The recent Manufacturing Advisory Service’s Barometer tells a story of sales growth and recruitment confidence among England’s smaller manufacturing companies.
Record numbers are looking to take on staff. Seventy-three per cent of those surveyed expect to win more work between now and October and 59 per cent are looking to invest in new plant and machinery.
If you want to see and feel that confidence in the manufacturing sector, then just go to the Ellesmere Port-based engineering firm Thyson Technology.
It has been growing at a steadily impressive annual 20 per cent for the past four years.
Thyson’s growth is set to accelerate in the wake of new contract wins and having secured some private investment in 2013. It’s a company that has an international outlook and is committed to building up the skills of its people, all the way from managers to apprentices.
Thyson designs and builds analyser systems for some of the biggest names in the global oil and gas, energy, steel and pharmaceutical sectors. Its expertise is in measuring the quality of gas and liquids, whether that’s oil out of a well or smoke out of a chimney. Thyson’s engineers know how to ensure that the analyser equipment gets the best possible samples quickly and safely.
The company’s engineers and systems can be found across the world, from Sicily to West Africa to the east coast of Russia.
When the company moved from its original home in Warrington in 2007, its turnover was £3.4m. Today turnover stands at more than £10m.
CEO David Barrowclough is confident of a further significant revenue growth this year, in the wake of securing two major contracts with National Grid.
The company has almost doubled the footprint of its production and office facilities. It has also increased its workforce by 25 per cent to 80 employees.
Attracting private investors
The transaction in 2013 that brought in new private investors wasn’t driven by the need for finance. “We had money in the bank,” explains David Barrowclough, “because we had never taken money out the business.”
However, as is the case with many small engineering firms, the business grew from being a small group of engineers who got a buzz from solving problems and making things work. They were engineers first, business people second. For example, its sales and marketing efforts weren’t particularly structured: customers came mainly via word of mouth.
Now Thyson’s ambitions are bigger. “There is a lot of opportunity for us,” says Barrowclough. That means landing larger contracts, regularly. “It’s a big wheel that we have got to get turning,” he adds.
This is where the new private investors play their part. They are helping Barrowclough and his colleagues plan for growth.
“Our investors are helping us give a strong direction and focus to the business, so that we can plan a clear view of the business going forward,” he says.
“They have helped us put the building blocks in place so we are now a better-run business.”
Building a reputation in the Middle East
Exports have always been important to Thyson – they can account for up to 40 per cent of revenues. Barrowclough is keen to build the company’s international profile.
“We have built a strong reputation for quality and delivery in the UK and Europe.
“We’re relatively unknown in Middle East. We need to be better known there.
“Large engineering firms based out there aren’t just going to phone us up and ask us to bid for contracts. We have to fight and chase all the time, so we’re looking to set up a network of agents.” As part of that effort, Thyson has consulted with United Kingdom Trade and Investment (UKTI) as well as drawing on the networks of its investors.
As well expanding its existing international and new emerging territories, Thyson is also targeting growth in new sectors such as nuclear power generation.
How three apprentices became their own bosses
Another important part of the company’s development is the development of its people. Barrowclough is very aware of the need to build up the management capabilities within the company. “We have a three year plan for this,” he says.
Thyson believes strongly in the importance of apprenticeships.
All three directors – Barrowclough, Roger Brown and Ian Camp – all started their careers as apprentices at the Shell Stanlow refinery in Ellesmere Port.
There are currently two apprentices working with the business, with more planned for the years ahead. Thyson works in conjunction with TTE Ellesmere Port on its apprenticeship schemes.
It is clear that many British manufacturers can see that the economic upturn is sustainable. The recent MAS survey suggests they are planning for the long-term and taking action to manage their future expansion.
It is most certainly happening in Ellesmere Port, says David Barrowclough. “Our investment in enhancing our production capabilities in Ellesmere Port is a sign not only of our continued growth, but also of our commitment to the region, which has proved an ideal base for our global business throughout the history of the company,” he concludes.
The Business Growth Service is now closed to new customers. Contractual commitments to existing customers will be honoured, as long as all support and related activity is completed by 31 March 2016. If you’re looking to find what business support is available in your area, your local Growth Hub may be able to help.
UKTI can help growing businesses with advice and support in many aspects of exporting. Arrange a face-to-face meeting with a UKTI advisor today.
You can find out much more about finding and hiring apprentices, as well as the employment grants that are available at apprenticeships.org.uk. You can call the National Apprenticeship Service on 0800 150 600.
Contact UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) for guidance on skills and employment issues.