Last year Rivco, Arpel and Kamtech launched ARK – both as the name for the Group of Companies and as an extensive brand programme for riveting products. The behind the scenes driving force for ARK is Marketing Manager Jessica Auld – so we asked her how it happened and what it took to bring ARK to the market.
Tell us about yourself, Jessica.
“I studied at Aston Business School graduating with a 2:1 degree in 2010. My first job out of university was a B2B role in a finance company where I found my feet as a marketing executive and had my first taste of an in-house marketing agency environment; working with graphic designers and a digital team to create internal and external campaigns for different brands. In 2012 I moved into a faster paced, multi-channel B2C agency environment, working on campaigns featuring anything from a poster for toilet doors, to radio campaigns and TV adverts for horse racing events. I learnt a lot about the digital side of marketing: SEO, web and email analytics, and content writing for websites and social media.
Two years of that whirlwind and I joined Rivco and Arpel as marketing manager. I jumped in at the deep end, on the sales desk, getting to grips with – for me – an alien industry – becoming familiar with our products, the supply chain, the customers. It was a brilliant way to assess the marketing opportunities.
Three years down the line and I now handle all marketing activity for the ARK Group of Companies, and brand manage the ARK range of rivets.”
How does the ARK Group and brand fit together?
“The ARK Group of Companies consists of Rivco Ltd, Arpel Ltd and Kamtech Fasteners Ltd – the approved master distributors of ARK branded rivets, rivet nuts and associated tooling. The Group was specifically formed to facilitate the ARK brand and to manage its product inventory – holding the permissions and licensing agreements with factories to produce ARK branded rivets and rivet nuts. The ARK brand’s key objective is to support distributors in developing and profiting from sales of blind fastener solutions to the general industrial sector. With a combined 25 years technical and engineering experience, and a commitment to sustained profitability through reliable, quality products and added value services, ARK is best placed to service this niche market sector.”
When and how did the ARK concept start?
“We identified an emerging gap in the market – noting, as did our customers, how major brands had started to distance themselves from supporting the general industrial sector, to focus on the volume demand from aerospace, automotive and electronic market sectors. That big brand loss of focus on the general industrial sector led to decreased service and pricing support for distributors. We saw a real opportunity to fill this gap and set about creating ARK branded rivets.
ARK now fills a unique position in the market place; supporting distributors in the general industrial sector – providing the opportunity to obtain strong gross margins supplying quality, reliable branded products. Alongside competitive pricing, ARK supports distributors by holding the largest standard range of rivet and rivet nuts, ex stock, based in the UK.”
Where does ARK position?
“As approved ARK master distributors Rivco, Arpel and Kamtech are clear that their position in the market is to support the distributor. The Group of Companies is not seeking direct end user business, and the ARK brand is not here to shorten the supply chain; it is here to support the distributors within the supply chain. That contrasts graphically with the big brand trend to target end users direct and cut out the distributor. Let me be extremely clear – supporting the distributor supply chain structure is at the absolute heart of ARK brand ethics and systems, from conception to delivery.
ARK covers a wide range of rivets, structural rivets, rivet nuts and associated tooling. The core stock is dispatched from our central warehouse in the West Midlands where we have the largest standard range in the UK, available for next day delivery. The complete range has been sourced from approved and audited factories, with which we have long-standing and solid relationships – licensed by ARK to produce its products. ARK quality is guaranteed through the product knowledge, technical experience and commercial acumen within the Group of Companies – and that really is second to none.”
What does ARK mean for its front-line distributors?
“When discussing the long-term goals and success of the ARK brand, we clearly defined the opportunity for front-line ARK distribution. The ARK Group of Companies provides a solid, sustained link from specialist volume manufacturers to our front-line distributors. The ARK brand is already robust in its key attributes of quality, reliability and excellent value – the product, customer support and logistical competences. As ARK wins more market recognition, which has happened really quickly I am pleased to say, the opportunities in being an ARK front-line distributor become more and more compelling.
For an SME in the fastener industry, we think it is a bold statement to become an approved ARK distributor. It involves financial and legal commitments and distributors will need to feel a natural affinity for ARK’s ethos. We expect that the ARK brand values will really resonate with distributors looking to make an investment to ensure sustainable, above average gross margins. ARK is for SMEs who want to differentiate and strengthen their niche position, as well as ease away from cut throat generalist commodity sales.
In exchange for their commitment, an approved ARK distributor enjoys a wealth of benefits and support packages. These include readily available ARK product catalogues, which can be dual branded with the distributor logo. Marketing support is available for customer promotions and ARK product advertising. An e-commerce website is available as an approved distributor option. In addition to marketing support, the ARK product is packaged to suit the distribution chain. ARK branded boxes are colour coded by range and offer the flexibility of inner and outer box quantities, eliminating the need for the distributor to re-box and relabel before dispatch to their customer.”
What differentiates ARK from just another own label programme?
“Brand integrity is key to the success of ARK, and this is what differentiates our brand from other big players. ARK was created to support the distribution chain; when other brands have either moved away to focus on bigger markets, tried to cut out the distributor completely, and/or reduced the opportunity to achieve strong gross margins on their branded product. We recognise that we are in a niche industry and we have a great handle on the value ARK branded products will bring into the market place. The ARK brand supports the distribution chain and our model makes it easy for customers to buy and sell ARK branded products.
