Five things I learned building Ramco

Neil Sanderson built a giant in finding new homes for unused kit
Neil Sanderson
Neil Sanderson is the founder of Ramco pictured by his office

For 26 years (waaayyyy before it was fashionable) Ramco has been at the forefront of the circular economy, helping businesses give new life to their unwanted equipment. We shift everything from forklifts and industrial machinery, to ovens and power-washers.

Here are five things I’ve learned along the way.

1. What feels like a knock-back is often an opportunity

Having left school at 16, I went straight into a youth training scheme (YTS) at my family’s engineering company. I learnt a lot about the manufacturing business and product lifecycles, but the business went into receivership in 1991. This was a real-life lesson in how circumstances can change in the blink of an eye.

A friend gave me a job disposing of surplus assets from the bottling and brewing sector. It was here I realised that there had to be a better way of doing things. This inspired me to start my own business, which may not have happened without that early knock-back when my family’s business went under.

The Covid pandemic was another moment of uncertainty. We had no idea what impact that would have on the business. We furloughed a few members of our team in anticipation of a slow-down. In fact, the opposite occurred. A range of factors - including more people re-evaluating life and setting up their own businesses, people being more comfortable trading online, and a shortage of new goods - led to a 200% increase in the number of people buying through us compared with 2019.  

2. Start small – just start

Rome wasn’t built in a day. I initially set up a company trading goods that were no longer needed, with most of the stock I was buying coming from the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In the late nineties, I won a bid to manage the sale of the MoD’s surplus assets. This was a big moment and Ramco was born. 

Fast forward to today and Ramco has a multi-million-pound turnover, with a 120,000 square-foot specialist-facility in Skegness.

An entrepreneurial spirit has helped us grow – the ability to spot and seize an opportunity is a strength we value in our team. Sometimes those opportunities start small, but in my experience if you start small, work hard, and focus on quality, the payoff is growth.

3 Find your passion

The sad reality is that up and down the country good quality assets are going to waste - expensive things with a lot of life left in them. Thrown away, sat idle in storage, left outside to rust. Being honest, it makes us cross! And now more than ever as people are finally waking up to how precious our planet’s resources are, and the cost of producing new things (to people and planet, as well as financial). This drives us every day.

We work across a range of sectors from the emergency services to leisure and entertainment, facilities management to foodservice. We always ask clients to take us to their site so we can see for ourselves the things they think are rubbish, surplus or without value. Years of experience mean we see things through a different lens – we spot treasure where others don’t.

Preventing surplus assets from ending up as a waste stream or in landfill can be profitable, as well as helpful to the environment. It’s what I set out to do all those years ago and Ramco will continue this mission for years to come. 

4. Embrace change, in fact, engineer it

The only certainty in business is change. You need to embrace it, and if you want to stay ahead of competitors, you also need to actively engineer it. We never sit on our laurels; we’re always looking for ways to improve.

We’ve always invested in technology to help our business and make our processes as smooth as possible. I look back and think about how impressive fax machines and colour printers were at the time. If we wanted to send a proposal or print a brochure, we no longer had to leave the premises.

Now technology is woven through the business - we use Bidspotter to run our auctions and Sage for accounts. A recent big project has been introducing new barcoding technology to improve the traceability of our stock. Imagine a huge, huge warehouse with lots of different sections (items are assessed, refurbished, marketed, and then auctioned), stacks of shelves and thousands and thousands of surplus assets from jet skis to manikins to industrial cookers. At any given time, a client might want to know where an item is, when it will be auctioned and how much it made.

Technology has turned the once laborious task of traceability into a slick and streamlined operation. It hasn’t been easy, we’ve needed to tweak off-the-shelf systems to work for us, but I can already see it’s been worthwhile.

We’re able to handle projects on a much bigger scale, track every item through its journey with us, and with social media and advertising, we can sell globally to our network of thousands of buyers.

5. Relationships are everything

Ramco began as a one-man show, but over the last 26 years we’ve formed a strong and loyal team. Some of the team have been with us for almost the whole time. In some sectors, a focus on wellbeing and happiness of teams is a given. I don’t think that’s widely true of our sector where staff can be seen as replaceable and happiness at work irrelevant. It’s been an active choice to make the happiness of our team a priority – it’s one of the goals in our strategic plan and something we measure against.

I don’t think you can ever under-estimate the power of building and maintaining relationships. It’s an investment and something you have to focus on, it doesn’t just happen. The value of a team that stays with you for years, and of clients who do the same has perhaps been seen as a bit old-fashioned in recent years, but I think it’s fundamental. I’m proud there’s been such longevity in our partnerships.

We’re pretty relentless about adding value to clients, doing more than they expect, and solving a problem for them. We see ourselves as the paracetamol to their headache, be that the high cost of storing stuff they don’t need or disposing of it, a focus on sustainability, or a need to generate funds. From convenient collections and refurbishment, right through to storage, marketing, and sale, we listen to their needs from the start and tailor our service accordingly.  

Written by
Neil Sanderson
Written by
April 13, 2022