The electronics expert

Located at the heart of Plymouth’s historic quarter, Sutton Marina was first opened in 1972, when its first 70 berths were opened for recreational yachts. Sitting behind a tidal lock that guarantees water depth at all stages of the tide, it today boasts more than 450 berths, and proudly holds ‘5 Gold Anchor Marina’ status.

The opening of Sutton Marina in 1972 coincided with the formation of SM Group (Europe) (SMG), which began life as a dedicated marine electronics supplier to the vessels stationed in the area. Since then, the company has grown to become the UK and Ireland’s largest value added distributor of marine electronics, supplying to installers, chandleries, marinas, boat builders, and various other commercial, military and government clients.

“From what were fairly humble beginnings, we have come to be known as the recognised source of all things electronic when it comes to marine vessels,” explains SMG Managing Director, Ray Badminton. “During the course of our history, we have seen the marine electronics trade evolve considerably, from the time of massive analogue radars that required multiple people to move and install, to the point where today you have small electronic radars that a well-versed end user can conceivably install themselves. For our part, SMG has managed to navigate this period of change, and shown its willingness and ability to embrace advances in technology.”

These traits have allowed SMG to amass a large, diverse customer portfolio. “Our customers can range from a single ‘man-in-a-van’ installer who is responsible for the workings of his local boatyard, right up the Ministry of Defence or the industry’s biggest systems integrators, such as Babcock International and BAE Systems,” Ray continues. “What that means in terms of vessel profile is that you will find marine electronics supplied by SMG in anything from small fishing vessels, ferries and mid-sized commercial vessels, through to large yachts and leisure motorboats.”

Ray goes on to detail the three key factors that he attributes SMG’s long-lasting success to. “The first is the wide range of products from leading brands such as Garmin, Raymarine, Furuno and Navico (the owner of B&G, Simrad and Lowrance) – to name just a few – that we stock and supply. Our ability to supply anything from advanced thermal imaging cameras for military use, which can cost upwards of £30,000 per unit, right down to a small Personal Locator Beacon costing around £150, helps to make SMG what is essentially a one-stop-shop for all of our customers’ marine electronics needs.

“Equally as vital to our operations is the depth of knowledge and experience that our people possess. We have some employees that have been with us for more than 20 years, and it is they and their colleagues that work with these products on a daily basis, gaining the understanding of how they work and the benefits that they can provide our customers with. It is this knowledge that sees SMG used by people as the perfect sounding board for advice when choosing the right systems for their vessels. Last, but not least, we also benefit greatly from the credibility we possess as a business. Having been around for such a long period of time, our customers have developed a degree of trust in us that others in our sector find it very difficult to match.”

The aforementioned strengths are clearly continuing to pay dividends for the company, with its trading and profits to date in 2019 being up year-on-year on those of 2018. Ray puts this down to several reasons, including a noticeable increase in retrofitting activity within the industry and the ongoing upsurge in new product development by the major manufacturers. He also notes that the company’s export business remains on the rise, with the recent fall in the value of the pound making its products more appealing to customers in Europe and further afield.

To facilitate this growth, and to better support SMG and its customers in general, the company has spent the last few years identifying the means to revamp both its front-end and back-end systems. “At the front-end, we have launched a brand-new website, which has made it much easier for customers to browse the breadth of products we have and their respective availability,” Ray states. “The website comes with trade log in functionality, and gives both our trade and commercial customers the chance to order the products they need 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, we have also installed a new ERP system across the business, which enables us to more closely monitor stock and process orders quicker than ever before.” SMG also continues to invest in systems and processes to support its ISO9001, JOSCAR and UKAS accreditations.

As we move through the second half of 2019, thoughts turn to the company’s expectations for 2020. “For us, the new year brings with it the introduction of the newest technological advances and products that we can supply our customers, much of which makes its first appearance at the Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) in November,” Ray adds. “This is always an exciting time for us, as our people get familiarised with the latest solutions so that they can properly extol their individual benefits to both resellers and end users, in order to convince them they are worth investing in.”

As a final point, Ray brings up the unavoidable issue of Brexit, but is keen to highlight the positives our leaving of the European Union could bring. “Whilst there have been many well publicised disadvantages of leaving the EU we also have to look at the opportunities that this event can bring SMG, particularly in terms of providing a boost to our growing export activities,” he says. “Accordingly, in the coming months, you will see us looking to further promote SMG and the things that make us a leader in the supply of marine electronics right across Europe and into more markets worldwide.”

SM Group (Europe)
• The UK’s largest marine electronics distributor
• Established in 1972
• Proven worldwide export capabilities