For 40 years, Straightpoint has followed the motto of making the heavy lifting industry a safer place with its wireless and cabled load cells for monitoring and preventing equipment overload. In this Five Minute interview, David Ayling, managing director/CEO of Straightpoint, shares the history of the company, areas of growth, and future plans for the load monitoring equipment manufacturer.
Tell me a little bit about the history of Straightpoint. How did the company get its start, and when did you join?
The company was started in 1977 by an Oxford University engineering graduate, and he ran the business until 2000 when he decided to retire. I acquired the business in 2000.
I had another company at the time, which was basically servicing load cells. Straightpoint was a good fit for me when it became available. We were able to grow Straightpoint to the point where I ended up selling the other company to a couple guys who worked for me. I’ve focused all my energies on Straightpoint ever since.
What does Straightpoint manufacture?
We manufacture load cells specifically for lifting, rigging, pushing, and pulling. These are big industrial load cells like the Radiolink & Loadshackle dynamometers, or our range of compression load cells, wire tope tension meters, and associated software.
Straightpoint was the first company to provide electronic load cells for the lifting industry. A couple of our competitors’ products were original manufactured by Straightpoint. They’ve since designed their own, and we’ve tweaked our design over the years, but the actual load cell design hasn’t changed a huge amount. The progression has been with the electronics. Early models had cables and were very restrictive in what they could do. Now they are wireless or Bluetooth-enabled, and you can data log with laptops and iPads. That’s really where the changes have been.
How has the lifting industry changed since Straightpoint’s first electronic force measurement device was introduced?
It’s very different when comparing different regions of the world. Europe, for instance, has more legislation around lifting. You have to use a load cell before or during a lift. In other areas of the world, and even in the USA, it is a much freer economy or market with fewer regulations, but it is changing. More and more, we are seeing people use load cells. We are pushing safety all the time. How can you lift a load or order the crane, slings, or shackles if you don’t know how much the load weighs?
What is business like for Straightpoint?
We are experiencing a record year so far in Q1 and Q2, and we’re pretty much going to have a record Q3. Our business model is we sell standard products through distribution and custom projects directly. We’ve built it up by spending a couple years training, motivating, and inspiring those partners. The time we’ve put into distribution in the last few years is really paying off.
What industries do your distributors target?
They are selling into entertainment, marine, construction, ports, transportation, oil and gas, nuclear, military – you name it. We have a good mixture of distribution, and we don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket. Sadly, there are distributors that work in oil and gas and are struggling at the moment.
If your distributor is selling in oil and gas but struggling, how does Straightpoint help to inspire that company and help them with their business?
One company in the U.S. that we deal with heavily relies on oil and gas, and we’ve done some work with them to show them different products they’ve never bought before for different applications like steel fabrication or other industries in the region. In Houston, there is other work besides in oil and gas. It is a case of raising their attention. If an industry is down, you need to come up with new ideas, work a little bit smarter, and find new business.
How has the company grown in the last 40 years?
The original owner took it from zero to one of the No. 1 number one products in the marketplace, so he did a fantastic job. Since I’ve been involved, we’ve moved from a small rented facility to purchasing a larger industrial property and added the two buildings next door. It’s been amazing to have our own facility. We’re following a vertical manufacturing model, doing nearly everything in-house from the machining, metal work, engraving, and etching.
We struggled to gain momentum as quickly as we would have liked in the U.S. We knew we needed roll the dice and start Straightpoint Inc. We opened a facility in Camarillo, Calif., which has really worked well. It has a large inventory and fields all the sales and technical calls. It has all the capabilities of Straightpoint in the U.K. except manufacturing.
What is your vision for future growth at Straightpoint?
We formed a strategic council, which includes the top guys at Straightpoint, and we have a five-year strategic plan with a number at the end of it. Included in that number is an increase in distribution and sales, big additions to the workforce, and a number of new products in development.
Can you drop a hint about your product development?
It will be bigger stuff. A few years ago, a 100-ton load cell was a big load cell. Now we’re up to 1,000-ton load cells. In a couple years’ time, we’re likely to be asked for 3,000- to 4,000-ton load cells.
What about this industry keeps you awake at night?
All the usual stuff as a business man: cashflow; oil prices; and all the political stuff going on with Korea and Brexit. If you speak to anyone who owns a business, that would be the case. I’m a pretty positive person, so I don’t really fret about competitors. We do what we do, and we do it well.
What do you wish other people knew about Straightpoint?
Once people start dealing with us, they find that we are easy to do business with, and they don’t need to shop around every time. We keep things simple, clear, and concise. We have a great culture and a great team.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I love motorcycles, watching football (soccer) and have season tickets to my local team, Portsmouth, spending time with my wife and kids, and I love soul music.