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Rachel Lambert catches-up with Nicola Troy of Strickland MFG Ltd to find out what brought her into the world of construction equipment.
There are those who are enthusiastic about their jobs, and then there are those who radiate enthusiasm for their jobs. Nicola Troy is definitely best described as the latter. There is no doubt that she will be a familiar face to many in the industry. Nicola is National Key Account Manager for Strickland MFG Ltd, Europe’s largest manufacturer and stockist of buckets and attachments for earthmoving and demolition equipment, headquartered in Evesham in Worcestershire. She describes her role, as “one that has grown quite organically with the company, and one she loves dearly.”
We are on a Zoom call and Nicola is speaking to me from her parental family home in Dublin, which she tries to visit during her regular business trips to customers across Ireland, as well as Strickland’s manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland. The conversation soon starts flowing.
Nicola grew up and was educated in Dublin, attending Dublin City University studying English, French and Human Development, with all good intention of following the family tradition to become a teacher. Having graduated in 1996, Nicola decided to visit the UK with a friend for the summer “having a laugh and doing some part-time work” along the way. She was meant to return to Dublin University to study for a Higher Diploma.
“I met a man and never went back so that was the end of my teaching career,” Nicola laughs. “I ended up marrying that man!”
Deciding a job was needed, Nicola initially worked for NFU Mutual based in Tiddington, near Stratford-upon-Avon. With a degree in hand, Nicola was accepted as a graduate working in the role of a financial advisor.
“It was a great job, but I became disillusioned with financial services, and the need to constantly sit exams as well as the ongoing monitoring, so I decided to think about alternative career paths. Ironically, it was through an NFU client, Peter Strickland, that I was encouraged to take the leap.”
Peter Strickland at that time owned Strickland, which comprised two divisions: Strickland Tracks producing complete undercarriage systems for machines working with OEMs and OEDs, and a sister business, Strickland Direct, supplying and dealing with end users. Peter wanted to develop the business in Ireland and rather wisely worked out that an Irish native was always going to have a head start. “Looking back, it was funny because he asked if I knew anyone who was Irish who may be interested in working for his business. It didn’t sink in at the time that he was dropping a hint for me. I remember my husband laughing saying, ‘you don’t even know how a car works Nicola, so how would you consider a career in that sort of industry’.”
Nicola “took a punt” and joined Strickland Direct in 2003 as Business Development Manager, although she says officially, “we didn’t have any fancy titles”. Strickland Direct was pretty much a “startup” at the time, operating out of a shared premises based in Pershore. “It was hard work when I joined the business and started knocking on doors, especially given my task trying to grow sales in the UK and in Ireland. We were up against some well known names, who didn’t hesitate in trying to make our life difficult. I was very fortunate that big names such as Lynch and Flannery gave me an opportunity early on. This opened doors for us. We listened to what they wanted, worked with them on bespoke products to support their projects, and in doing so, demonstrated to others, our capabilities and the quality of our products. It led to us working with larger end users and plant hire companies. We felt that if we could convince the end user that we had a good product, then it would lead us to opportunities with OEMs and OEDs. And it did! It was a successful route for Strickland and allowed us to quietly gain recognition.”
In 2006, Peter Strickland sold the business to the O’Neill Manufactur ing Group in Dungannon, Northern Ireland; an area that is rather like an engineering hub for Europe. The O’Neill family, headed by Pat O’Neill, already had strong connections with the industry.
“At the time we were uncertain, but it is the best thing that happened to Strickland, especially for Strickland Direct. All the staff were retained, which meant the knowledge was retained too, so it was good for all concerned. My boss, Ian Wooltorton, was Sales Manager at the time and he is Managing Director today,” explains Nicola. “The new owners had a passion for growth and investment, which allowed us to start working with much larger companies and to invest in more products, with a greater emphasis on design and development. We also were able to put a lot of stock on the ground, even more so since moving into our new premises.”
This brings us on to Strickland’s very impressive new facility. Outgrowing its original premises in Pershore, Strickland invested in multiple acres of land in nearby Evesham, the site of its brand-new premises, facilitating spacious indoor and outdoor storage, a purpose-built welding workshop as well as offices. They moved in 2015. Despite vastly increasing the headcount at our Evesham Head office, along with adding multiple manufacturing and distribution facilities over the years Strickland MFG still is, a family business. It is this caring family attitude, with honest values, that has helped Nicola along the way.
