SLE is a family business that manufactures medical equipment, specialising in neo-natal ventilators. Managing Director Bernard Nelligan, whose father founded the business, told us how the company has benefited from being based in London through more than 60 years of business.
‘London is a very good environment to start, grow and develop a business.’
Since it was founded, SLE has grown from distributor to designer and manufacturer and now exports its products worldwide. Bernard tells us that the move into exporting enabled a big step forward for the business in terms of the opportunities available. SLE took advantage of support offered by UK Trade & Investment [now the Department for International Trade], which helped them to attend international trade exhibitions and provided connections to new markets. As an SME, the overheads involved with developing new products are significant, and exporting has enabled SLE find ways to grow and sustain their business, while the return on the investment has allowed SLE to further develop its product range in response to the market need.
Being based in London has enabled the firm to remain competitive, with good access to transport links and support networks, and means they can build long-lasting links with local suppliers. Having heavily invested in their research and development team, it has also meant good access to highly skilled engineering staff, many of whom have been with the company for several years. The firm have also provided valuable opportunities for graduates and apprentices.
‘The right staff, with the right attitude and the right skills is a very key attribute to making a success of your organisation.’
As the company has expanded, SLE has occupied a number of different office spaces, all within the London Borough of Croydon. Finding the right space for their needs has not always been easy however, and the hunt for their current location was a long process; a problem faced by many growing businesses in the manufacturing industry. Now it is starting to outgrow its current space, SLE is fortunate enough to be in a location where there is space to expand the operation. The local Business Improvement District (BID) also funded improvements to the lighting and road access on the industrial estate which has greatly improved access and safety for staff, particularly during the winter, while also improving the site on a presentational front.
Bernard’s advice for any start-up is to get as much help as you can, particularly around setting up the mechanics of the business such as HR, legal, recruitment and property. On developing the product, his advice is to seek help in how to access the markets, because the commercial side is a challenge in itself.
‘As an SME when you first enter a new market…you have to establish yourself as a serious player, and that takes time.’
Finally, we asked Bernard what’s next for SLE. He told us the company has always grown organically, which is what has made it sustainable. There are plans to target new markets and expand into existing ones, while also investing more in product design so the company can better respond to the requirements of the market and continue to grow and succeed.