Belfast Telegraph

Redrock blazes a trailer of success

By Clare Weir

As the building trade and retail continues to slide, engineering here offers a ray of hope. Frank Flynn of Redrock explains how they fought the gloom

You don't need us to tell you that it's grim out there. The building trade is in the doldrums because of the housing market crash and public sector cuts.

Retail has also been hit hard by personal cost-cutting and a slump in consumer confidence.

But it's not all doom and gloom.

The latest industrial production figures published by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment last month, showed that the production industries in Northern Ireland recorded their third consecutive quarter of growth, thanks in part to a bounce back in the engineering sector.

Industrial production increased by 1% in the first quarter relative to the previous quarter and was 5.7% higher than the same quarter in 2010.

One of the most encouraging signs within the manufacturing output figures was the continued growth in engineering.

The engineering and allied industries sector, which includes the likes of FG Wilson, Wrightbus, Seagate and Bombardier, posted a 2.8% quarter on quarter rise, or 18.7% year-on-year in the first three months of 2011.

One firm in the sector which has fought back against the downturn is Redrock Machinery. The company's climb back from the brink is a ringing endorsement of the 'back to basics' tactic.

Back in October 2009, administrators were called in to the Armagh company after it ran into major financial difficulties, putting 80 jobs at risk.

The situation was blamed on the decrease in spending in both the agricultural and construction markets sparking a reduced demand for their products.

Around 50 of the staff were made redundant the following month.

Despite things looking very bleak for the company, in March 2010, the 28 remaining roles were saved after Steel Solutions, a manufacturing firm in Fermanagh, bought the troubled supplier.

Fermanagh man Frank Flynn was appointed as managing director and just over 12 months since the buy-out, Redrock exceeded a first year sales target of £5m and doubled the employee base from 28 to 42. Part of their success can be attributed to growing export sales in key European markets including Denmark, Holland and Finland, which accounted for around 40% of sales.

And the red army continues to trundle onwards towards a brighter future.

Mr Flynn credits the bounce back to a number of measures, including a return to the company's original farming heritage.

Moving away from that core area caused some of Redrock's staple agricultural products to become outdated, which in turn damaged the reputation of the brand and a complete modernisation and overhaul of the range was carried out.

A heavier reliance on equipment for the building trade, which backfired after the collapse of the housing market, also had to be countered.

With the continual rise of the Northern Ireland agri-food sector, Redrock was well-poised to capitalise on the growing strength of that market by focusing on supplying goods to the farming industry once more.

"In the winter of 2009 a lot of manufacturing firms were running into difficulties, it was commonplace as the credit crunch began to bite," said Mr Flynn.

"There had been a lack of funding and investment within the company and the fundamental mistake the company made was that it failed to focus on the market area where it was seen as being strong and a household name - the agriculture sector.

"Instead of focusing on a limited number of products in the livestock and feeding markets it spread capacity on a wide range of products aimed at various market sectors - the brand was watered down and the household name was lost.

"When you look at the major engineering or manufacturing firms doing well in Ireland, they focus on one area and then develop it and market it all over world."

Mr Flynn said he was aware the company had it's work cut out if they were to return to former glory.

"We had a good bit of restructuring to do and the company had credibility problems with the supply chain. We had also lost some of the dealers in England at the sales and marketing end, so we had to rebuild relationships as well as rebuild and re-engineer most of the products.

"Competition would use that to say we have made products weaker or lighter, but our customers would disagree. We do have a good name in the livestock feeding market in Europe - we are strong brand name with them which is a huge advantage and you have a huge mountain to move without that good name."

Mr Flynn said that stripping out the product line and putting the emphasis back on farm machinery has been key to the company's renewed success.

"One way we were able to fight back was recognising that the agri-food sector has become more buoyant," he said.

"There is a food shortage problem across the world.

"Global warming is shrinking the amount of land available for farming and an awful lot of land has been taken out of food production, the product is being used to make biofuels or biodegradable packaging.

"Demand from Asia and the rising price of Western produced food brings a market for investment in agriculture to produce food.

"Looking closer to home, years ago the big livestock producers were in places like New Zealand, which has a similar climate, farming methods and culture.

"They were exporting lamb and sheep products to us.

"Now all supply is going into south Asia so right away our home market is now available to the local customer. It's a win-win situation for us."

Looking to the future, Mr Flynn said there are big expansion plans.

"We have been looking at new markets and have delivered a new product to three new markets in recent months," he said.

"We are still on target to deliver growth of £1.5m-£2m every year.

"We are planning to re-invest a substantial amount of money in the plant in Armagh, on the finishing and painting areas and metal cutting areas.

"We also inherited a site next door in the deal and over the next few years we intend to build out that site to a good size with the creation of around 50-60 jobs."

New man brings age old experience to this once struggling business

Redrock Machinery manufactures and supplies equipment, including slurry handling solutions, silage and grain trailers, blockcutters, paddle feeders and vari-cut mixer feeders.

They also supply specialist trailers, dump trailers, low loaders and flat trailers.

The company traded as Redrock Engineering in Collone, Armagh for over 30 years before it ran into difficulties and was part-bought out by Steel Solutions of Enniskillen.

The new firm owns the assets, plant, machinery, brand name and intellectual property of Red Rock.

The new man at the helm is an engineer to the core.

Managing Director, Frank Flynn, started off in precision engineering after leaving school at 16 and completing an apprenticeship.

He's done subcontracting work, invented and built machines for the likes of NACCO, JCB and Komatsu.

Mr Flynn was general manager at Red Rock engineering for seven years from 1987 to 1994 and is also a director of Burnside Hydraulic Cylinders.

Battling back from the ashes of recession

Like Redrock Machinery, Northern Ireland businesses have battled back from the brink after getting into financial difficulties.

A new firm emerged from the ashes of men's clothing firm Carter, which went into administration in September 2010.

Just months later Carter partner Andrew Watson opened a new independent fashion retailer on the same site on Upper Queen Street in Belfast. The store has opened under the name Andrew Watson following Carter's closure.

Lisburn Road's Bengal Brasserie restaurant has re-opened its doors in recent weeks under new management.

The company behind the popular BT9 haunt was wound up and closed down over debts in June after being saved from administration the year before.

But Farooq Ahmed from the Indian Ocean and Arif Ahmed from Jharna and the Indie Spice chain teamed up to buy the site from administrators KPMG and relaunched the venue.