Innovative PECO heads ‘full steam ahead’ into the future

    BEHIND THE SCENES: PECO chairman Michael Pritchard, son of the company’s founder Sydney Pritchard, pictured in the factory in Beer. Photo by RICHARD AUSTIN

    INNOVATION and investment have always been at the forefront of PECO’s success story.

    From the clever ideas of model train enthusiast and PECO founder Sydney Pritchard, spanned a company which, 71 years later, can proudly call itself the world’s leading manufacturer of model railway track.

    Flying the flag for British manufacturing, PECO stuck to its guns while other companies moved their factories abroad to save on labour costs.

    The company is now the only major manufacturer of model railways still producing in the UK and has remained in East Devon since its inception in 1946.

    While other companies are now realising the benefits of bringing business back to Britain, PECO already has a well-established workforce at its long-term home in Beer.

    In fact, while other companies have been focussed on moving their manufacturing abroad, PECO has developed trading relationships across the world and now exports its products to 34 countries, its biggest markets being in America and Australia and others including China, Taiwan, Thailand and Japan.

    Managing Director Ben Arnold is the third generation of the Pritchard family to take the helm at PECO, following on from his uncle Michael Pritchard, who is now the company’s chairman. Ben is keen to further develop relationships overseas to ensure the business continues to thrive in the future.

    “Model railways is a hobby that’s well ingrained in the USA and Australia, but we’re interested in growing our market in countries such as India and South America,” he commented.

    “That’s where we have a focus and some challenges to overcome.”

    Back in Beer, one of the main challenges for the company is space and PECO is always trying to ensure it makes the best use of its site by making its production processes as efficient as possible, and it seems to be working well, with more than 1,000 products in its catalogue and something new developed each month.

    The bustling factory is equipped with the latest technology to keep up with PECO’s high quality standards and cutting edge ideas. Everything is done on site; from the first idea for a new product to seeing it made on the factory floor.

    Mr Arnold commented: “Product development is a key part of what we do; coming up with new ideas and turning them into something that can be made efficiently and successfully. Sometimes that involves investing in new machinery, so we are also always developing new processes as well as products.

    “We are truly innovative, as a lot of our ideas end up in production. We’re aways striving for innovation and high quality.”

    Despite its forward-thinking, the company uses a more traditional touch to look after its 130 staff; a mini bus to pick up workers from the local area, hearty meals served in the staff canteen and a gift for everyone at Christmas.

    This is no faceless corporation; staff are encouraged to talk to the directors and share their ideas, and if they feel their skills could be put to better use, there’s a variety of aspects to this family-run business which they can try their hand at.

    As well the many aspects of manufacturing of model railways, PECO’s site in Beer is also home to its own shop and exhibition, the popular tourist attraction Pecorama, and sees two monthly magazines published.

    The publishing side of the business first started in 1951 when Sydney Pritchard bought ‘The Railway Modeller’ magazine for £100 from Ian Allen Publishing. Now simply named ‘Railway Modeller’, it has expanded in size and has a monthly distribution of 35,000, making it the UK’s number one model railway magazine.

    The company added a second title, ‘Continental Modeller’, in 1979, regarded as essential reading for every enthusiast who models the different railways of the world. Even in the publishing side of things, PECO is keen to keep up with modern advancements.

    Digital editions of the titles are now available to read online and there are plans for a new website and a digital archive.

    So while visitors can take a step back in time and enjoy a steam train ride at Pecorama, behind the scenes at PECO it’s quite a different story – where innovative thinking and the latest technology is helping this company make strides into the future.

    Lyme Regis editor & Colyton reporter | Francesca gained a First Class Honours degree in journalism and her NCTJ qualifications at Southampton Solent University before joining the paper full-time in 2011. She is now editor of the Lyme Regis edition, as well as a sub-editor on the East Devon and South Somerset editions, and reporter for Colyton.