The Acme Whistle Co, producers of the ‘finest whistles in the world today’, was founded in 1870 by Joseph Hudson, inventor of the first police whistle and has a continuous history of trading, as an independent, small, family-owned business. Unlike many similar manufacturing concerns, it has survived the impact of Far Eastern low cost competitors and copycat products. It has not sold out to a bigger company, nor lost its market to ever increasing competition.
Describing the business Simon Topman, CEO, states the business is ‘the world market leader’ adding, “We have an absolute belief that we make the best product in the world. And that no one can touch us. In every decade, over 14 of them so far, an inventive and patentable step has been found that moved the industry forward. The first Police Whistle of 1883, the First Referee Whistle of 1884, the first ‘Silent ‘dog whistle of 1935 and the first waterproof Life Saving Whistle of 1949, are among the most famous.”
The following questions were put to Mr Topman 14th September 2016 as part of the #HomeMadeSuccess campaign seeking to highlight the many examples of West Midlands’ success.
Q: So what is the real story here? Why should a low tech manufacturing SME, making in Western Europe thrive today against all accepted odds?
A: “The answer is multi-faceted, but as the ‘definitive whistle’ producer we exist to ensure we provide our customers with the right sound for the right occasion.”
Q: Are you, as the Minister for Trade, might ask, ‘fat and complacent’?
A: "Yes, of course I well recognise the words of Liam Fox but with 85% of our output destined for exports we are reaping the benefits for ourselves and our local community of years of unremitting hard work and dedication to the cause.
"This region in particular has always pioneered, often against the prevailing wisdom, pathways to business success.
"This company is a good example of British manufacturing still leading the world in the face of ferocious low-priced competition all around the globe. We are lean, hungry and with a strong local base.
Q: What sort of business support do you need, if any?
A: "Government has never understood business support, wrongly believing that financial incentives are what is required, rather than true local knowledge of successful and failing markets and sectors…. And understanding what help they need, and that it is not always financial – e.g. a grant for a website or an export mission.
"What we need is support for clusters. Support for supply chains. Because so often in business we are working closely with others to draw on their areas of expertise, their specialisms and by combining with them we are able to produce something that is better than the competition. To do this we need connectivity, ability to move and connect, exchange ideas and work quickly to develop and improve our offer.
“Of course essential to it all are the skills we need to drive growth. For our business craft-skills remain essential, but there is no focus on developing these in government which are consigned to yesterday because they are not currently in fashion.”
Q: What would support for these clusters look like?
A: "The Manufacturing Advisory Service, MAS, for example, which the government has decided to dispense with, was a brilliant supply chain resource for manufacturers like us. You could phone them up and say you want to buy some new machinery, for example, and they would send along someone who knew what they were doing to help – someone sensible and practical, someone who knows your market and needs.
"We don't need help from people who come in and leave us to it. We need a day-to-day resource that understands our sector, our markets and our customers.
“The right people are at the heart of our business model. We only employ people living in postcodes adjacent to our factory – Aston, Lozells, Handsworth. Our philosophy is to be a good corporate citizen. A good neighbour and at home in the place that has supported us for 150 years.”
Q:What is the key to success?
A: "Getting the product right and the business model right is what really counts. Financial success comes afterwards. Too often business support is designed in a financially-driven South East that misses this very important point.
“You give me a person who’s committed and I’ll make them a valuable contributor. This is what we need from those coming up through education today – commitment and drive to do something worthwhile.”
J Hudson & Co Acme Whistles www.acmewhistles.co.uk
Birmingham Made Me Case Study on Acme Whistles http://birmingham-made-me.org/acme-whistles/#.V9hW5forKhc