Brompton Bikes – The UK Productivity Explanation

One of the big UK economic problems is the lack of productivity in the workforce. We compare badly with most of our competitors. Last night (5/9/2022) I watched an interesting BBC programme which covered production at Brompton Bicycle Ltd.

Brompton are now the largest UK manufacturer of cycles and specialise in folding bikes. Their products range in price from £1,000 to £3,700 while you can buy an imported folding bike from Halfords for £375. Brompton are clearly focussed on the “premium” market sector.

Their main factory is in west London and the view of the shop floor showed lots of people building bikes manually with not a robot in sight – they claim “All Brompton bike frames are built by hand”. Even painting the frames was shown as being done via a manual spray gun while the frame is built by using brazing rather than welding – this requires a lot of manual skill and time.  

As a former production engineer this strikes me as a horribly labour intensive and inefficient process. They can apparently recruit relatively unskilled people in west London to do the work who then require lengthy training. You can see why productivity is in essence so low.

Brompton may have built a business on good technical innovation and clever marketing but they are likely to remain a niche producer in world markets. Their business model is probably only viable because of the availability of cheap labour in London.

While this kind of business can succeed in the UK, productivity and wages will remain low.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )

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