Skipper strives to be the recognized industry leader in safety management.
By Bianca Herron
Alan Bentley founded Skipper with a single idea: to develop a device that could link traffic cones and create safer work-related areas for many industries, including traffic and warehousing. After several months of development, the Skipper system was launched in 2005: a versatile, robust interlinking retractable outdoor barrier that featured nine meters of specially developed fabric tape, which could attach to any standard traffic cone.
Twelve years later, the United Kingdom-based company specializes in the manufacture of multifunctional, patent-protected safety management products. These include flexible barrier systems, post and base systems and waste management solutions.
“Since we were founded, we have developed more than 22 products,” Bentley says. “We focus on three key areas of safety: the indoor environment, outdoors and the increasingly important field of waste management. Additionally, in 2005, we won the Design Week Awards ‘Industrial Product of the Year’ category for the Skipper unit.”
Culture of Safety
Skipper’s vision is to be the recognized industry leader in safety management. As a member of the National Association of Safety Professionals and the American Society of Engineers, each and every one of the company’s products are manufactured to all relevant safety standards, Bentley notes.
“Our Skipper is a retractable barrier unit, which comes in two specifications,” he explains. “The first clicks onto the top of normal cones, which is 99 percent of the world’s traffic cones. Because it’s very modular, you can also detach it and attach it to a variety of surfaces, including logistics vans, trucks and other vehicles.”
The company also has internal products that can attach to any internal surface. “We devised lots of suction cups and magnetic brackets that can wrap around shelving and racking to make internal environments safe,” Bentley says.
Additionally, Skipper launched several safety and waste management products about 18 months ago. “That includes waste bins and dispensers for safety equipment, such as goggles, sun creams and sanitizers,” Bentley says. “So that full range of external, internal and waste and safety management accounts for those 22 products.”
Skipper tries to introduce one to two new products annually. This fall, the company will debut UniBank, a renewable energy device. “It’s completely innovative and patented,” Bentley says proudly. “For example, it’s great for utility company employees who work out in the field close to power or transportation. With this device you can power up smartphones, tablets, cameras and anything electronic while you’re on the go.
“On top of that, it has many accessories that go with it,” he continues. “For example, it features a panic button, which is Bluetoothed to your smartphone. So it can send out emergency signals or text messages, too.”
Bentley adds that the company has developed a unique approach to health and safety with innovation. “I have a background in design, so with my experience and the experience of those I’ve brought into the company we will not introduce a new product just for the sake of it,” he says.
“For example, the traffic cone we introduced has a helix twist in it to give it more stability, and it’s twice as reflective as a normal traffic cone,” he continues. “We could’ve released a product that looked like a regular traffic cone; however, we spent two years developing it. With everything we do, we try to set ourselves apart from what could be deemed as the same in the industry.”
Ninety-nine percent of Skipper’s products are sold through its more than 85 distributors, which include Grainger and other personal protection equipment companies.
“They distribute our products, so we don’t have a sales distribution channel internally as our products are featured in many catalogs,” Bentley explains. “Additionally, we joint-sell with some our distributors, such as Grainger, if they need something on a larger scale for Boeing or the Hilton Hotel chain, for example. So if a company is looking to adopt our products, we also help them with demonstrations.”
Skipper’s products are shipped to more than 32 countries, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and the United States. “We have at least two distributors in each country,” Bentley says. “Our products are designed and manufactured here in the United Kingdom to maintain total quality control. However, we do have a Chicago hub in the U.S. We are also trying to set up another hub in the U.S. that will then become an assembly/manufacturing outlet.”
Shipping products on time is of the utmost importance to Skipper, Bentley adds, noting that technology has played a critical role in its success not only when shipping products to customers, but also in its operations overall.
“Technology eases the process of everything from supplying notes to supplying proof of delivery to our customers,” he explains. “We go one step further and try to provide customers flexibility in our delivery price, as well as delivering their products to them.”
Bentley notes that Skipper always tries to help customers overcome challenges so it is easier to deal with the company’s products. “For example, we give them options for delivery so that it’s convenient for them,” he says. “That is really important for customers, especially if they are in the U.S. and are sending someone to pick their package up for them. So we can either deal with the dispatch and delivery, or we can provide them with their own couriers that pick up their packages and make them ready when they are available.”
Skipper is committed to the core values of being dependable, robust, innovative and versatile. Those values don’t only apply to the company’s products, but also to its employees.
“We are very proud of all the employees we have,” Bentley says. “We like our people to be innovative, but it is not a prerequisite. We have a dependable product and we like to depend on our employees. The product is very robust and also ties in to our fourth core value, which is versatility. A lot of our staff are very versatile as well.”
With 18 employees, Skipper is very “nimble and lean,” Bentley notes. “Again, we manufacture and distribute our products here in the United Kingdom. Our Chicago hub has about three people in that location who specifically distribute our products throughout the United States.”
In addition, that nimbleness is extended to its customers. “For our customers, quality is always linked to value,” Bentley says. “There are some products now that imitate Skipper, but when you look at its quality and the way it’s put together, they are not quality products like ours. When we design our products, we design with dependability and robustness built into it so that it will last.
“Because of that, our products will last as our two-year guarantee states,” he continues. “We go from the mining industry that is very tough and rugged to the retail environment that has to look good everyday. So we have to remain nimble to manufacture and design products that fit across a variety of markets and industries.”
Exceeding customer’s expectations is also very important to Skipper. “We receive less than a half percent for complaints or returns,” Bentley says. “So we are very proud of that. However, if something does go wrong with a product we are, again, nimble and will fix it free of charge.
“We don’t like customers to be upset for any reason,” he continues. “For example, maybe their product is missing a part or the product doesn’t function they way that they thought. Even though our complaints are less than a half percentage, when we do get them, we ensure customers aren’t left with a negative feeling towards us by meeting their needs.”
In doing so, Skipper builds repeat customers by exceeding expectations, Bentley notes. “We don’t like to think of customers as being satisfied,” he says. “We want to exceed their expectations.”
As Skipper prepares for the fall launch of its new product, UniBank, the company is working on expanding its marketing campaign.
“This will have a bigger budget so we’ll do some mainstream advertising, which we do not normally do,” Bentley says. “Currently, Skipper is more of a business-to-business product, so businesses mainly use it, not individuals.”
Ultimately, the company’s goal is to be known as one of the leading manufacturers of personal protection safety equipment and innovative technological devices.
“I’m proud of our staff as well as the products that we manufacture,” Bentley concludes. “Everyone has buy-in here at Skipper and we all work hard to deliver our four brand values. We always go one step further to try and bring to the market something that has innovation, design and quality built into it. For Skipper, we don’t see any point in bringing out a product that looks like everything else already out. It has to be better from our perspective.”