Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Carpets hits out at burden of Brexit planning as pre-tax profits fall 23%

An Ulster Carpets design at the Savoy Hotel in London
An Ulster Carpets design at the Savoy Hotel in London
And at the Sofitel in downtown Dubai
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Brexit planning has become "ever more oppressive" for business, according to the ex-chairman of Ulster Carpets, which has reported a 23% fall in pre-tax profits from £10.7m to £8.2m.

In the 12 months to the end of March, turnover at the Craigavon firm was also down 2% from £75.7m to £74.4m.

The company was established in 1938, making it one of Northern Ireland's longest-surviving businesses to remain in the ownership of its founding family.

It manufactures luxury carpets for casinos, ships and hotels, including the Sofitel Dubai Downtown and London's Savoy.

It also makes and fits carpets for domestic customers.

Ulster Carpets is led by chief executive Nick Coburn and his cousin John Wilson, who is chairman.

They are the third generation of the Wilson family to run the company.

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Mr Wilson is also an eminent doctor, working as a consultant anaesthetist in Edinburgh.

In a chairman's statement with the company report, former chairman Edward Wilson (80), who has now retired, acknowledged the results were not as good as the record-breaking 2018 performance, but he said it was still a "very positive result in the context of highly competitive trading conditions".

Mr Wilson added: "This excellent result is all the more commendable in the context of several of our competitors persisting in offering products at prices which do not reflect anything like the real costs of design and manufacture."

During the year to March 2017, the company acquired two firms, Roger Oates Design and Griffiths Textile Machines, which Mr Wilson said had contributed well to the business.

Ulster Carpets also includes an operation in Denmark.

Mr Wilson remarked that Brexit negotiations "continue to dominate the political landscape".

"The resulting uncertainties for business planning become ever more oppressive and difficult to manage," he added.

However, Mr Wilson said that in the short-term Brexit had brought a decline in sterling, which had on balance benefited the company.

With the hassles of Brexit, the company report said that an "increasing legislative burden within the EU" added to pressures.

Other pressures included low-price producers saturating the market.

Confidence was still strong in Ulster Carpets' main markets, most of which are overseas.

Staff numbers were up from 652 to 664, giving the company payroll costs of £25.7m.

Mr Wilson said the financial year had started well, "with a good level of forward orders and production at full capacity".

He said the company was continuing to invest in technology and would be adding new weaving machines and a new high-tech finishing plant.

"At a time when other manufacturers are cutting back on investment or diverting their manufacturing plans to low labour cost countries, the Ulster Group will continue to demonstrate its confidence in the skills, experience, commitment, versatility and ingenuity of its employees in the UK, in Denmark and in our sales and design offices overseas."

Dividends of £1.9m were paid during the year, up from £1.65m. Directors' remuneration totalled £1m.

The company was founded by Mr Wilson's parents.

As he bowed out as chairman, he praised his staff for their "genius" - a word he said was used by Prince Charles when he visited the factory in 2016.

He said the NHS experience of nephew John would bring "a different perspective" to the firm.

Mr Wilson added: "John's father was a former joint managing director of Ulster Carpets, so John was steeped from an early age in all aspects of the company's business."

John had brought a "highly energetic" approach to the business and had visited operations all around the world, he said.

Belfast Telegraph