Mower-maker flying the flag for UK firms as it moves on to different turf
A Derbyshire business famous for its mowers and sports turf equipment has set up a new company, All British Precision. Oliver Astley reports.
ITS equipment is used to keep the world's best golf courses, football and cricket pitches in perfect condition, making a name for itself around the globe.
Now the parent company to mower and turf maintenance firms Dennis and Sisis has set up a new firm to capitalise on demand for machining expertise in the UK.
Managing director Ian Howard, alongside business partner Richard Allen, has founded All British Precision, aiming to bring work back to the UK from the Far East.
It is a patriotic move and the company, based just off the A52 in Kirk Langley, has already picked up work from local businesses, some frustrated by the service they are getting from overseas firms.
Effectively, All British Precision combines the manufacturing arms of Dennis and Sisis, the former hitting the headlines recently after cutting a deal to send its mowers to Brazil to prepare the nation's football pitches for the 2014 World Cup.
The company, formed in October, will produce the 2,000 different components required by its two sister companies and have spare capacity for additional work to boot. Mr Howard is one of a seemingly growing band of Derbyshire entrepreneurs passionate about British engineering, being proud of its past achievements and its current capabilities and confident in its future.
He said: "I talk to a lot of manufacturing companies and, over the past couple of years, have been finding people complaining that parts being produced in China are causing them problems. The increasing costs of having parts manufactured in China, the poor quality that firms are experiencing and the long lead times you need to get components shipped over all add up to headaches for UK manufacturing firms.
"We are within about eight hours of just about anywhere in the UK, both the quality of our work and the materials we use are first-class and we have the experience and skills to make a huge range of different parts. Everything we can source in the UK we do source in the UK because we should be looking after our own industry."
In total, parent company Howardson employs around 50 people, 10 of whom are now with All British Precision.
The new business has £750,000 of work guaranteed from Dennis and Sisis but, in the next few years, it expects that its sister companies will represent about a third of revenues, with 70% coming from outside.
At the forefront of the competition to bring more business to Britain is a newly-acquired Star machine, a 12-axis sub-spindle turning centre. Though that might sound like double-Dutch to anyone not involved in precision manufacturing, it represents £320,000 worth of kit that can shape, cut and drill complex metal components faster and with less manpower than conventional machinery.
Mr Howard said: "This machine is a massive investment for us and it gives us a commercial edge over many competitors. It will do a lot of our work for Dennis and Sisis and have the capacity to do a large amount of sub-contract work. There is already plenty of work there so there is not the same level of risk as comes with setting up a company from scratch."
What this machine brings to the party is the ability to produce parts more quickly and with less human input.
Investment has been possible, largely due to the success of Dennis's mowers which are used at the Football Association's new centre at St George's Park, Twickenham, the Millennium Stadium and Wembley. On a football pitch, you might have £500 million worth of players out there, which means that the surface has to be perfect," said Mr Howard.
"Presentation is of critical importance as well when you might have hundreds of millions of people watching on television, the stripes have to be just right and Sky is very demanding of groundsmen up and down the country.
Equipment has also been shipped out to Russia, Japan and the US, where the large number of golf courses makes the territory particularly lucrative. Mr Howard said: "Exports represented 26% of our business last year and, overall, we saw 9% growth.
The success of Dennis's mowers in recent years has given Howardson the confidence to invest.
It purchased Sisis in 2011 and set about redeveloping its range of turf maintenance equipment to suit Dennis customers.
"Over the last couple of years, we have invested around £2 million," said Mr Howard. "Sisis was a really good brand that was well respected but needed an injection of enthusiasm and, during 2012, we produced a large number of new products, improving the existing range and redesigning them so that they can be made more easily.
"One of the reasons why we set up All British Precision was that we knew that, with our experience and this technology, we could make bits for £3 rather than £4."
Last year, Dennis and Sisis notched up revenues of £4.5 million.
Following the introduction of All British Precision and the reorganisation of the business, Mr Howard feels that the group is on the cusp of significant growth and is on the lookout for skilled machine operators.
He said: "Within the next three years, we can see All British Precision growing into a £2 million business, with Dennis and Sisis building revenue to the £7 million mark, so these are very exciting times for our business.
"We design our products to be the best and we take a real pride in what we make."