Rivco, Arpel and Kamtech Fasteners, the ARK Group of Companies, are very good at tailoring our product offering and providing a unique service to our customers. We understand our products and provide a dependable service to customers interested in quality and reliability. The ARK companies own the ARK brand – the guarantee of long-term commitment and profitability for our distributors.
We want to extend this relationship we have with our customers, and future customers, even further by expanding the front line of ARK distribution. We see this as a natural progression of the ARK brand, solidifying and strengthening the distribution chain, where some brands have previously threatened and weakened it.”
What do you see as the core values/benefits ARK is designed to deliver?
“They are plain and simple: End to end supply – ARK branded boxes mean no re-boxing, making delivery faster and easier for distributors; flexible delivery solutions with scheduled delivery, next day delivery, specific time slots – and all delivery options can be tracked and traced; technical and engineering support with telephone and on-site support for and on behalf of our customers. Crucially we also provide tool hire and repair services.
We also work to international quality standards – ARK products are guaranteed as our licensed factories are approved to all required international quality standards. We are determined and committed to supporting distributors, providing an added value service and quality products so they can obtain strong gross margins. Plus, we have an extensive range, locally stocked – we have the largest standard range of rivets and rivet nuts, ex stock, in the UK.”
How did you design the launch and development campaign?
“I wanted to design a brand, which visually stood out from the majority, by giving it a modern look and feel, through use of colours and font. Most importantly I wanted it to represent ARK’s transparent approach – simple, to the point and no-nonsense.
Our catalogues are very user-friendly; designed with a colour coded contents section for each product type – rivets/structural rivets/rivet nuts. That follows through to the materials, making it simpler to deal with a mix of different product types and materials.
Colour coding is a big part of the ARK brand identity, translating the usability of our catalogues, through our web and advert designs, onto our product boxes. Want to order rivets? Select from the catalogue green section and expect to receive a green box. Structural rivets? beige catalogue or web section, beige ARK branded box. Rivet nuts? think white!
To our customers it should look and be simple. However, it is the outcome of some three years thought and concerted effort, from initial concepts, through listening to feedback from our customers, to making it all come together.
Our relationship with Fastener + Fixing Magazine has been instrumental in the roll out of ARK: From the first double page feature last May we immediately received great feedback and interest from all stakeholders. We adopted a strategic campaign approach, linking ongoing email marketing and postal campaigns, tied into our marketing and advertising plans.
The latest development has been the release of the ARK catalogue. We’re currently sending out hard copies to existing customers – you’ll spot the catalogue in its distinctive delivery envelope, and it will be available for download across all of our Group websites.
Most importantly, we are talking with our customers every day, by phone or email, highlighting the ARK benefits but also listening hard – the key to ensuring we are really focused on supporting our distributors.”
Any brand is only as good as its product performance – how did you assure that?
“Setting up the supply chains for ARK branded rivets and rivet nuts was intricate but, you’re right, absolutely essential to the foundation of the ARK platform. Ensuring the licensed agreements were in place to produce quality, reliable products to brand specification was a paramount starting block.
At the start, regular visits to manufacturers where pivotal in ensuring the supply chain would be robust, including ensuring they have the financial strength to support the growth of the ARK programme, without compromise to its quality and performance. Now the supply relationships are stable, quality assurance can focus on when the goods are received to the ARK central warehouse.
There are always challenges with raw material price and currency fluctuations but that is something the ARK team has long been accustomed to and here the strength of our manufacturing relationships is also very important.”
Coming up to its first year, how is ARK measuring up to your expectations?
“It was a big job – and a few sleepless nights. Living and breathing ARK from conception to birth, it is a delight to see how quickly its values have been recognised by our stakeholders both in the market place and our supply chain.
We had unexpected challenges – early on the ARK product boxes failed us and we worked closely with our packaging suppliers to get that right. Stock management is always a challenge, especially when you are growing the way ARK is – we’ve just set another record trading month, and we know it won’t be the last. Our industry expertise serves us well, but we are constantly alert to the challenge.
Overall, we are really pleased; it’s been exciting, and it’s been really rewarding to receive great feedback confirming the ARK approach really does compliment and meet distributors’ needs. It’s also been exciting to gain new customers, and brilliant – since our initial marketing focused on domestic markets – to gain them internationally, in Australia, the USA, Finland and, would you believe, Mallorca.”
Where does ARK go from here?
“Coming up to a year from launch we know the future for ARK is bright; we have built a brand with integrity and solid values and I am sure the infrastructure around ARK will ensure continued success.
We are committed to maintaining high visibility for ARK, through this magazine, our web presence, online and in print – and also within our own team members. That activity will continue to reinforce the core values of the ARK brand, to which we are all dedicated.
Another area in which we are committed to making more progress, is developing educational resources to increase recognition and communication of the benefits of engineered, blind fastening products. Low prices, next day delivery, no carriage charges, it’s a mantra in the hyper competitive UK fastener market, but we’ve already seen that what ultimately differentiates ARK distributors – and enhances their gross margins – is demonstrating expertise and delivering consistent product reliability and assurance.
Having held senior management roles in leading automotive and fastener businesses, Phil joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine as editor in 2002. Convinced there is no substitute for ‘being there’, over 15 years of visits and interviews around the world means he has accumulated an extraordinary knowledge and perspective of the global fastener industry, reflected in his incisive and thought provoking reporting.