Triumph's success no easy ride.
Triumph Motorcycles is a manufacturing success story. The brand first appeared on bicycles after Siegfried Bettmann set up in Coventry in 1887, with the first motorbike built in 1902.
Triumph's iconic motorbikes have since carried the likes of Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando. Today the firm's main operations are in Hinckley, in Leicestershire, and it also has plants in Thailand. Some 80% of 'bikes made are exported.
The firm recently reported an 11% jump in turnover to £325 million for the year ending last June after sales increased by 7% to 48,684 units, up from 45,501 in the same period the year before. Profits rose from £15million to over £22 million, despite a 7% fall in the global market for motorbikes. The company's total income rose by 11% to £345 million. All in all it was a great result in a very tough market.
While remaining cautious for 2012 'due to the continued global economic turmoil', Triumph continues to invest seriously in research and development and is a great example of how investment in innovation pays dividends.
The fruits of that investment are being seen with three new bike launches - the Tiger Explorer, Speed Triple R and the Steve McQueen Special (echoing the McQueen's Triumph in the film The Great Escape). The firm also recently announced plans to start selling bikes in India and Brazil, and is looking to recruit more skilled designers and engineers to help its expansion.
Triumph now accounts for almost 6% of the 500cc+ global market. But it's been no easy ride (excuse the pun). The British motorbike industry was virtually wiped out in the late 1960s and 1970s from a combination of rapid liberalisation, the Japanese onslaught, and poor management practices. It then suffered again from the effects of mistaken economic policies in the early 1980s and industrial relations strife.
Triumph was declared bankrupt in 1983 and was rescued by the building entrepreneur John Bloor in the 1980s. The firm as we know it today emerged in 1991, but then faced numerous set-backs: a fire in 2002 which destroyed its factory, the early 1990s recession and the collapse of the housing market and hence premium 'bike sales
But the firm has bounced back and the firm's recent strong performance is down to the success of new premium models and improved working practices. A big chunk of the firm's recent sales success has come from the US where the firm now has a network of some 200 dealers which have responded well to the local market - such as the retiring 'baby boomers' who have money to spend and want fun.
Above all the firm has stuck to what it is good at - big classic up-market bikes which have won an appeal internationally and which are different to what other firms can offer. The big challenge will be venturing into the big emerging economies like China in the future. But the firm has much to build on and has got the essentials right - a skilled workforce, great design, strong brand and innovation - while working hard to keep costs down.
Hats off to everyone at the firm and let's hope 2012 will be just as successful.