“When my boss, Ian Wooltorton, first interviewed me for the job 18 years ago, he had some reservations about my transition from financial services to construction and mining. I was the only customer facing Female within the organisation. But, I got the break and the team was, and still is, extremely supportive becoming both my extended family and friends.” Nicola reflects on a time when her mother was ill back at her home in Ireland, in 2017. She remembers the support the O’Neill family gave, urging her to book a flight and “get home”. Sadly, Nicola’s mother passed away that year. “We really do support and look after each other here. I have been taught, and have subsequently learnt an awful lot over the last 18 years. I don’t claim to know everything because none of us do, but if you are committed to the job (as I am) you have to go that extra mile to learn about the products inside and out, and understand the industry. If I don’t know the answer to something, there is always another person in the business who does, and that’s why we work so well as a team. And we have a great team, amazing camaraderie, from design and engineering, through to buying and sales.”
Teamwork is integral to Strickland, with “everyone mucking in together”. In her early years at Strickland when Nicola was pregnant, and the only female there, she was apprehensive about breaking the news to her male colleagues. She knew they would be supportive but didn’t want to leave them in the lurch. “I knew I had to tell them, but I wanted to be able suggest a solution for my maternity cover. Fortunately, I had someone lined up Alan Kells who at the time was a customer of mine working for a JCB dealer in Ireland). He joined the business … and has never left.”
Nicola is full of praise for her colleagues, and singles out her wonderful assistant, Natalia, saying she couldn’t do her job without her, and describes Alan and Luke Smith, her ‘partners in Sales’, as “brilliant at their jobs.” “Quality products and reliable, honest service delivered by a knowledgeable, very dedicated team are at the heart of the Strickland business. A good example is our warranty claims. They are tiny, accounting for less than half a percent. We don’t aim to be the cheapest – cheap may be grand but it’s not always good – we sell competitively priced products, that are quality, value for money products and get a lot of positive feedback.” I ask Nicola if she is pleased that more women are now working in the industry. She says it is “great to see, but I think it is important that we are not seen as ‘extraordinary’ just because we drive a digger, or head-up an international company. We’re not better than men, we’re all just as good as each other – and that applies to any industry.” There have been challenges along the way. Covid and Brexit causing their fair share of stress, making export and selling into Ireland quite problematic in the early days. “The transport company we used wouldn’t deliver to the south (of Ireland) so we had stock sitting in Dublin for a while, but that’s all running smoothly now. We are lucky to have a great clearing agent who handles all the paperwork and transport arrangements. And then there’s the difficult aspect of pricing. Transport prices had risen so dramatically which naturally impacts on our cost prices. It is an uncomfortable conversation for many suppliers to have with their customers. That said, it is a worldwide problem, rather than a Strickland issue or construction-related, so it has been something that has become easier to discuss with most customers, who have been very understanding. I never think we should be ashamed to explain that, for a company to have a future, it needs to make money – a profitable company is a successful company.”
Nicola knows all about flexibility as a former gymnast. She is, without question, passionate about the business she works for, which she admits does make finding time for interests out of work quite difficult. With the support of her family, she appears to juggle this well and is quick to praise her husband, Andy, and 11-year-old son, Finn who Nicola says, “knows nearly as much about digger buckets as me because he spends a lot of time in the car listening to my conversations.” After 18 years at Strickland, Nicola has obviously carved a niche in the industry. “I absolutely love, love, love my job; I love going out and meeting people in the industry, love going to shows and interacting with customers. And love the buzz of being involved in big deals.”
“Strickland is wonderful place to work.”
With thanks to David Chuck & Rachel Lambert of Kingston PR
BUILT EN/ISO standards in mind, ensuring all current and expected standards are met where applicable.
STRICKLAND products are manufactured using hardened steel on ground engaging & wear components, making them capable of working in the most arduous environments.
ENGINEERED to seamlessly integrate with all major OEM specifications. State-of-the-art CAD software enables us to update products, keeping our product aligned with our customer’s ever evolving machinery.
DESIGNED with purpose, our products are engineered to provide the most effective outcome in all applications while remaining user friendly and simple to maintain.
RIGOURSLY tested, the range of Strickland products are designed to be used by a full spectrum of industry sectors. A secure working environment, regardless of the application, is at the forefront of all designs.