TEC: driving forward through innovation

TEC was founded in 1936 and is one of Ireland’s leading suppliers and distributors of a wide range of industrial and hydraulic hoses, fittings, and adapters.

Claudia Weeks talks to Simon van Lonkhuyzen, Managing Director at TEC.

Claudia Weeks, Community Content Lead for Fuel Oil News, spoke with Simon van Lonkhuyzen, Managing Director at TEC, to learn more about the development of the business and future plans.

The history 

“My grandfather moved to Ireland from the Netherlands in 1935,” Simon began, explaining the history of the business. “He then established TEC in 1936. Originally TEC had several small divisions within the company including at one stage, a foundry and electrical switchgear manufacturing.

“During the 1950s Ireland was experiencing a mini industrial boom and my grandfather, spotting a gap in the market, started importing industrial hoses and fittings. My father joined him in the business in the early 1970s and eventually took ownership in the mid-1990s.”

Olympic ambition 

With it being a family business, Simon always planned to join the company but had sporting ambitions to attend to first! He explained a little more: “After I left school, I began a business degree at Dublin University. However, after one year, I dropped out. My mother wanted to kill me!

“I decided to follow my dream of making it to the Olympic Games. A passionate kayaker, I had first made the Irish Kayak Sprint Team as a junior in 1994 and now I had my sights on the Sydney Olympics.

“I moved to Weybridge in Surrey to join up with the British Olympic squad members and trained full time. These were the happiest days of my life – training full time, attending warm-weather training camps and representing Ireland at the World and European Championships.

“After successfully qualifying for an Olympic spot in 1999, I then contracted the Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis and jaundice in March 2000. It took me over a year to recover, and my Olympic dreams were dashed, but I have no regrets.”

Joining the family business

Sadly, Simon missed representing Ireland in the Olympic Games but, instead, took the opportunity to join the family business full time in 2000.

“Like most family businesses, I worked in TEC during the summer holidays and loved every minute. During these summers I loved experiencing the ‘cut and thrust’ of a normal business day, answering phones, seeing the salesguys punching the air after winning an order and the production team taking great pride in their work and carefully packaging the assembled hoses prior to dispatch; it was all pure magic.

“After my sports career came to an end I decided, after working in other businesses, to join TEC. I started in hose production then moved into field sales where I became sales manager in the mid-2000s during Ireland’s ‘Celtic tiger’ – a period of rapid growth.

“My father wanted to take early retirement, so I was involved in a management buyout with my current business partner in mid-2008. The timing could not have been worse as, over the following 12 months, we experienced a 50% drop in turnover. We had no cash reserves, and the business was carrying heavy borrowings to fund the MBO – what a life lesson!”

A new home 

Simon explained more about the current set up at TEC: “In 2000, TEC moved to our current premises in Dublin. The building has been extended several times to accommodate current and planned growth. We have hose assembly and testing capabilities up to 12” bore. We stock over 10,000 different part numbers and pride ourselves on next day delivery.

“Over the following years I diversified the business into long-term, export-led, reoccurring vertical markets. I also developed two new oil reeling hoses specifically for the oil distribution industry – TECOIL and FUELTEC. FUELTEC is now a market leader and TECOIL entered the market in mid-2022 to very positive reviews.

“In 2023 we installed an automated vertical storage machine. The new machine is a dynamic, automated, hose fitting storage and retrieval system that has boosted handling efficiency by up to 65% and has increased our floor space capacity by up to 70%.

“One of the big issues faced by so many businesses is the lack of large affordable industrial units located close to large cities so, because of this we took a decision to open a 30,000 sq. ft facility in Northern Ireland. The new facility assembles our contract hose kits.”

Creating a strong company

Simon shared his thoughts on the team at TEC and how the right company culture matters: “From small beginnings, with just one employee, we currently have 26 staff. A strong company culture must foster a healthy and productive work environment. As a business owner you may have developed the best strategy in the world but, without the right culture, the strategy will never succeed.

“For me, a great culture is made up of clear values and a mission. These two combined provide employees with a sense of purpose and direction and help to align everyone toward common goals. I believe in having open and transparent communication – this is crucial for a positive company culture.

“We recognise and reward employees for their achievements and promote a positive atmosphere. We support a positive work-life balance by offering flexible hours, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, free breakfasts etc. Our employees also have free access to our outsourced wellness program and mental health support.”

Effective communication and openness

Simon discussed his style of management and how he leads the business: “Democratic or participative would best describe my style of management. I believe effective communication and openness through all levels of TEC, gives employees and managers the best chance to reach their goals. I find this ‘style’ of management especially effective when it comes to making long-term decisions that impact the whole company.

“I try and lead by example; I still look after some key accounts and set targets and KPI’s that everyone in the company has visibility on. I believe in creating a light-hearted work environment. I think people perform better when not under pressure; at the end of the day, most of our waking hours are spent working, so it is important that the correct atmosphere is created, and that everyone feels valued and shares in the success of the business. In saying all that, I’m not sure how my team would describe me, you will need to ask them!”

Understanding customer needs

Claudia asked Simon about his customers and why they choose TEC as their supplier. “We have a strategic approach to customer acquisition and retention, and a clear understanding of TEC’s position in the market. Over the past number of years, the channels through which customers discover and connect with TEC have evolved significantly.

