Tough times test businesses.
The RP Group is one of those that was tested by the recession, but the manufacturing company is emerging stronger and more resilient. “We were growing steadily until October 2008 and then somebody turned the tap off,” says managing director Steven Allen.
“It happened on October 1. Trade dropped in October and plummeted in November and December — though we still ended the year as our best year ever. Our sales dropped 45% in the next year. It was absolutely massive. We cut our costs as much as we could. The hardest decision I ever made was to tell people you don’t have a job. But people were incredibly good about it. We have a fantastic team of people here. They understood the problems we had at the end of 2008 and they have worked with us.”
In all, RP Group made seven staff redundant. This was difficult for a family firm — the company was started 44 years ago by Allen’s father and a business partner — that inspired tremendous employee loyalty. Even now, many of the staff are very long serving — some have been there for over a quarter of a century and collectively the 34 staff have clocked up almost 400 years of employment.
The RP Group — also known as Rubber & Plastics — is based in Belfast’s Duncrue Industrial Estate and is a primary manufacturer of hose assemblies and a distributor of engineering products.
Its client base includes some of Northern Ireland’s leading manufacturers, including FG Wilson, Terex, McCloskey International, DuPont, Seagate and Bombardier.
But it was quickly clear when recession struck that the RP Group had to do more than cost control if it was to survive and then to grow once more. Mr Allen added: “Over the years, our supplier base had broadened out. As well as developing relationships with existing customers and new, more distant suppliers, we aggressively sought to export more of our products, particularly to emerging and growing economies.
“We looked at ways to broaden our business, rather than just battening down the hatches and hoping the bad times would go away. We did have a bad 2009, but turnover has since grown significantly. This year, 2011, has started off really well and we are forecasting turnover will be pretty much back to our best year of 2008.”