Penn Elcom is a leading manufacturer of quality flight case, speaker cabinet hardware and 19 inch racking solutions. It is also one of the largest distributers of LED lighting products, cable, connectors and audio leads, and offers complete solutions to electrical, pro AV, and lighting installations around the world.
What are the origins of Penn Elcom?
Penn was founded in 1974 as Penn Fabrication, a small metal fabrication company based in the village of Penn, in Buckinghamshire, England. The company was started by our now chairman, Roger Willems – who was the only employee.
Originally, Penn specialised in manufacturing handles and latches for flight cases, which were delivered to Bulldog Cases, London. In 2003, Penn merged with Elcom, a US flight case trading company and Penn’s primary competitor. The merger resulted in the formation of the largest flight case hardware manufacturer in the world; Penn Elcom.
It was also in 2003 that Penn Elcom’s new manufacturing facility in Hastings opened, specialising in the production of 19 inch racking and accessories.
How big is the company?
Penn started out as a small enterprise pioneered by one person, whose first major investment was in a small power press that cost £150. From its humble beginnings, Penn has grown steadily, opening a new office or depot, on average, every 1.8 years from 1986 to 2018.
Our company was built in Britain, and we are still proud of our heritage and UK manufacturing history. However, we’re now very much a global company, with depots and offices in Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australia. It’s this global network that gives us the advantage of large stock holdings, short lead times, and a personalised service, no matter where our customers are in the world.
From the hard work and drive of one person, we now have a staff of over 750, and have a fantastic global community of employees. Our £150 power press is now painted up as a mascot in our Washington facility, reminding us of where the company began.
As well as expanding geographically, we have increased our range over the years by absorbing other companies such as Pro Audio Stash and CLD Distribution. This expansion resulted in the diverse range of products we’re able to make and sell. It also gave Pro Audio Stash and CLD Distribution access to our global stock holding and distribution network. We were able to integrate all their warehousing websites with our product ranges to create a new e-shop for all products – Penn Elcom Online.
What is the company’s ethos?
At Penn Elcom, we are what we make. Our staff are passionate about our products, and the knowledge-base we possess for our range is truly unparalleled. Within the company, we’re lucky enough to have experts in LED lighting, 19 inch racking, flight case hardware, and more. Many of our staff members have dedicated their career to these specialist industries – resulting in high-quality products, designed by people who know their industry inside out. We always will, as we always have, continue to strive for innovation and excellence.
We have bucked the trend in UK manufacturing by doubling the number of staff we employ over the past 15 years. We pride ourselves on being fair employers, by offering reasonable salaries and by treating our staff with respect. The more you give to your employees, the more you get in return.
What are Penn Elcom’s biggest achievements?
As any older, more established company will know, the process of selling online is completely different to more traditional methods. However, in order to remain current and competitive, an e-shop for any business is an essential evolution. The creation of Penn Elcom Online has given us new ways to reach our customers, and has given our customers an easy and user-friendly way to shop with us. By including additional products that weren’t previously available from Penn Elcom, a wider range than ever before is available to our worldwide customers.
We were opening our global subsidiaries long before globalisation was the buzz. Penn Elcom was one of the rare companies to open shop in the US, which was affectionately known as the graveyard of European business. However, as our positive reputation continues to grow, we are increasingly recognised as a UK manufacturer who is taking on the US competition. The success of this trans-Atlantic venture gives us an immense sense of pride.
One of our more recent achievements was our expansion to China in 2005, beginning with the purchase of a 130,000 sqft factory in Dongguan, China. Setting up this factory was the largest (and riskiest) overseas investment in our company’s history. Though challenging, our Chinese expansion has been insightful and rewarding. We’re excited to see where it takes us as the enterprise continues to develop and grow.
Today we are laying the foundations for an Indian branch to our business, and are getting a depot in Mumbai up and running. We’re encountering some of the same obstacles as we did in China, but we love the challenge.
Every time we open a depot or factory abroad, it always feels like we’ve planted a little bit of England overseas. Seeing Penn Elcom become a recognised brand around the world is a great achievement.
What are the most important lessons that Penn Elcom has learned in the course of its history?
You learn very little when you’re doing well. A lot of our lessons have been learned from mistakes we’ve made, and they’re the kind you never want to repeat. We have three main lessons that we stick to.
First and foremost, we’ve learned over the years to always listen to our customers. We design our products with professionals in mind, but there are times when things may be over looked, for example an additional feature that offers potential benefits to customers. When our customers give us constructive criticism or feedback, we’re happy and willing to adapt our product if it improves their experiences.
Another important lesson we’ve learned is that you need to strike a good balance between price and quality. We pride ourselves on our high product quality, but also make sure our prices are fair to our customers.
Finally, we’ve learned to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. You can’t be a pioneer within an industry if you don’t take risks.
What’s in-store for the future of the company?
Globally, we are currently assuming complete control of all of our South American companies (excluding Brazil) and will be looking to make hardware available there as it is in Europe. We have opened in Beijing and are continuing to develop our sales strategy for China and the rest of Asia.
In the UK, we’re committed to investing in high-end automated machinery. We’re currently in the process of replacing all the machinery within all our UK manufacturing facilities, and applying modern technological advances to the way we produce our products.
What do you think are going to be the challenges and opportunities facing the electrical contracting sector in 2018?
With the rising demand for sustainable building and infrastructure, we’re sure to see a rise in those seeking out electrical contractors for installations that will minimise their energy consumption. The number of households, public buildings and venues that sought us out to replace their existing halogen lights with greener LED alternatives almost doubled last year. We expect demand to rise again in 2018, in line with stricter government regulation and sustainability initiatives.