A towering success

Posted 7th November 2023

This month we take a look at one of the new city’s biggest successes – a firm that is reaching dizzying heights in every sense of the word, and a business that has left its mark here at the Museum.

We discovered more about the Niftylift story from its chairman and founder, Roger Bowden.

Niftylift is one of Europe’s largest mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) manufacturers and while the business is anchored in these parts, it operates worldwide.

“We specialise in compact, low-weight articulating booms that offer maximum performance with minimal environmental impact,” Roger says, explaining his business in relatively simple terms.

The name ‘Nifty’ has synonyms including ‘particularly good, skilful, or effective” and ‘attractive and stylish’ – which all perfectly sum up what Roger wants to achieve with every lift the company designs: “Combining the two names seemed the perfect solution,” Roger recalled.

2013 Queens Awards

Before Niftylift, he ran an MEWP in Bedfordshire, but he didn’t feel the products were good enough, and so Roger decided to make and build his own.

“After successfully manufacturing machines for the rental fleet, I realised I could sell them to other rental companies, and the idea for Niftylift was born.”

The move to Milton Keynes from Bedfordshire wasn’t such a big leap geographically, but it made perfect business sense. “Milton Keynes is situated in the middle of the country and offers excellent transport links to the rest of the UK. In the past, it provided opportunities for us to invest in the area by purchasing land and building the facilities we needed to grow and compete in the global marketplace,” Roger explained, “It is also a popular place to live, and we benefit from the growing talent pool that Milton Keynes offers.

“In the future, we hope the new city will continue to support our desire to invest in the city so that we can continue to grow and sustain an ever-increasing Milton Keynes workforce.”

Since that move here in 1988 the business has gone from strength to strength. Today it employs a worldwide staff force in excess of 600 people – 500 of those in Milton Keynes.

In the mid-1990s Niftylift reached into the US market, which presented a massive opportunity for the company to increase sales growth.
But there were challenges too: “There are cultural and technological differences to the European market and logistical challenges to selling into a large yet geographically distant market. We met these challenges by investing in local expertise with a US-based sales and distribution team and facilities to allow us to support our product range in the States and deliver the level of customer service they required.”

What are the traits that keep Niftylift at the forefront of the industry in today’s bustling market? “We offer market-leading reach performance from compact, low-weight chassis,” is the easy reply, “Their low weight allows Niftylift to use smaller, more efficient engines, and together with the development of greener options, such as Hybrid and All-Electric power sources, we are able to minimise the environmental impact.
“Niftylift achieves this high performance by training and developing our highly skilled expert staff, adopting the latest computer design technology, and consistent investment in research and development.”

Roger considers a sustainable growth strategy, that ongoing investment and a focus on innovation as all key cogs in Niftylift’s success.
Roger’s impact in business hasn’t gone unnoticed – he is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award and two Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. He certainly can’t have envisaged getting his hands on those when he was tinkering around in his first workspace – a humble shed!

“I never dreamed we would achieve our success, but when you surround yourself with talented people who share the same drive to excel as your own, you can achieve amazing things as a team,” he says with certainty.

In 2025 the company will mark its 40th anniversary, and plans are already being drawn up to celebrate in style. What giddy heights does Roger hope the company will have achieved in another four decades?

“I hope we’ll still be doing what we do now – employing talented local people to design and build the best MEWPs in the world and investing in the facilities, technology and resources they need to be able to do so.”

As someone who has attained huge success in the business world, what advice would Roger offer to anyone who dreams of following his lead?
“Start with a good idea. Be prepared to work hard… very hard, and surround yourself with the best people you can find! That and a bit of luck and anything is possible,” he suggests.

The brand really is a big community player too – putting itself at the heart of the community.

“We understand the importance of Niftylift being a positive presence in this community. Our new headquarters in Shenley Wood is an excellent example of this – it is built to the BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology) Excellent standard, with a very high environmental performance, and has been designed to complement its surroundings.

“We also like to make seasonal additions to our signage and flags to recognise and celebrate events and occasions that matter to the community, something we receive a lot of positive feedback on, and our giant Christmas tree has become an essential part of Milton Keynes’ festive celebrations since we first displayed it in 2015,” Roger said.

“We take great pleasure in doing these things for our staff, their families and our neighbours, and we also understand the importance of connecting with future generations.”

Niftylift also offers a STEM program, working closely with schools in the area to promote STEM in the classroom.”
At Milton Keynes Museum, work has started on its new gallery, which will tell the modern day history of the new city – and Niftylift has delivered the first interactive exhibit which is proving to be particularly popular with visitors.

“People have questioned the inclusion of industries and businesses in a gallery about Milton Keynes but we think it is important to include the stories of where we spend so much of our lives and are essential for the local economy,” Museum director Bill Griffiths said.

“To have an interactive exhibit, allowing visitors to operate a Niftylift, fits in with the rest of the Museum and is a really great attraction. We are grateful to Roger and his top team for tailor-making a Niftylift just for us.”

Roger is every bit as thrilled for his business to be a part of the Museum’s offering as Bill is to have them there: “The idea for the MK Museum exhibit came from conversations with Bill, and we are very grateful to him for offering us the opportunity,” Roger said.

“We see it as a natural extension of our STEM program and a way for us to reach a wider audience of young people.
“We want to show future generations, via fun and engaging interactions, where an interest in STEM subjects can lead them – hopefully, to a successful, fulfilling career with Niftylift!” he added.

Milton Keynes Museum is one of the best interactive museums, a perfect outing for all ages, staffed by friendly volunteers, and highly recommended by visitors on TripAdvisor.

This feature was written by Milton Keynes Museum. Find out more about forthcoming events and see our opening times at: miltonkeynesmuseum.org.uk