20 Years of Coidan Graphite (No more Small Fish)

Graphite fish jumping out of the water towards the ground.

I’m writing this month’s blog on the 7th of April 2024. I doubt it’s a particularly relevant or memorable date for you, but 20 years ago today I started my business – Coidan Graphite.

I’d just left my father’s old business, which had been bought by a competitor a few years beforehand. Being MD of a conglomerate’s regional operation wasn’t floating my boat and I wanted to be my own boss. I discovered the higher you climbed up the greasy pole the further away you became from the products and the customers (i.e. the interesting bits).

I’d originally intended to leverage my graphite expertise and experience as a consultant for companies who needed these skills but weren’t available in-house. Working from a comfortable home office in Yorkshire, devising solutions and writing reports before being whisked off in first class to a swanky office somewhere before presenting my findings to an appreciative board.

And in the first 18 months, that was what it was like, without the first class whisking or swanky office – in fact it was a virtual office!

It quickly became clear that a common key issue facing the companies I was working with was sourcing the desired component. In a market where orders are measured in tonnes, those wanting smaller quantities of machined graphite were at a disadvantage.

My remit as a consultant widened to include sourcing. I was able to use my graphite network to make getting their graphite products easier and more efficient for my customers. But, even with calling in favours, the quantity of business still meant that pricing and delivery timescales weren’t what they should have been for my customers. Unfortunately, they remained small fish in a very big pond.

This experience gave me the confidence to change the business direction entirely by setting up a production facility in Yorkshire. At least it did, until I stood at the site in Kirk Hammerton that I’d just purchased, at which point I was thinking, ‘what the hell have you done?’.

In those early years, I was constantly juggling the capacity constraints of a developing site with the capital demands such a site requires. For light relief, I used to intersperse this with breaks of yard labour or CNC machining; everyone in the team was expected to muck in, as we still do.

However, my initial instincts were proven right. There are plenty of companies out there that don’t want to be the ‘small fish’ in their supplier’s eye. Enquiries increased, more machines were ordered and commissioned, and the team grew; some of whom are still with me today. Service and technical advice is still much appreciated by our customers.

Just as I’ve been fortunate with my customers, I’ve also been very fortunate in my team. Machining graphite is dirty work. It rubs off on everything, and the dust gets everywhere. The team look like coal miners at the end of a shift. Even with a combined experience of more than 100 years, I’m still constantly amazed at the work they’re able to produce. Graphite components with myriad uses; in fact, with 40 years in graphite I’m still seeing new uses (sometimes new to me, other times, completely new applications).

It’s been quite an evolution over the twenty years we’ve been going, but I suppose that’s true for any business operating over that period. But being the owner makes it a very personal journey as I’m also proving the Yorkshire saying that ‘where’s there’s muck, there’s brass.’

That’s it for now, see you next time.