“Traditionally, we have always employed account managers who manage specific geographic areas and vertical markets. More recently we have developed a multi-faceted approach to customer outreach that has been crucial. Our online presence, including a user-friendly website with full product technical specifications and active social media profiles, serves as an informative resource for potential customers.

“We also participate in industry events and trade shows which has enabled us to broaden our reach. As a result, we have seen a steady influx of new customers in Ireland, the UK and mainland Europe.

“Our commitment to delivering over 10,000 unique products promptly and reliably has been a cornerstone of our service. TEC supplies over 700,000 mt of hose annually. Customers appreciate the assurance that their enquires and orders will be delivered consistently and without disruptions.

“Understanding the unique needs of our customers is paramount. Our personalised approach ensures that our customers receive bespoke solutions. Our customer service team is dedicated to advising – addressing queries and concerns promptly and, thereby, making the entire experience seamless.”

Successful new launch

Simon highlighted one of the big successes of 2023 for TEC: “In 2023 we successfully launched our revolutionary new TECOIL reeling hose.

TECOIL marks a significant advancement in technology and promises to redefine industry standards, particularly with its groundbreaking low drag cover, resulting in a market-leading drag coefficient.

“One of the most significant advantages of TECOIL’s low drag cover is its potential to reduce repetitive stress injuries among operators as well as reducing stress on the truck reeling equipment. The decreased resistance means that drivers can pull the hose with less effort, minimising the physical strain associated with repetitive movements. This not only enhances operator comfort but also contributes to a safer and healthier working environment.

“The low drag cover not only benefits operators but also extends the life span of the hose itself. Traditional hoses often face premature wear and tear due to the stress caused by constant dragging and pulling.

“TECOIL’s innovative design mitigates this stress, resulting in a longer-lasting hose that requires less frequent replacement, we also recommend turning the hose regularly to ensure even wear. We ship over 1000 coils of FUELTEC and TECOIL reeling hoses per year.”

The challenge of adaptation

The energy transition impacts all businesses in the industry and Claudia asked Simon for his views: “As many contributors have outlined previously, with the transition to renewable energy, the industry faces the challenge of adapting to a changing energy landscape, with a decrease in demand for traditional fossil fuels. Stakeholders need to position their businesses to ensure they are part of the new energy ecosystem.

“Stringent environmental regulations and policies are emerging globally to reduce carbon emissions. Compliance with these regulations poses a challenge for the oil distribution industry, requiring significant investments in technology and infrastructure to meet these new standards.

“Alongside this, fluctuations in global oil prices, political instability, geopolitical tensions, and economic uncertainties can all contribute to volatile pricing – impacting profit margins and strategic planning.

Advances in technology, such as electric vehicles and alternative energy sources, pose a challenge to the traditional oil distribution model. The industry must adapt and invest in innovative technologies to stay relevant in a rapidly changing market.”

Award winners!

Huge congratulations to Simon and the team at TEC on recently being named ‘The Best Small Business’ at the South County Dublin Chamber Awards as Simon shares: “The South County Dublin Chamber Awards acknowledge and celebrate businesses that demonstrate exceptional performance, innovation, and contribution in the south Dublin business community. The awards ceremony brought together a diverse range of industries, highlighting the dynamic and thriving business landscape in the south Dublin regions.

“I believe that we impressed the judges at the awards with our innovation and adaptability. TEC’s ability to innovate and adapt to evolving trends stood out. Whether by embracing cutting-edge technology, introducing innovative products and services, or implementing efficient business processes.

“Our active engagement with the local community and its positive impact were also factors. The judges appreciated our efforts to contribute to community initiatives including mentoring in local secondary schools, supporting local causes, and fostering a sense of responsibility to engage in local programs for all staff at TEC.

“Our approach to nurturing talent and prioritising employee wellbeing was a standout aspect. The judges recognised our efforts in creating a positive work environment, investing in employee development, and fostering a culture that values the contributions of each team member.

“TEC’s ability to achieve substantial growth in a challenging business environment was a key factor in the award decision. The judges acknowledged our strategic vision, sound financial management, and resilience in navigating industry dynamics.”

Responsible and sustainable

Reflecting on the most enjoyable elements of his role in the industry, Simon commented: “As the CEO of TEC there are several aspects of my role that I find particularly enjoyable. It is invigorating to lead such a talented team that thrives on innovation and embraces the complexities of our industry with enthusiasm.

“In today’s world, responsible and sustainable practices are paramount. Leading TEC allows me to play a pivotal role in shaping the company’s commitment to environmental and community responsibility.

“Lastly, witnessing the tangible results of our strategic decisions is deeply gratifying. Whether it is implementing innovative new fluid transfer products or introducing new services, seeing the positive outcomes of our initiatives reinforces our commitment to excellence.”

Future ambition

“As we look to the future at TEC, our vision is anchored in pioneering and resilient solutions for the fluid transfer and fluid power industries. Like many other organisations, innovation will be a driving force in our vision for the company.

“We aspire to be at the forefront of technological advancements, embracing automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics to enhance operational efficiency and ensure the reliability of our product and service delivery.

“We aim to be a positive force within the communities we serve. This involves actively engaging in community initiatives and fostering relationships that go beyond business transactions.”

Fuel Oil News wishes Simon and all the team at TEC the best for 2024. We look forward to catching up with them again in the future.