The best year on record

Group managing director for Allumette Group Angus Mackie talks about investment, challenges and progress since the acquisition of group companies Vertik-Al and Ikon Aluminium Systems in 2017.

Following investment across the Allumette Group since 2017, we have seen significant tangible improvements in quality and efficiency, but I would like to focus on two areas that are equally important.

First, a unifying factor arising from all our investments has been our aim to reduce our impact on the environment. State-of-the-art powder booths reduce powder consumption both in delivery to the target area and in improved reclaim thereby reducing waste to landfill. LED lighting throughout all production and administrative areas, and fitting inverters to our pumps in pre-treatment, has reduced energy consumption. The use of automatic chemical dosing systems and replacement of our demineralisation plant has reduced our chemical usage and improved our wastewater treatment.

Secondly, visible significant investment in the business has provided a real boost to our workforce who can now see a long-term future in the business after a number of years of negligible investment. In addition, it contributes to a quieter, brighter and safer workplace enabling us to work with our staff to drive up the quality and service we offer customers.

In respect of Vertik-Al, any change of ownership is perceived as a risk by existing customers due to the close working relationship between fabricators and coaters. Ultimately the proof is that we have retained the vast majority of customers we had at the point of acquisition and have added a few large accounts along the way taking the turnover from under £7 million to £10 million.

Ikon operates in a tender-driven environment where loyalties are less entrenched and where its product is not required on every project a customer might supply. That said, we look for repeat business and we find that contractors come back to us time after time.

Looking longer term, Vertik-Al is the largest independent architectural aluminium powder coater in the UK, and we see significant opportunity for further expansion from various factors including the increased use of aluminium in place of PVCU, as witnessed by the massive recent investment at Garnalex.

Ikon has a tremendous range of aluminium ventilation products and its close association and proximity to Vertik-Al means it operates on lead times that very few other significant competitors can match.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, 2019/2020 is looking like the best year on record for Vertik-Al and Ikon.

Without the pandemic we might have had a moment to reflect on the progress we have made in the last three years and the achievement of our most recent financial year. Unfortunately, that moment never came as we were thrust into a complex situation and a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances days before the end of a record-breaking year. It says more about the team that we did not dwell on the negatives but adapted to the situation quickly, and after taking a three-week timeout to assess our operating procedures and ensure safe systems of work, we were able to open up on April 20 to support our customers on site.

Being of an age where one is not new to recessions, this correction seems likely to be the largest and most far-reaching I have seen in my business career. As ever we must fall back on the fundamentals: prioritise cash management, maximise commercial manoeuvrability, protect margins, attack costs, and undertake decisive pruning where necessary.

Our strategy is to retain our market leading positions in architectural aluminium powder coating and non-powered building ventilation products by all means necessary, for the better times to come.