CEO Interview: Andrew Hammond of Oxford Products

Andrew Hammond

Andrew Hammond - Credit: NG

Did David Cameron have any idea of the kerfuffle his visit caused when he visited Oxford Products recently?

David Cameron with Andrew Hammond and family

David Cameron with Andrew Hammond and family - Credit: NG

The Prime Minister’s visit, to open a substantial expansion at Oxford Products’ head office and distribution centre at its 6-acre Witney site was scheduled for the end of the month, its busiest time. So, after the PM had departed and the celebratory tea and cake cleared away, it wasn’t only the warehouse employees heading back to unload containers, pick and pack to meet order delivery times, but Oxford Products’ managing director Andrew Hammond and his finance and marketing directors too.

Mind you, Andrew’s not complaining. He and his 85 employees at this £20 million plus turnover business were thrilled with the recognition the visit brought.

In fact, awards have been raining down on Oxford Products all this year. Not only did it win Outstanding Contribution to the Economy in our 2014 Cotswold Life Family Business Awards, but also 2014 Business of the Year in the Oxfordshire Business Awards, and Andrew won 2014 Business Person of the Year at the same ceremony.

Oxford Products Ltd is the company behind Oxford Essential Rider Equipment and is the UK’s leading supplier of motorcycle and bicycle accessories. The company sells exclusively to trade customers (retailers and wholesalers) in the UK and successfully exports to over 60 distribution partners worldwide.

The business started in 1973 with Andrew’s father, Alec Hammond, selling motorcycle top boxes and fairings. In fact the business was called Oxford Fairings before morphing into Oxford Products as the product range grew.

The motorcycle market is still the company’s core business, and while UK David Cameron with Andrew Hammond and family motorcycle registrations are rising again after dropping hard after 2007 (even now numbers are back only to 1999 levels) the company has tripled turnover. Exports are growing, now 25% of total sales, with the biggest markets for its products in Australia, Germany, Benelux, Poland and Canada. Europe is a growth market for the business; though many of its economies are still struggling, but Oxford Products’ sales in France, Italy, Spain and other continental countries are starting to rise again.

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The motorcycle industry is based on leisure; no one really needs a motorbike. During the recession, however, Andrew says that many commuters swapped their second car for a more economical 125cc motorcycle or smaller, or ditched the car completely in favour of commuting by bike.

“Now people are beginning to spend their money again and we’re seeing the benefit,” he says, though he still cannot understand why all commuters don’t use two wheels to beat the traffic into work.

“The time savings are massive.”

Andrew, 42, has been working for the business since he was about 10 years old. This isn’t a tale of a wicked father making his children work their fingers to the bone. For Andrew, his twin brother Graham and older brother Richard, it was a chance to learn about their dad’s business and make a bit of money for themselves.

“We would pack the soft grips for motorcycles,” explains Andrew. “We’d get bags of grips, stickers, washers, end caps and boxes to put them in and we’d make a little production line. We were super fast, assembling 100 pairs an hour and for that we’d get a quid. Dad was happy, but so were we. We thought we’d earned a fortune.” His first lesson in the art of ‘win win’.

The boys learned about entrepreneurship too.

“At school we subcontracted to our mates, making money from them doing work for us. Summer holidays were spent in the warehouse, picking and packing. Dad was happy: cheap labour and good experience for his boys and us thinking we were millionaires when we got paid at the end of the week.”

After completing a BTEC National Diploma in business and finance, Andrew went travelling with his twin, spending two months working in South Africa on a game ranch. Returning home, they asked their father for work before they got ‘real jobs’ and almost 20 years later, Andrew is still there (Graham worked at Oxford Products until 1999 before pursuing a career in the RSPCA and their older brother Richard has become a highly successful retail author and consultant).

“I started as an administrator and invoice clerk for the company, then turning over around £1 million a year, but soon moved into the buying. We weren’t expanding our product range much so I became the product man at Oxford. The expansion of our range took us from being a motorcycle luggage also-ran to the UK market leader, and globally within a few years.”

