An interview with Russell Armstrong – Managing Director and founder of RA Tech UK Ltd

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Please tell us something about yourself. I am a qualified (HND) heating and ventilation design engineer and as part of that a design draftsman. I have worked in professional sales (in the HVAC industry) and back in 2001 I started out with my own business installing kitchens and bathrooms (Integrated Interiors). A few years later (2007) I got married to Ally and moved from Nottingham to Derby and re-branded my business to be a plumbing minor works and small repairs company – iiplumbing. It was whilst I was doing a job for a local company that I got the inspiration to develop a product that I needed but couldn’t find existed. That was to become the product I invented!

How did you get into what you do right now? Please tell us more about your journey. I am an avid watcher of The Apprentice. Every year I thought I could do those tasks way better than the candidates, the task subjects, (marketing, treasure hunt, sales, production, pitching, branding etc) all seemed to be types of projects that I might be able to do well. I decided I would at least make an application for the show (even though at 50 (at the time) I probably wouldn’t be accepted) but if I did make an application I would at least have to have a credible business idea. I was therefore looking for ideas. When the concept of hotun came to me, I thought that that could be the perfect business idea. Alan Sugar was after all, a product person. But me being me, just having an idea didn’t seem enough, so I decided to work out a design and draw it up as a concept. Once I had done that I just wanted to prove the concept at least works, so my wife’s uncle (in law), who designed, drew and 3D printed scale models accepted to turn my 2D drawing into a 3D cad model that enabled me to do a 3D version of my tundish. (I still have the product in our display cabinet!)

I cobbled together a valve and spring and tested the unit on my system at home, and amazingly it worked really well! So much so that I took the concept from a business idea into a “what could I develop here” idea

I knew that I was onto something because if I, as a plumber, would think this is a good idea and made a plumbers life easier & quicker, then I was sure that other plumbers would think the same, as long as I could manufacture the product at the right price to sell into the supply chain giving everybody their desired margins and the product still arriving at the trade counter at a price a plumber/installer would think was good value.

It took me roughly 12 months from that point to a point of having a working prototype (still 3D printed) and a further 6 months to get the tooling. In the process I had to:

Employ a company to take on the design development to produce a design suitable for injection molding (they were based in Derby) Employed a company who could manufacturer the injection molding tooling and then carry out the production and assembly (They were based in Derby)

I found a company near me in Hatton who specialized in doing rubber moldings (for the valves)

I needed a manufacturer of precision lightweight springs, I find one in Nottingham

Then I needed a company who could manufacture bespoke shoulder bolts. They came from further afield (In Liverpool)

Who are your role models? Im not sure I have any role models in the way that the question is normally asked. I don’t think “I want to be like Alan Sugar, Richard Branson” etc. I have taken many of my life’s values (honesty, integrity, work ethic) from my Mum and Dad who both went through really tough financial times, they took on a failing business and built it up to a thriving and profitable livelihood. My dad was also responsible for me aiming to get a trade under the guidance of having a trade I would never be out of work. The trade I got into was the HVAC industry and although, at times I have had periods of no work, it has meant I now have a business that could become a legacy for my family.

 

What inspires You? I love to hear about peoples successes. There is nothing more intoxicating to me than to hear how someone has taken the journey from start, to a point of achievement.

 

Please tell us about your brand/s.

RA Tech

The company name started out as a rational to use the branding colour gold within my corporate colours. According to the internet, RA is the Sun

god, he was the most important God the Lord of all the Gods, his power is that of creation! Fittingly my initials are also RA and can be combined as well with Russell and Ally. The branded ra in a shining Gold with the sun glinting off of the “r” wrapped around the “a” also depicts arms behind the “a” in a supporting and loving way but also showing them intrinsically supporting of each other and combined together.

Avoiding the use of my actual name and developing a company name that was not directly associated with the HVAC industry also created the space to evolve into any industry that came across my path that I thought would augment the business without being branded bound.

To that extent I did take inspiration from Alan Sugar and AMStrad (Alan Michael Sugar trading) and to a certain extent the Virgin brand, which has famously many different product portfolios behind its belt.

 

hotun

Whilst RA Tech would be the company, the product also had to establish its own brand identity and it had to do that fast. I started out leading with the product brand rather than the company. The product was most important to establish. My initial name was Hot tun or Hottun (hot tundish). I knew that different UK accents would put different spins on the pronunciation, but in creating an indistinct pronunciation also created a talking point “how do I pronounce that?” This established product awareness in a fun and friendly way. From my own perspective, I am from Essex and Hertfordshire, I have a tendency to drop the H, so Hottun becomes ‘otun, but in (posh?) BBC English one might pronounce it hoe-tun (as in toe). I also wanted to try and emulate the success of the brand Hoover being associated with the verb to hoover the floor, not vacuum, after all, even people with Dysons still hoover the floor!

If I could create the legacy of installers/plumbers always wanting the tundish called hotun, then they would always ask for a hotun even when putting a rival product in. The generic name for the product has evolved to become a dry trap tundish. So once I can establish the hotun dry trap tundish as a generic product it has a good chance of rolling off the tongue

I had a logo design company do some concepts of the name and stylized logos. The inverted triangle was my favorite. It showed the wide part of the tundish leading to the piped outlet. The designer had it in a solid red but I added the gold/yellow lines to bring in that colour from the RA and the tech in red to reflect the red in the triangle. For different colour combinations (for different colour back grounds) we can have (without losing brand) the word hotun in red, yellow/gold or black, likewise the

word “tech” can be altered to suit to match or contrast with the use of those three colours.

