manufacturer

L Robinson & Co (Gillingham) Ltd – manufacturer of the world-famous worm-drive hose Jubilee® Clip is celebrating its 90th anniversary.Ninety years ago in post World War 1 Britain, when the first car tax discs were introduced, when Winston Churchill was appointed Colonial Secretary (years before he became Prime Minister), and when Shackleton set sail on his last expedition to Antarctica  – retired Naval Officer, Commander Lumley Robinson had an idea.

His idea, and subsequent design, for a hard-wearing, reliable and secure worm-drive hose clip was brilliantly simple.  So brilliant in-fact that, ninety years down the line his brainchild, the world-famous Jubilee Clip, continues to go from strength to strength.

Jubilee®Clip, a registered trademark of L Robinson & Co (Gillingham) Ltd is a ubiquitous product – because you can quite literally find it everywhere you look.  In virtually every manufacturing sector or industry (i.e. automotive, marine, agriculture, heating & ventilation etc…), you can and will find Jubilee®Clips (in their different sizes and different configurations) being used to provide temporary or semi-permanent connections for all types of hosing, tubing and ducting.  Using only premium grade materials, innovative design and advanced manufacturing technologies, Jubilee®Clips are recognised worldwide as market-leading products, and have a reputation (that is second to none) for their quality, reliability, high- performance and cost competitiveness.

In this article we take a closer look at Jubilee Clip manufacturer – L Robinson & Co (Gillingham) Ltd – and catch up with new managing director Ian Jennings (great grandson of Commander Lumley Robinson), to get his view on where the Company is going and what the future holds in store for the Great British institution that is – the Jubilee Clip.

Heritage and pedigree are important issues to Jubilee Clip manufacturer – L Robinson & Co (Gillingham) Ltd. but, as Ian Jennings, the Company’s new managing director points out ‘we’re proud of our history…but our sights are firmly set on the future.’  Having said that, the family-owned business which today is unrecognisable in many respects from the fledgling company first established by Commander Lumley some ninety years ago is run on the same, sound business principles that served it so well in the past.
Guiding principles

Every successful business has at its core a number of guiding principles that permeate through the organisation – shaping everything it does. L Robinson & Co is no different.  An unswerving commitment to product quality and a customer-focused business approach built on integrity, trust and creating brand loyalty are as relevant today and in the future as they were in 1921.

Adherence to these principles means that L Robinson & Co constantly reviews its entire operation (manufacturing, quality control, sales and after-sales etc), and in recent years and months the company has:

–          Relocated to its current, more spacious 40,000-sq ft facility in Gillingham

–          Developed and strengthened its distributor and agency networks in Europe, and the rest of the world

–          Introduced new product lines

–          Invested in new manufacturing equipment, and streamlined and further automated its production capabilities.

The watchword is ‘Quality’

Every year L Robinson & Co manufactures ‘tens of millions’ of its products which, via its distributor networks, ultimately find their way to all corners of the world.

There are currently over 580 different product ‘types’ manufactured by the company at its Gillingham facility, and all carry the company’s ‘quality’ kite-mark.  Says Ian Jennings:  ‘We also live or die by the quality and reliability of our products. We were instrumental in creating the first Quality Standard for worm-drive hose clips in the 1960’s (BS 3628), and were one of the first manufacturers to be accredited to the BS 5750 Standard in 1987.’

This commitment to quality is further evidenced by the company’s current EN BS ISO 9001: 2000 certification, and MoD quality accreditation.


But to maintain (and protect) a strong, leading position in established markets, and to help facilitate penetration and growth in new and emerging markets, requires much more than quality certificates on walls and quality logos on letterheads.

Continues Ian Jennings:  ‘Quality is, and has always been, a key differentiator for us.  ‘During the 1950’s and 1960’s the hose clip market was flooded by cheaper and, in some instances, ‘copy’ products.  ‘The Jubilee Clip name became a generic term for hose clips, and despite making ‘Jubilee Clip’  a registered trademark –  the size and complexity of the hose clip market made (and still continues to make) trademark protection and policing a difficult, if not impossible, nut to crack.’

This is a critical issue for L Robinson & Co, and explains why much of the company’s marketing and promotional activities focus on Jubilee Clip’s USP’s (i.e quality grade raw materials, quality manufacturing methods and quality control, and quality service – all resulting in quality performance).

As Ian Jennings acknowledges:  ‘Customer understanding and education about why Jubilee Clips are premium products continue to be a big issue for us.  ‘There are a number of factors that influence a customer’s hose clip selection and purchase (i.e. price, availability, performance etc.), and that’s why we need to keep on hammering the message home that a hose clip that doesn’t carry the registered Jubilee trademark – simply isn’t a Jubilee Clip and won’t perform like a Jubilee Clip either.’

Hose clip performance (or lack of it) is an issue that L Robinson & Co comes across frequently.  Says Ian Jennings:  ‘Only the other day we were in touch with a motorist in the UK whose engine had effectively ‘blown-up’ due to the failure of a cheaper hose clip and this is by no means an isolated example.’

Market presence and penetration

The hose clip market is mature, and L Robinson & Co is constantly looking at new ways to increase its market share, especially in Europe.  Says Ian Jennings: ‘Not surprisingly we are a leading player in the UK market which accounts for about 50% of our sales turnover year-on-year.  Whilst the domestic market is clearly important to us – the opportunities for growth lie in our export business.’  L Robinson & Co has become far more active in Europe (an area that the company sees as its ‘home’ market), in recent years, and has developed a strong market presence in Germany, Holland and Poland.

Continues Ian Jennings:  ‘From our base in Kent I can get to our German offices and warehouse (first established in 1988) much faster than I can get to many parts of the UK – so travel and logistics aren’t a problem.  Jubilee Clips Deutschland GmbH provides us with a strategic hub to meet demand in Europe and tap into a market some 60% larger (by population) than the US.’

The key to exploiting the potential in European countries requires proactive, well-connected and ‘market-savvy’ distributors that embrace the Jubilee Clip ‘quality’ mantra.  And the company has spent significant resources in ensuring that such distributors are now in place in most EU Countries as well as further afield (i.e. The Middle East, The Far East, and the rest of Europe etc.).  But, says Ian Jennings: ‘We’re always on the look-out to recruit more’.

On the front foot

The company’s recent attendance at the 2011 Fastener Fair Exhibition in Stuttgart (22 – 24 February 2011), as well as being used to raise the company’s profile at an international show, also provided the opportunity for key staff from L Robinson & Co (Ian Jennings, Chris Bunting (sales manager), and Ingro Ingrillini (Jubilee Clips Deutschland GmbH), to meet existing distributors, and to talk to potential new ones.Says sales manager Chris Bunting:  ‘The exhibition provided us with an ideal platform to promote a range of our products to what in effect is a global audience, and we were delighted at the number exhibition attendees visited our Stand over the 3 days.’

Illustrious history – bright future

It was Napoleon that said ‘an army that stays within its fortifications is doomed’.  The analogy is apt for L Robinson & Co.  Rather than resting on its laurels and basking in historical glory, the company has grasped the opportunity for growth with both hands, and is running with it.  Armed with new products, the latest and most advanced manufacturing capabilities, staff that are committed to the cause – and of course a brand that exudes quality, reliability, value and performance, confidence concerning the future growth and prosperity of the company is high.

So will L Robinson & Co be around for another 90 years?  You certainly wouldn’t want to bet against it!