2014 is already looking to be a record year and Andrew predicts turnover rising to around £23 million this year, with 10 record months out of the last 12.

“Our growth platform is our buying team,” he says. “We’ve also added a team designing clothing and products. This is new as we’ve previously worked with external designers.”

Oxford Products doesn’t feel like a family business; there are no nooks and crannies where old ledgers lurk. It feels like the big business it is. Andrew’s father Alec, 68, is still Chairman of the Board and, when not in the Bahamas where he enjoys sailing and racing classic cars, he returns to chair around three board meetings a year.

Alec, like his son, was always ahead of the curve. He insisted on building a brand in the 1970s when few appreciated the power of a brand name.

So where does Oxford Products sit in the motorcycle and bicycle accessories market?

Everywhere, it would seem.

“We believe in good, better, best,” says Andrew. “For many of our ranges we have an entry level product which does what it says on the packaging, then a better one and the best one on the market. With our luggage, though, we offer ‘really good’ and ‘the best’.”

With such a strong brand name, would Oxford Products open shops on the high street?

No, says Andrew. That’s not on the cards at all.

“We sell to our dealers who do a very good job. If we really wanted to have a London store I guess we could, but I really don’t think we will.”

Expansion will come through organic growth and occasional acquisition, where Oxford Products already has form. In 2010 the business bought bicycle accessories business Sprint.

“That took us from a small range of bicycle accessories to a massive range, selling everything bar the frame,” says Andrew.

The following year Oxford Products successfully acquired Motrax, the accessories arm of the once mighty Frank Thomas motorcycle clothing, parts and accessories empire that had gone into administration.

The company also invested in a German retail chain in that year, massively increasing its brand profile in the country. Unfortunately that business needed far more funding, which came early in 2013, seeing Oxford Products releasing any interest in the business, other than that of supplier. Now a strong brand in Germany, Oxford’s sales there for 2014 will exceed £1 million.

Like most family businesses it’s difficult to get a work/life balance, but Andrew seems more successful than many.

“I don’t race motor bikes, but I do watch them. I’ve also got three kids who are very important to me and I make lots of time for them; we went away with them for a month this summer. I can keep in touch with the business wherever I am through my I-Pad. I love my work; it’s what we do. It was the same with my father, and, although he still tends to ask how the business is before asking after the kids, we are training him not to.

So where will Oxford Products be in five years’ time?

“We take it three years at a time but in five years I hope we’ll be turning over £27-30 million a year,” says Andrew.

“We do push for sales but this year the market is pulling hard and if that continues, great. A strong market is likely to attract increased competition, but we can handle that.”

Good employee relations Andrew says his team are amazing.

“My finance and marketing directors are my right hand men, and we have a great management team too. These guys are an integral part of the success of the business and share in that success – some even joined the chairman on his boat in the Bahamas last year. When we made our three big acquisitions, all in 2010/11, it was an exciting time. Everybody mobilised and we went into overdrive, with the whole company really showing its mettle and we felt we could achieve anything together.

“I was in Dublin taking Motrax products out of dealerships and remerchandising with our own products, alongside a former Motrax merchandiser who we’d employed. I asked what went wrong at Frank Thomas, which had owned Motrax. He said he didn’t know because the boss had never spoken to him in three years and probably didn’t even know his name. I was amazed, I thought ‘I’m not going to lose this moment. If I am going to motivate people to work for me I need to keep in touch with them’. We have 85 employees and I do know all their names. Many joined us at the Oxfordshire Business Awards and other functions we attend.

“We also have social occasions for our staff and at least once a year include their all-important partners. At month end, if we are really busy I’ll go in and help unload a container, or pick and pack. I’ve done it all my life so it’s nothing to me. And after David Cameron’s recent visit, it was no stress and working together we got the orders out on time.”