Truncator: How To Pull Up Trees Big Time
GILES BROWN of In-Cumbria went to meet Richard Bowness and Steve Tonkin to find out how the company has thrived despite being rejected on Dragon’s Den.
Kindly reproduced with permission In-Cumbria Magazine
Lake District business Truncator was the Innovation of the Year winner at the CN Business Awards, which are sponsored by Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
Picture courtesy of CN GroupRichard Bowness had almost given up on the idea of work when he got an “itch in his brain” that would see him launch a new business venture in his sixties. But little did he know that a gadget he used to ease his aching back while chopping logs would plunge him back into business and even see him gain a few minutes of notoriety on national TV.
Mr Bowness, 63, had been retired for six years when he had the idea of using a piece of metal to hold the logs in place so he could cut multiple pieces of wood with one stroke of his chainsaw.
“I had a bad back and I couldn’t bend down to pick up any logs,” he said. “I used to have to kneel in the dirt and pick them up and to get around that I made a sawhorse that would hold the lots in place so they didn’t fall on the ground. It started an itch in my brain.”
He further developed the idea by leaving gaps between the containers holding the logs so the wood could be cut to different lengths and also adding a hinge so they could easily be tipped into a wheelbarrow.
“I knew I had a patentable idea and a unique idea, you just go ‘that’s it’, it is like taking the perfect photography, I just knew,” he said.
So enthused was Mr Bowness that he went back to work to start the business Truncator, which now sells the sawhorse design to customers all over the world.
The design has been refined so the containers are made from recycled car battery plastic rather than metal – which decreases its weight, wear on the chainsaw blades and price. However, the concept is exactly the same as the one Mr Bowness came up with while working at his home near Elterwater three years ago.
Mr Bowness says the Truncator enables people to cut up to 60 logs in 60 seconds, allowing them to chop wood three to four times faster than normal. It has the knock on effects of saving time, fuel and wear on the chainsaw. At the same time it saves people the effort of constantly bending their back, as well as holding the logs securely in place so they cannot move while being cut, which has been a long-time safety risk for chainsaw users.
“I knew I had a patentable idea and a unique idea, you just go ‘that’s it’, it is like taking the perfect photography, I just knew”.
However, turning the concept into a viable business has not been without its challenges – especially for someone who was considering how to spend their well-earned retirement.
Mr Bowness, who had previously owned and manged as successful building firm, had to get his head around new challenges of manufacturing, retail and marketing.
“This was such a good idea and I made the foolish mistake of thinking it would be simple, because building was simple to me,” he said. “In manufacture and retail you have a complete different set of financial parameters and I didn’t realise about marketing.”
An extra set of skills came in the form of Steve Tonkin, who initially came to work with the company as a web designer but took on the role of manager two years ago.
“First of all we made sure the website was multilingual,” said Mr Tonkin, 48, from Ulverston. “We started hitting all the trade magazines and farming magazines and getting to the agricultural shows was really important. We have also started giving them to some of the training companies so that people who are learning to use a chainsaw see them before they have even begun using them.”
The pair also made a fruitless – and somewhat fractious – appearance on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den.
A combination of investment, hard work and patience has seen sales increase and people are now using Truncator in Poland, Norway, the Czech Republic, Australia, and the USA.
“We sell about 70 per cent to end users and 30 per cent to trade customers, we have got quite a big dealer network in the north of the country and we are slowly starting to get people down in the south,” said Mr Tonkin. “People have started recognising our brand, people are buying it and recommending it to their friends, we are putting more advertising out and more dealers are getting interested. We have sold 160 so far this calendar year alone.”
“It is the hardest thing I have done really,” said Mr Bowness. “We are starting from scratch here in Little Langdale and exporting all over the world, but I know it will be a success, I am not the type of person to give up.”
Growth Hub adviser and UKTI join forces to help Truncator export
Expert advice from a Cumbria Business Growth Hub adviser has helped Truncator to expand its business, especially when it comes to exporting abroad.
Frank Roe, a business adviser with Cumbria Business Growth Hub, already knew Truncator boss Steve Tonkin through business networking events in the county.
Frank said: “When I first contacted Steve, he and Richard Bowness (the inventor) were developing contacts in Europe. As Steve and I already knew each other from business networking, our initial conversation was very constructive for Steve.
I put them in touch with Ian Readman of UKTI who enabled one of his staff, Sarah Thornber, to meet with Steve, Richard and I for exporting advice. It was very clear that Truncator’s BBC Dragon’s Den appearance was creating rising interest not only in Europe but further afield. They were starting to get interest from USA and Australia. Truncator followed up by taking part in one of UKTI’s training programmes and accepted support for specific countries’ requirements.
This included having a nominated UKTI Adviser. I did some further internal costs and pricing support work plus an exporting insurance review with Truncator. On the strength of what we discussed and the advice they were given they adapted their business model for exporting to Australia and New Zealand.”
Frank says the support which helped Truncator with its export markets is on offer to broad range of Cumbrian businesses through the Cumbrian Business Growth Hub. Frank, who is based in Kendal, is helping other businesses he’s working with to export to Bahrain and Hong Kong.
Note: Since this article was first written, UKTI has been replaced by DIT.
Get in Touch
If you are looking for further advice on exporting, please contact Cumbria Business Growth Hub:
Tel: 0844 257 8450