Posted on Monday 2 October 2017 by Ulster Business

A banking partner to rely on

Stephen Russell, Director of Strategy and Development at McKenzies; Judith Scott, Bank of Ireland Business Acquisition Team NI and Sergio McKenzie, founder of McKenzies  

Located on a six-acre site in the Port of Belfast and on a significant site adjacent to Larne Harbour McKenzies is a multi-million pound turnover business with clients of all sizes located around the world. This business, led by Sergio McKenzie and son Sergio Jnr, is very much a family affair with Suzanna and Donna McKenzie also heavily involved in the day-to-day operations.

Evolving beyond recognition from the business founded over 29 years ago and with the support of Stephen Russell, their energetic and enthusiastic Director of Strategy and Development, they are on a significant, ambitious and fascinating growth trajectory, supported in partnership with Bank of Ireland UK.

To find out about this journey, it’s worth hearing a little more about the business.

The business had been relying on a supply of scrap metal from metal recycling companies around Northern Ireland and from the general public but a strategic review of the business four years ago saw a shift in focus.

That has involved turning what had been a small, but very successful, scrap metal business into a global processor of high-value ferrous and non-ferrous material, one which is not just proving hugely successful for the company but which is helping make the Northern Ireland economy more competitive.

“We identified significant growth potential in non-ferrous material within Northern Ireland, particularly aluminium,” Stephen told Ulster Business. “As a result we established contact with a number of manufacturing companies across Northern Ireland who use aluminium either directly or indirectly in their own processes.”

The company had essentially found a new steady supply of aluminium from factories and others which had off-cuts of material and went about securing it by implementing a service level which hadn’t previously been witnessed in the industry.

“These companies required specialist recycling services which would allow them to concentrate on their own core activities. It was important to them that we provided a level of service which was above expectations, which was reliable, transparent and financially beneficial.”

The strategy worked and soon the business was exporting material to the UK, then to Europe and now all over the world.

It was through this service it came into contact with Carrickfergus-based Ryobi, the aluminium casting company which counts the world’s biggest car companies as its customers.

At the time it was importing aluminium from around the world but was keen to explore ways of securing local supply. It was a moment the phrase “industrial symbiosis” was made for.

“Although it was breaking new ground for us, we immediately went into months of research to establish whether it would be possible to support them. We believed we were in a unique position of being able to source secondary aluminium and act as a conduit between two major industries, aerospace and automotive.”

And it was.

After two years of research and development it signed a multimillion pound contract – with the help of Bank of Ireland UK - to build an aluminium melting plant in October 2016 and has already begun manufacturing ingots for Ryobi.

Since then McKenzies has been approached to supply a number of other companies with aluminium and plans to further expand the melting plant in the future, all the while helping reduce the region’s environmental footprint.

Bank of Ireland UK - which has partnered with the firm for the last two years - are at the heart of those plans.

“Bank of Ireland UK has been exceptional in their understanding and support of our strategic goals,” Stephen said. “The process was complex and required an innovative and flexible approach from the bank which was supported at all levels.

“It has adopted a much more innovative style of banking which not only supports progressive business but provides a banking experience which gives us confidence for the future.”

That Stephen was formerly a banker lends that statement weight; that he picked Bank of Ireland UK after carrying out an MSc looking at customer experience levels in the banking industry doubles that weight, and then some. He singled out the business’s main point of contact, Senior Business Development Manager in the Business Acquisition Team NI Judith Scott, for particular praise and said she is representative of others in the team.

“There is a pool of talent in Bank of Ireland UK which ensures a top level of service to customers. It took some innovative thinking on Judith’s behalf and if it hadn’t been for her and the team this project might not have got off the ground.”

A company which has moved its business into new geographies is MMD Communications, a Coalisland-based mobile-phone company which is the largest O2 franchisee in Northern Ireland and Scotland with 18 stores.

The family-run business is headed by Maurice Devlin who has grown the business over the last 20 years and has no plans to rest on the laurels of success. Having ploughed a significant furrow in the personal mobile phone business in both the geographies it operates in, he is expanding the company into the business sector with an offering for companies of all sizes.

“We’re already number one in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the personal mobile market and we want to be number one in the business market,” he said.

That expansion will involve taking on new staff, significant investment in the business and support from our banking partner.

“Bank of Ireland UK has stood by us from the beginning. They’ve supported us in everything we’ve done and encouraged me to have ambitious plans for the future. When we were offered the O2 franchises for Northern Ireland and Scotland they asked what we needed and made a decision quickly. That kind of support is worth a lot to a business like ours.”

Woodland is another good example of a company which has grown in partnership with Bank of Ireland UK. It manufactures kitchen, bedroom and bathroom furniture from its Rasharkin base and was started 30 years ago by Brian McCloskey.

Its core business is supply and distribution to large chains across the UK such as Travis Perkins but since 2013 it added a new revenue stream supplying and fitting its furniture to large developments such as aparthotels and large residential developments. The move has proved successful with Woodland delivering contracts such as the supply and fit out of all bedroom furniture & kitchenettes for the £28m Marlin Apart-Hotel in Waterloo, London. They have also commenced on site at the prestigious Grand Central Hotel in Belfast to “supply and fit” all bedroom and bathroom furniture for the 304 bedroom hotel.

It is deals such as these which Brian McCloskey said have helped the business on its way to hitting its target of £20m turnover by 2020 and its support from Bank of Ireland UK which has brought that target within reach.

“There’s no question that Bank of Ireland UK has been hugely supportive of our growth plans,” Brian told Ulster Business.

“As we’ve grown we have reinvested in plant and people and the bank has been very proactive in providing the help we needed.

“They’ve supported our business plans and we have a very good working relationship with the team.”

Another growing company which has been helped by Bank of Ireland UK to achieve its ambitions is IT Managed Services (ITMS). The Belfast company has been in operation for 30 years selling everything from servers to IT solutions, and in particular managing IT infrastructures for customers. Recent contract wins include Northern Ireland Water and examining board the CCEA in Belfast. It is a business partner of IBM Ireland and the authorised service centre for industrial printing specialist Printronic Inc which supplies industrial grade thermal label printers favoured by a number of distribution and freight companies.

The business has expanded into the Republic and recently opened an office in Balbriggan where it plans to recruit another three people in the next six months, as well as growing its presence in Scotland and England. During that period of growth Bank of Ireland UK has been a strong partner, founder Bill Kennedy said.

“When we present them with a business plan they back it 100% and it is the support from the bank, and from Invest NI, which has really made the business work,” he said. “We’ve had a good working relationship with Bank of Ireland UK that has really helped when we expanded into the Republic.”

That is quite an endorsement, but is one which runs through the testimony of Bank of Ireland UK clients in all regions and from all sectors.

With that kind of partnership, achieving growth is made all the more possible.

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