Call BD Cranetech the company that adamantly believed it could do better than its foreign rivals - and then went ahead and did just that.

Armed with a GCE "O" Level certificate and spades of ambition back in 1991, Jeffery Lim left his apprenticeship job in a German crane corporation to start his own outfit designing, manufacturing and assembling customised cranes for industrial use.

The German firm's risk-averse approach - it had turned down a $4.5 million dollar project, feeling it was too dicey - had frustrated the young Mr Lim, who, with a handful of like-minded colleagues, had believed that the project was well within their capability to deliver.

Mr Lim was unfazed about striking out on his own as a homegrown startup; at that time, the only players in the specialised field of supplying crane components were foreign firms.

BD Cranetech's current chief executive and co-founder said: "Since the Caucasians can do it, I think we can do a better job than they can - or at least (perform) at the same level."

In the last two decades or so, BD Cranetech has emerged as a major local player in the field, manufacturing customised crane solutions for clients from the marine to the construction and logistics industries - producing cranes even for clients operating in extreme conditions, be it cold, rough seas or in the wilting heat of a Middle Eastern desert.

Local advantage

And because it is based here, it has been able to charge less for its customised cranes than it would cost a client to have the crane components designed and manufactured overseas and then shipped here. Cost savings aside, turnaround time for projects was also shortened.

The company snagged its first sales order within two weeks of setting up shop, and has not looked back since.

It even rode the crest of a wave during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, doing well with its "quality at a lower price" value proposition at a time when its potential clients were scrutinising their spending more closely.

But the crisis gave BD Cranetech an important lesson on cash-flow management. The nature of the business had already made cash-flow tight, given that the company had to pay upfront for raw materials and manufacturing costs and not collect payment until the cranes were delivered.

But the management, upbeat about business prospects, compromised the cash-flow situation further by choosing to buy a factory - a move that nearly upended the company in 2002.

The next few years were lean. The factory was sold, and the company was selective about projects. It even took to requesting its major clients to source for the raw materials, such as steel, for their own cranes since they could do so at more competitive rates.

In 2005, cash-flow breakeven was achieved; today, the company is back to owning its own factory, a 9,000-square-foot facility in western Singapore which runs a lean production cycle.

BD Cranetech takes pride in working closely with its clients, involving them in the designing process while offering innovative design solutions from its in-house team. The company also strives to deliver customer satisfaction by offering free consultations ahead of the purchase decision and assigning a specific manager to see each project through.

It also follows up with a 24/7 after-sales service, recognising how costly it can be when cranes malfunction and are out of commission; in addition, its senior management personally drop in on clients to gather feedback.

Overseas opportunities

The crane industry is nearing maturity in Singapore, but by listening to its loyal clients, the company still sees opportunities here, especially with a recent rise in the number of government projects such as the expansion of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) lines and expressway networks.

BD Cranetech is also looking beyond Singapore's shores, specifically in potential markets such as Vietnam, the Middle Eastern countries and Bangladesh for business, given that large investments in infrastructure are being made in these places.

Mr Lim is to retire soon. When asked what advice he would give aspiring entrepreneurs, he said: "If you start a business, you must be prepared to bei shui yi zhan (fight with one's back to the river) and make a do-or-die commitment to the business."