Posted on Thursday 19 December 2013 by Ulster Business
Eddie Stobart's truck and trailer's star Mick Leech and SDC Trailers MD Mark Cuskeran with some of the firm's trailers.
While most of us will be familiar with the SDC logo on the back of a large percentage of the articulated trucks on our roads, the company itself has largely chosen to fly below the radar.
"We've always just kept our heads down and concentrated on getting metal out the door," says Mark Cuskeran, the firm's Managing Director.
Established in Toomebridge in 1978, SDC has grown into one of the leading trailer manufacturers in Europe, making trailers for household names such as Eddie Stobart, Tesco and DHL.
It employs nearly 300 people at its Toomebridge plant and 120 at an MDF facility in Antrim, with several hundred more at plants in England.
And having recently signed contracts worth several hundred thousand pounds with high profile retailers Heatons and Asda, the locally-owned company is confident about the future.
"We've really seen an uptake since 2011," explains Cuskeran. "We're back up to making 115 trailers a week, so we're only about 10% below the maximum we've ever sold over 30 years.
"It is a combination of a lot of repeat orders and new orders. We've got about 28% of the UK and Irish trailer market, so we are growing by competing against our rivals out there."
From its foundation in 1978 the business expanded with the acquisition of Neville Charrold in Nottinghamshire in 1994 and the acquisition by Retlan Manufacturing in 1998.
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing. As it did for many manufacturers, the impact of recession led to redundancies and pay freezes for some staff.
"We were absolutely flying up until about June 2008, the order book was six or seven months at about 125 trailers a week, which was more than we'd ever done. But then the orders stopped coming. About three months before the credit crunch hit with Lehman Brothers we realised the confidence wasn't out there in our industry," says Mark.
"We saw it come back in 2011 and year on year since there has been growth. We've actually increased our employee levels by about 100 people since March this year. We've got about 700 people working with us now."
With continued investment the company now has three modern and efficient manufacturing facilities and Cuskeran is confident that a new product line will further boost its growth prospects.
"We're very much pushing into Europe with our new car transporter product, the Autoliner product, which we've introduced recently. We will be at the Hanover auto show with it next year," he notes.
"The car market is flying. We're selling to a lot of the existing haulage firms that are in the market, Stobart are a big player, we're selling into Ford already, we sell to the hauliers that haul for Nissan, so we're feeling very confident about the market."
While he cites high energy costs in Northern Ireland and European red tape as ongoing challenges, the MD is more positive on finance, noting that customers are starting to be able to afford capital products – such as new trailers – as more funding is being made available by asset based lenders.
Group turnover is currently approximately £125m and Cuskeran predicts the push into Europe with its new product will significantly increase that figure.
"We've always sold into Scandinavia and for certain products into Holland. But we see opportunities throughout Europe for this new product. It is going to be very good for us. We think we can increase our sales just through that product line by about 10%," he says.
"We feel we have a very good product, a competitive price and a very good all round service to our customers."