Barkley Plastics Flourishes After Joining Forces With Other Midlands Manufacturers

27 April 2016

The firm’s Birmingham factory pumps out 50 million parts a year for the electronics, medical, safety, automotive and building industries as well as producing five-figure custom-made moulds and tools for top tier manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover.

Then there are the partnerships with a diverse range of other sub-contractors in MAN (the Midlands Assembly Network) and Plasfloor, a growing side line making interlocking industrial tiles.

It all adds up to £6.25 million turnover last year and a 5 per cent growth target for 2016 for Barkley which has created 15 new skilled jobs recently and now has 114-strong workforce.

So how has the business, started in the 1960s, managed to break the mould and succeed where others haven’t?

“Plastic has proved fantastic for us, as more metal parts are now being replaced by more adaptable and higher performing polymers, but it goes deeper than that,” says Matt Harwood, business development manager, whose father Mark is managing director and granddad Maurice was a founder and an ex-Lucas toolmaker.

“We do all our operation under one roof, round the clock from our tool room to our mould and production shop.

“We have the specialist machinery to improve on or produce from a design, and offer a lifetime guarantee. That counters any price reductions customers may find by going overseas.

“We can also add value by doing additional assembly and working with other members in the MAN group. We are really proud of being part of its complete supply chain.

“For example some of us worked together with a small company Loqski that came to us with a concept for theft-prevention device for skis. Our combined skills enabled us to build it and being a group made it much easier for the customer.”

The 2008 recession was sink-or-swim time however for Barkley along with a lot of other small producers.

The MAN network of eight sub-contractors and an engineering design consultancy was set up a decade ago in the wake of the MG Rover collapse to help firms work together to secure new business.

Being a founder member of MAN as generated £3m of business for Barkley since then, while the turndown sparked an entire change of focus for the business.

“We turned more towards automation and employing skilled engineers to operate the newer machinery,” continues Harwood.

“We were adamant that our tool room should be kept going, a very smart move in hindsight.

“We have invested instead, for instance in mould flow software and helping clients in the early stage of design. These are now main selling points.

“We have just invested more than £500,000 on a new 650 tonne injection mould press and new cranes so we have the capacity to handle bigger tools.

“We tightened our management control and maintained our accreditations which helped us implement lean manufacturing methods.

“There appears to be a growing demand from Original Equipment Manufacturers to outsource some of their non-core production which is good news for us as we specialise in solving complex problems.”

Barkley also built on those measures by setting up a 15-year machinery replacement policy.

“That has helped off-set rising energy costs as the newer machines are more efficient,” he adds.

“Then Plasfloor PVC flooring, which has outstripped expectations, has taken off as a solution for areas with high industrial traffic.

“Even putting tooling work out to Asia has paid off bringing in more moulding work, just as our expertise with automotive parts attracted orders from other sectors like the retail and medical.”

But although the investing strategy has been successful, it takes ever more juggling as customers extend payment terms until the completion of a contract, explains Harwood.

“We used to get part payments, but that has now changed especially with the bigger companies. It isn’t easy but we get round this with being very good at applying for grants, equipment loans and an overdraft with our banker Barclays, and invoice discounting.”

The company has now outgrown its 89,000 square foot space and is considering moving so it can hold more stock and speed up fulfilment.

And DIY store B&Q should expect a call from Harwood soon, he says: “We can see our Plasfloor tiles on its shelves, it would be a good fit.”


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