Engineering business moves into sales

JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 09:44 25/08/2014
Progressive Group
MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
EXPORT PLANS: Progressive Group owners Angela and Rodney Sharp with a multipurpose leveller, their latest innovation.

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Simplicity is the key to good engineering, but nothing is simple when you've got to market your own products.

Progressive Group is an engineering company that has been operating in Hamilton since 1992, mostly doing design and manufacturing for other companies.

In the last year, owners Rodney and Angela Sharp have decided its time to start doing things for themselves.

Angela Sharp says working solely on contracts isn't always a consistent form of income and companies can "turn you on and off like a tap".

This means a shift in the way Progressive does business.

"We've always flown under the radar. We haven't had to advertise much, work has always come to us," says Sharp.

Now the company is making a push into the marketing arena and has taken on a sales person, a big step for a nine-employee business.

"We want to export. We have exported a few odds and ends, but nothing in any great quantity."

Progressive's stock in trade is high-end equipment, particularly in the hydraulics field.

Its customers include Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian, Contact and Carter Holt Harvey.

The company designs and manufactures everything from massive hydraulic systems in power stations and pulp mills, to pile drivers and Bobcat extensions, and even simple solutions for farming problems.

In the early days, it even did work on superyachts.

"We're not big, but we've got lots of interesting projects," says Rodney Sharp. "We get to see a lot of ways people approach problems," says Sharp.

That gives him an opportunity to apply problem-solving methods across different industries.

"People put no value on design," he says.

But Sharp thinks design is the most important thing in the trade, so he employs three design engineers in his small business.

"And that gives us an edge over most of the other guys around.

"We focus on simple, technically elegant design. That's our philosophy," he says.

"And it takes a lot more to design simplicity than it does to design complexity."

That doesn't mean Progressive shies away from high-tech jobs.

Some of the steamfield work it did for Contact involved cutting-edge technology.

Sharp believes in looking to the cause of a problem for its solution, rather than treating the symptoms.

This usually leads to a simpler, and often cheaper, solution.

An example of this philosophy was designing a gravity-powered failsafe system for water in a power station.

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That meant it didn't rely on modern technology and electricity, and would still work in a blackout.

"It's root cause analysis, and we do a lot of it," says Sharp.

He started off working as a diesel mechanic, and says his practical skills got him interested in good design when he moved into a sales role.

"I was pretty hopeless as sales, but good design sells you."

Sharp says it takes longer to impart the philosophy on university-trained designers, and the best designers are ones who have worked in the field.

"You soon learn what's a good design and what's not a good design," he says. "You can't beat hands-on experience."

It's not all about drawing pretty pictures in 3D design programmes, he says.

"You could train a monkey to do that if you wanted to."

The company's big focus at the moment is pushing its ground-levelling machine.

Sharp had it designed this year for a customer who wanted to level a sports field without crushing the underground drainage.

"Another guy saw it and said ‘ooh, can I have one?"'

He says the machines give a much greater degree of accuracy than the competition, and can be used for landscaping, roading, horse arenas or just about anything else.

Progressive has made 10 levellers in the last six months, and sold them all within New Zealand.

And Sharp says there has been some inquiry from across the ditch.

"We're going to start getting a few over to Aussie very soon."

- Waikato Times

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