Posted on Tuesday 13 December 2011 by Ulster Business
They say in business that timing is everything, and this was certainly the case for Frank Flynn.
His company, Steel Solutions, decided it needed to diversify at almost exactly the same time as Redrock Machinery, a company Frank knew well, went into administration.
The Co. Armagh engineering company had run into financial difficulties after sales from key markets slumped, and at one stage the future looked grim for its 28 remaining employees.
“I got involved the week after it went into administration and came in to have a look at it. We put in an offer in December 2009 and eventually completed the deal in the last week of March 2010,” explains Frank.
“The company Redrock and its brand was not completely new to me and it wasn’t by accident that we were the people who bought it.”
Indeed, Frank was the manager of Redrock in the early 1990s and having come from an engineering background himself he saw a strong opportunity to turn the business around.
“Steel Solutions needed to diversify in some direction because we were involved in structural steel and waste machines, and both of those businesses at that point were at a very low point. We did have some contracts on the structural side which we knew would carry us through 2010 and 2011 but beyond that, both from the planning office and the whole construction sector, things were looking quite bleak. So we were looking to diversify and it was kind of a coincidence that Redrock popped up,” he notes.
“With myself knowing the industry and knowing the business inside out, coupled with the fact that agriculture and food production around the world was looking like it was going to have a positive time for a while, it seemed the ideal thing to buy.”
The company has had an extremely successful first year under its new owners, beating its annual sales target of £5m and increasing its staff levels from 28 to 50 – with a target now set to get back to previous employment levels of 70 people. It has also grown its export sales in key European markets including Denmark, Holland and Finland.
Part of this success has been achieved by refocusing the business towards its traditional strength in the agricultural sector, as well as investing in new products for its range of machinery.
“The brand name Redrock is largely known in the agriculture sector,” says Frank.
“But in recent years it had strayed from that heritage and when you start to take that brand name out into other sectors like construction you get it watered down to some degree. Some of the products had become outdated and the brand had suffered so we needed to address that,” he adds.
With the focus firmly back on delivering high quality cattle feeding and slurry handling equipment Redrock has fine tuned its product range and modernised a number of lines, bringing all of its manufacturing back in house to its facilities in Armagh.
It has modernised the processes for metal preparation, painting and assembly to increase efficiency and improve the quality of its products so it can compete locally and internationally.
“Some of the Northern Ireland companies, including our own, still have some ground to make up to compete with the way that German machines in particular are finished and presented to the market,” says Frank, who adds that investment in R&D to improve products has to be ongoing if it is to stay competitive.
With competitors in places where labour is cheap such as Poland and Lithuania, he believes new product innovation will be increasingly vital to any indigenous engineering company in future.
European sales now account for around 40% of Redrock’s revenues and Frank is hopeful of seeing growth from other overseas markets as it continues to forge export relationships. He expects Redrock will be able to announce further major global export contracts in the coming months.
“Sometimes it is easier to do business in emerging markets where you are not having to fight with 10 other manufacturers who do what you do. But we do see the bulk of our business coming from mainland Europe and into Northern Europe. We have also exported machines to the Southern Hemisphere, to New Zealand and Australia,” he notes.
“There are a lot of factors affecting farmers and the world food market which indicate to us that the demand will be there.”
After surviving it now seems that Redrock is thriving and with plans for further jobs growth that can only be good for the area.
“It is important the company is still here, particularly in a rural area where agriculture and farming is a way of life,” says Frank.
“I am very encouraged by what has been achieved over the past year for Redrock. We now plan to make further investment into our facilities and will remain committed to driving the business forward in the years to come.”