Finding success overseas is all about spotting opportunities. For Alba Power, it was down to identifying a ‘gaping hole’ in the market.
The Aberdeenshire-based company began its life as a supplier of spare parts for Rolls Royce Avon and Olympus gas turbines, but then recognised there was demand from customers for exceptional service that would help owners to prolong the life of their engines in a cost-effective way.
Alba Power began exporting in 2002 and has now graduated from using space within Scottish Development International’s hub at Houston in Texas to having its own repair and overhaul facilities in the city. The company exports its services to customers in more than 16 countries spread throughout the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
Now the company is reaping the rewards of its strategy. Pre-tax profits for 2015 hit £3.56m, up by 92% from the £1.85m posted in 2014 and marking the second year that its surplus had nearly doubled. Turnover rose to £21.4m from £16.8m during the same period.
“Our exports have grown again during 2016,” reveals Campbell Archibald, sales director and president at Alba Power and one of the company’s founders. “I expect that exports will account for between 80% and 90% of our turnover this year.
“When oil and gas prices fall, fuel becomes cheaper and so customers run their turbines for longer, which leads to more maintenance and repair work for us. We’ve seen that in markets such as power generation in North America.
“We’ve also picked up work in the North Sea because operators are looking to cut their costs and we can offer them 15% - 20% savings in some cases. We’ve always spread our business across power generation, oil and gas and individual owners so that we don’t see so
“Now that we have a really good client base, our strategy is to widen the range of turbines that we can service for those customers, with markets such as Canada and the US seeing growth. We’ve been working on a development programme for the RB211 engine.”
Alba Power is investing £1m to double the size of its head office near Netherley, around five miles from Stonehaven. The company already employs around 65 people and its headcount is expected to rise further when its larger facility opens in March. Archibald has been busy sharing his tips for export success with other Scottish businesses. In November, he was one of the speakers at Get Connected 2016, Scotland’s largest international trade networking event, which was held in Glasgow.
Not content with winning the most entrepreneurial exporter of the year title two years ago at the inaugural Scottish Export Awards, Alba Power carried off the large exporter of the year prize at the 2016 HSBC Scottish Export Awards in association with Scottish Enterprise.
“Winning awards is excellent for morale,” says Archibald. “It shows everyone that we’re doing things the right way.
“Whether we’re in tough times or good times, if someone gives you a pat on the back then it’s always a good feeling that we can share. Every member of the team helps to get to that position.
“Our workforce is very diverse – there’s a wide spread of experience. We’re all either travelling or working on the engines, so all our workers are dependent on exports.” He adds: “From the customers’ point-of-view, each award is an accolade that we can hold up and say that independent judges have looked at us. It gives customers that bit of comfort when they’re talking to us that we’re going to be here for the long haul and we’re a company that’s worth working with.
“The awards that we’ve won also open doors for us to have conversations with potential clients.”
Archibald says that winning the two prizes in different years has been a real boost because it’s shown how the company has grown and progressed in the intervening years.
It’s not just the Scottish Export Awards that have praised Alba Power’s progress either. The company won the export achievement award at the 2015 SPE Offshore Achievement Awards and was named as the export champion at the 2014 Growing Business Awards in London.
Last month the firm was a finalist in the customer focus category at the 2016 Scottish Business Awards, during which actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio delivered an inspiring speech to more than 2,000 business people at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Alba Power isn’t resting on its laurels though.
Having moved its North American presence from North Carolina to Texas, the business is continuing to grow in markets around the world and is eyeing its next overseas site. “We’re looking at the Far East and opening an office there is certainly on the horizon,” says Archibald. “It’s early days but already we’re winning contracts in the region.”