in Vol. 10 - November Issue - Year 2009
Michael Riley, Managing Director of the UK-Based Surface Finishing Machinery Suppliers, Riley Surface World, Gives an Exclusive Interview to Metal Finishing News
Michael Riley, Managing Director of Riley Surface World
Riley paint shop
Riley Surface World HQ, Aldridge, UK
The oven and furnaces bay at Riley Surface World
Michael Riley represents the third generation of a family that is a fixture of the surface finishing industry in Birmingham, traditionally the industrial heartland of the UK.
Riley Surface World’s origins go back as far as the 1940s, when Michael’s grandfather founded a general industrial machinery merchants known as Lambert Smith & Co. This company was to forge a profitable association with Ackles and Pollock, at that time one of the largest electro-plating companies in the world, buying their redundant machinery and reselling it to similar firms elsewhere in the city. This allowed the Riley family business to develop its important speciality in the coating and finishing sectors.
In 1966, Michael’s father picked up the baton by starting Barry Riley & Sons. The company began life in a small unit under the archways near Snow Hill railway station in central Birmingham, later re-locating to the Taylor & Challon industrial complex close to Birmingham’s world-famous jewellery quarter in Hockley.
During the great nickel shortage of the late 1960s, the enterprising Barry Riley developed a lucrative service collecting nickel that had been stockpiled by the well known Pianoforte company and delivering it by van to the many small independent electro-plating companies that were around at that time. This provided the working capital for the company to start acquiring a broader range of plating and finishing machinery, which it began to trade all over the UK.
Riley Industries, which became the company’s trading subsidiary, enjoyed successful growth throughout the 1970s and 80s, eventually re-locating to Perry Barr, next to Aston Villa football stadium and the 60s monstrosity of "Spaghetti Junction", the hub of the UK motorway network. Michael Riley joined the company after attending engineering college in the early 1980s, taking over as managing director in the mid 1990s.
Riley Industries has always been a stalwart of the UK finishing sector. It is an active member of such eminent trade associations as the Surface Engineering Association, the Metal Finishing Association and the European Association of Machine Tool Merchants, where Michael Riley is currently UK Chairman. All of these associations demand an unimpeachable adherence to ethical trading, which the company warmly embraces.
After many decades of successful growth and constant change, the company has now been re-branded as Riley Surface World to reflect its larger product portfolio and global reach. To mark the change of identity it has moved to a large, 5000 square metres facility at Aldridge on the outskirts of Birmingham, complete with a modern showroom, workshops, loading bays, mobile cranes and back-office technical support staff.
Now we take up the story with Michael:
(?) MFN: What are the chief characteristics that have enabled Riley Surface World to survive for so long in such a challenging business environment?
(!) M. R.: We need to go back to the early 1980s to illustrate this point. Prior to this date we had been heavily dependent on the large plating and finishing sub-contractors that, in turn, relied heavily on bulk, repetitive manufacturing. Literally things like nuts, bolts, locks and widgets.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power, her government made a conscious decision to let many of the UK’s most uncompetitive companies go to the wall. This decimated large sections of British industry in Birmingham and elsewhere, including most of our home-grown automotive sector. The production migrated to other parts of the world and the plating went with it.
On the positive side, over time the UK began to attract more high-end manufacturing and assembly plants, all of which came with different requirements in terms of surface preparation and finishing.
Because our company has always been, essentially, a small family business, we had the flexibility to adapt to those changes and diversify into non-electrolytic equipment across all of the surface finishing disciplines. This includes things such as vibratory finishing, ultrasonic cleaning, blasting, peening, heat treatments and dust control.
In the fullness of time, we acquired a reputation as a source of used machinery for any kind of process that belonged in the finishing sector, giving us our USP and means of survival.
(?) MFN: What are the main changes in the UK surface finishing industry over the last decade, and how have they impacted upon your business?
(!) M. R.: After two decades of healthy growth in the 1980s and 90s, we began to experience a decline at the turn of the 21st century. This was not exclusive to our business, but typical of the markets we were operating in and could only be solved by making dramatic changes.
China, India and other emerging industrial powerhouses began to force further structural changes on to UK manufacturers and their finishing suppliers. Globalisation became a key factor for both us and our customers.
Volume component production is being moved around the world in ever decreasing cycles, with these movements having both positive and negative effects on the UK economy. Today’s home electronics plant in South Wales becomes tomorrow’s in the Czech Republic and the day after in South East Asia. In order to keep pace with these changes, we have had to globalise our business and engage fully with the needs of specialist product finishing suppliers throughout the world.
In many respects, the finishing industry operates at a micro level. We are seeing enquiries from hundreds of small-scale, home-based businesses, right up to large corporations, but all on a very personal level. All of them are seeking low cost, high value alternatives to the purchase of brand new plant & machinery. So, with our vast used machinery stocks in-house and our worldwide contacts within the industry, we are able to fulfil a very large percentage of the enquiries that we receive.
This process of globalisation and adaptation has enabled us to expand and move forward during such volatile times.
(?) MFN: Can you explain your internet strategy and how that has changed the business?
(!) M. R.: The last 5 years have seen us transform from a traditional machinery merchant selling directly from our warehouse into a totally internet-driven business.
Our website synchronises with our accounting and stock control systems so that as soon as a machine is taken into stock, it appears immediately on the site. The reverse, of course, happens when it is sold, with all administrative functions taken care of along the way. This allows us to concentrate on the key areas of marketing, sales and technical support.
The site is updated constantly with photos, descriptions and detailed technical data on all machines. Potential customers or just browsers, of which there are many, are able to register as Riley Surface World members. This allows them access to emotive price information and the ability to generate automatic quotations, stock lists, data sheets and even the option to place bids for selected items, as in an auction.
Those with potential future requirements can subscribe to our "machine alert" service, which automatically informs them by email when an item of particular interest to them comes into stock.
We are constantly expanding our product portfolio. So our website now includes details of many NEW machines across most of the surface finishing disciplines. With so much new equipment now being produced in low-cost countries, it is becoming competitive with used products, without compromising on quality. It also means that we always have a choice for the customer between purchasing new or used.
In recent years, we have also diversified into services such as plant de-commissioning, re-location and re-commissioning. With ever increasing environmental legislation covering these areas, across national borders, there is an increased need for such services. We have the in-house expertise to provide for this need.
At Riley Surface World, we regard ourselves as a "portal" for the worldwide surface finishing industry. An on-line "one-stop-shop" where companies and individuals can find the equipment to suit their finishing requirements, whether it is new, used or refurbished in our own workshops. That includes anything from a mechanical polishing lathe to a complete process production line.
(?) MFN: Where do you expect your company to be in 10 years from now?
(!) M. R.: I believe that we are on the first rung of the ladder in our globalisation process. We have a well-trusted brand name, a long history in the surface finishing industry, excellent relationships with most machinery manufacturers and valuable assets in terms of our premises, stock and experienced staff. Now, in addition, we have the technology to engage fully with the global surface finishing community.
We have made the transition from being a modestly successful trading company with a specialist niche into, potentially, a very successful marketing vehicle. Outside of the USA, there is no other company in the world that can match what we can offer to this market.
As long as we continue to raise the bar and do what we know best, Riley Surface World will be a force to be reckoned with into the foreseeable future.
MFN would like to thank Mike Riley for the interview!
For Information: Riley Surface World
Middlemore Lane West, Aldridge,
West Midlands, WS9 8BG, UK