Belfast Telegraph

Demand for quality pushing up sales, says Ulster Carpets boss


By Margaret Canning

Turnover at Ulster Carpets - one of Northern Ireland's best-known manufacturers and exporters - has climbed 7% to reach £68.4m.

Pre-tax profits at group company Ulster Carpet Mills (Holdings) Ltd in Portadown were also up slightly in the year to the end of March 2017, growing from £6.6m to £6.7m.

Looking ahead, the firm said it was also confident of a good first half over the year to come.

The well-established firm, which was set up by George Walter Wilson in 1938, makes luxury carpets.

Its wares have been used in many luxury hotels, from the Ritz in Paris to London's Savoy, and casinos around the world.

During the year, employee numbers also grew by around 13% from 564 to 640, its financial statements reveal.

In a chairman's statement accompanying the accounts, Edward Wilson - the son of the company's founder - said the 12 months had seen a "strong trading performance" which vindicated the company's decision not to compromise on quality in order to cut prices.

Mr Wilson is also the uncle of Ulster Carpets' managing director Nick Coburn.

The chairman said: "They (customers) understand that while there will always be suppliers prepared to offer cut prices for short-term market gain, the real value of a product does not lie solely in the purchase price."

The company also acquired two businesses during the last 12 months, including high end English interior designer Roger Oates Design Company and Griffith Textile Machines.

The statements reveal that the company is paying £4.7m for Griffith Textile, including £3m in cash. It is paying £1.2m for Roger Oates, of which £1.2m was in cash.

Mr Wilson reflected on geopolitical events in his statement. He said: "During the 12 months upon which I am reporting, we saw the momentous referendum vote for the UK to leave the EU.

"The full impact of this will only become evident after the next two or three years of negotiations...

"The short-term impact has been a decline in value of sterling, which has on balance proved beneficial for Ulster Carpets. In the longer term, we will have to continue to do what we have become used to over the years, adapt and respond to whatever challenges the new trading environment provides."

He said it would take longer to see what impact the election of the "controversial" President Donald Trump would have on operations.

But he said that confidence in most of its markets was good, leading to strong demand. "The demand for our Axminster products for the residential market - which has declined markedly in recent times - this year showed a further significant increase." Mr Wilson added: "The new financial year has started well, with a good level of forward orders. It is always difficult in the nature of our business to see far ahead, but the signs are positive for the next first half of the trading year."

The company is also in the middle of a £30m investment programme in its operations. It has finished work on a new, high-tech dye house, and will demolish the old dye house, Mr Wilson said.

Next, it will be installing new Axminster weaving machines and a finishing plant. The chairman said: The redevelopment will result in a complete renewal of most of the infrastructure and buildings at our Portadown site and an investment in the latest automated technologies."

And he said the company could make further acquisitions, where companies were "profitable, well-managed, capable of adding value to the Ulster group with a culture and an ethos matching the Ulster group's deeply-held values".

And Mr Wilson also singled out a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall last year, where the Duke praised the work of employees "at a time when much of the UK-based carpet industry has been in marked decline or gone out of business altogether".

Belfast Telegraph