The design company did suggest to drop one of the T’s from Hottun. This stopped the product becoming a double barreled name and easier to pronounce, so Hot- tun (two distinct separate syllables) became hotun and the word could become very easily “slanged” to ‘otun or “hoetun” but both being a “slurred” double syllable. I dropped the capital H to a lower case h to try and have a talking point and create interest and to try and encourage the use of it becoming a hoover the floor type brand association.

As a matter of interest the way hotun is now pronounced makes it very easy to combine with dry trap tundish. The hotun dry trap tundish is easier to combine than Mactun dry trap tundish or Teslatun dry trap tundish as both of those names are distinct two syllable names.

The product brand name “hotun” also lends itself to other add on brand names like, hotun hiflo, hotun shield, hotun detect etc and so grows that family of products

The combined logo is meant to be read “hotun by RA tech” leaving the reader know the product generic brand “hotun” and also get used to the company brand name “RA Tech” being associated with a tried and tested, successful product.

 

Strap lines that have evolved with the brand names

hotun – its not just a tundish

hotun hiflo – the tundish evolved

hotun detect – it makes hotun sense

Are also fun and describe the product quickly

 

What’s your most memorable experience? I have had so many different “memorable” experiences its difficult to choose the most!

Climbing an 80 foot tree when I was 14 to rescue a crashed model turbo fan remote controlled aircraft

Getting stuck on a welsh mountain (school trip) at 13 getting (mild) hypothermia

Scoring 60 goals in one season for my Scout football team

Playing chess for the junior school chess team sitting there in the school canteen but being so nervous that I was shivering so much I was almost sick!

Buying my second car (my dream car at the time) a 3.0 S Ford Capri and nearly wrapping it round a roundabout because the brakes were no good

But probably, getting an email from Worcester Bosch saying they like my product and why don’t I go in to have a chat with them and when I did, they told me that my invention had solved a problem that they had been trying to solve for 2 – 3 years!

 

Which social media channels work best for promoting your work? What exactly do you do on the social media channel that makes it work for you? When I first brought hotun to market, I promoted it on plumbing forums and help sites. This was a direct connection with fellow plumbers in a very efficient manner

Twitter became my next favorite channel quite quickly because I realised that many installers had a twitter presence. It became a very very effective method of promotion with many installers getting into tagging our products in on their installation to fellow plumbers, very good social proofing. Nowadays LinkedIn is probably our best social media channel, as we have evolved from installer one product at a time type of selling (all be it via the merchants who sell our products) the specification (new build) market, once cracked, has lead to multiple sales (100’s) per sale rather than the ones and two’s. Most Directors and high level positions in the industry have LinkedIn profiles, they do not have twitter profiles. Although they are not the decision makers they are very good and powerful influencers

The ”company” twitter account, promotes the product with a human touch, I flit between “corporate” and personal voice, of late twitter has become a bit of a dessert with many companies not getting very much engagement. LinkedIn does get conversation engagement but post myself and Andy put out regularly get 2-3000 views and goes as high as 5000.

 

What’s your greatest fear? That I fail to meet our customers expectations

Looking back, what’s one thing you wish you understood better before you ever got started? How to deal with negativity and trolling on social media. But it was a trial by fire and I have learnt how to deal with it at an embryonic stage so there was less of an audience listening.

What are the strategies that helped you become successful in your journey? Always thinking about the motivation of why people buy a product, what their hot buttons are and allowing them to get used to the idea by storytelling the benefits of the product rather than getting upset or angry that they didn’t get the concept!

What keeps you going when things get tough? My belief that there is always a way through, round or over a problem. For this I take my inspiration from my plumbing work – There is never a problem that I cant solve given sufficient time and/or money

 

Any message for our readers.

If you have a dream and the dream is viable, do the things that support the growth of that dream consistently but never become obsessed by the dream. Always be willing to alter direction and be very aware of the “door of opportunity” opening to you and/or take advantage and alter your plans if that moves you forwards. Trust your own judgement but be mindful of other peoples feedback.

Keep more than one interest at the center of your life so you do not become obsessed by your one big dream. Keep a continual interest in your private/family life they are your best support system and if you loose that everything gets worse quickly and dreams get put on hold sometimes for years

 

Ask yourself, Does what I am doing help me progress my dream?

Does the current design actually solve a problem or have I invented a product that doesn’t need an answer or solution

Can I produce the product at a price that doesn’t make a too high a hurdle to the purchase decision – The higher the price the more the price objection from the customer will be

Is the price I am asking, a price that is perceived to be too expensive? Can I sell the product at a price that is seen to be great value

When inventing a product, know your prices for production, tooling and IP make sure you are financed or can get the finance to avoid the financial spiral of cash death.

Never give up your day job until you have enough steady and reliable income to move your wages over to the new full time job, until then the money coming from your current job finances the roof over your head and the food on the table, never put your house on the line for your dream, it shouldn’t have to be that big a gamble, if it becomes that big a gamble you have left your current job too early.

 

How can people connect with you?

russell.armstrong@ratechuk.co.uk

Please visit the website for more information www.hotun.co.uk