Delivering quality and consistency, Pinpoint Technologies has firmly established itself as a supplier of garniture tapes.
By Robin Anders
Lusia McAnna has always been familiar with the tobacco industry’s unofficial “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” motto. That’s why when she was approached by an investment trust to start a new garniture tape manufacturing company, she didn’t exactly expect smooth sailing. It was clear the cigarette industry could use a new player—after all, there were very few companies manufacturing tape for cigarette and filter manufacturers. McAnna just wasn’t sure how willing cigarette makers would be to try a new supplier.
Even with these doubts, McAnna and two colleagues agreed to start PinPoint Technologies. “We felt there was a niche for a reliable second source of quality tapes in the industry,” she says. The ticket to their success would be the combination of a highly trained workforce and modern tape-making machines that would make PinPoint a highly efficient supplier. It didn’t hurt that the three of them had a combined experience of 45 years in the textile industry. They called their company PinPoint, a nod to the precision of their manufacturing.
Sixteen years later, PinPoint is trusted by both multinational and private companies as a go-to tape maker in the business. “We always go the extra mile,” McAnna says. “Our customers understand and appreciate that.”
At first, that old tobacco industry adage held true: It was difficult to get companies to test PinPoint’s new garniture tapes. But the company’s commitment to delivering on time and exceeding expectations paved a path for PinPoint’s success.
McAnna remembers one of the best pieces of advice she got when she started PinPoint, which was not to expect too much too quickly. “It took more than five years to get our tapes tested in some companies who now buy 100 percent from us,” she says. “Some companies are still reluctant to try a different supplier even though we have been around for 16 years.
“We usually got business because customers had a technical problem with the tapes they were buying or because they suddenly needed tapes very quickly,” McAnna says. PinPoint seized the opportunity, getting the garniture tapes shipped out to them in days rather than weeks.
“Our main selling point is a consistently high-quality product at a cost-effective price,” McAnna says. It also doesn’t hurt to be a smaller company, she points out. “As a small company, we can be flexible and make samples or special tapes quickly when there is an emergency.”
The result is repeat business from satisfied customers. “We have upset very few customers over the years and have a solid regular customer base,” says McAnna. “We often get praised for our customer support and service.”
A Strong Foundation
One of McAnna’s first major decisions as managing director was where to locate PinPoint’s new factory, a decision that would in turn provide much-needed funding. The company planted roots in Bishop Auckland, a town in northern England.
“The North East had substantial start-up grants due to high unemployment, plus there were two cigarette factories there,” she says. The two factories have since closed, but the location proved beneficial in terms of conscientious and hardworking employees on the job market.
More than 300 applicants answered the first ads PinPoint placed for 20 openings. At first, McAnna and the other hiring managers were looking for good hand-eye coordination. “Part of our process is only semi-mechanized and requires great skill,” she says.
To build on the company’s now well-trained workforce, McAnna emphasizes the importance of referrals from current employees, who can confirm that potential hires are good workers and reliable. “Training is so slow and expensive that we need people with the right attitude to work and quality,” she explains.
Training is a worthwhile investment, however. “Our retention rate is pretty good,” says McAnna. “Fourteen people have been with us from the start; five have been with us over 15 years, and four more have been with us more than 10 years.”
PinPoint Technologies emphasizes “multiskilling, which means some members of the shop-floor staff are trained in two or more skills. “Multiskilling means we can keep the production flow going smoothly even if people are away ill or on holiday,” McAnna says, adding that because training takes such a long time, the company cannot rely on temporary personnel. In addition, McAnna believes variety makes work more interesting. “There’s nothing more boring than doing the same thing day in and day out.”
The company’s emphasis on developing highly skilled employees also influences its growth philosophy. “Our aim has always been to grow our business slowly but steadily,” says McAnna. “It takes such a long time to train new employees that we prefer a slow growth, which allows us time to train new employees properly.”
PinPoint has earned a reputation for its emphasis on work-life balance for employees. It’s a priority that starts at the executive level. “I had a number of poor bosses who believed that stressing employees got the best results,” McAnna remembers. “I learned from the good bosses I had, that I personally responded better to a more intelligent, encouraging approach.”
PinPoint employs 32 women and three men. “Between us, we have 41 children and 16 grandchildren—we work flex time between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., so you can still get to see the children or grandchildren playing a shepherd or a donkey in the Christmas play,” McAnna says. “During school holidays, some people work from home so they don’t have to pay extortionate child-minding fees.”
As a mother, McAnna understands how tough it can be to work and nurture a family, so she felt it was important that PinPoint have a culture in which she would be proud to work. “We spend more time with our work colleagues than with our families, and if that’s a bad experience, then you need to change jobs,” she says. “I really do feel that life is too short to be unhappy at work.”
As a result, PinPoint produces a high-quality product that reflects not only its employees’ feelings about their work but also its commitment to excellence.
“Our company song is ‘Simply the Best’ by Tina Turner, and we always insist that it is played at any company function so we can have a good bop and belt out the words together,” McAnna says.
The Proof Is in the Tape
Just last year, PinPoint Technologies sold garniture tape to 22 countries, with exports accounting for 75 percent of sales. Chris Wild, the company’s operations and technical manager, is responsible for product development and testing.
Wild believes the company’s development work has helped it to stay on top of the competition by continuing to produce more cost-effective products. “Product development is usually initiated by customer comments on existing products,” Wild explains. “As the industry is very conservative, development work normally involves better use of existing materials and production techniques.”
Wild also oversees testing any new or improved products, which involves making sure the garniture bands run efficiently on filter or cigarette making machines once they leave PinPoint facilities.
It is only through an investment in technology—a priority since the company first opened its doors—that PinPoint is able continuously to improve its product, Wild says. “The equipment used to manufacture the garniture bands at PinPoint Technologies has been specifically designed for the production of garniture bands.”
Because the machines are physically less demanding, the staff members are able to more efficiently perform their tasks. “The innovative and cleverly designed production machines allow us to produce consistent products very efficiently,” Wild says. “Our customers therefore receive a reliable, cost-effective product.”
Brian Wagoner, spares coordinator for Filtrona Greensboro, says his company has worked with PinPoint as a supplier for about 15 years, and he has worked with McAnna for the last five. “We’ve never had any quality issues with their product,” he says. “That’s one reason we have used them for so long.” The fact that PinPoint is on a different continent doesn’t impact their relationship, he says. “With PinPoint being in Europe and Filtrona Greensboro being in the U.S., you would think it would be an inconvenience.” Not so. “Their customer service has been great over the years.”