Northern Ireland’s burgeoning manufacturing sector will be showcased as part of a major initiative to highlight the strength and excellence of the industry here.
Manufacturing Month NI, led by Manufacturing NI, is running for the whole of March. It will include a series of events, business breakfasts, seminars, workplace tours, and the flagship annual Anchor High leadership summit will be held across Northern Ireland to highlight local manufacturing success stories, address major challenges as we enter the new decade, and inspire the next generation of manufacturers and engineers.
Sponsored by KPMG, Siemens, Willis Towers Watson, Barclays, Pinsent Masons and Invest NI, Manufacturing Month NI will bring together industry leaders, politicians and policy experts, young people and schools, and other business leaders to celebrate manufacturers and engineers, and explore and discuss the challenges which face the industry in Northern Ireland.
“We are very pleased to be launching the inaugural Manufacturing Month NI, taking place this March,” Stephen Kelly, chief executive, Manufacturing NI, said.
Diane Dodds MLA, Minister for the Economy, said it “will highlight the immense talent of the local sector.” “By supporting innovative initiatives like Manufacturing Month NI, we are showcasing the best and brightest in one of our most important industries.”
In this special feature, Ulster Business profiles some of the family-owned and run manufacturers – from right across the sectors – which are leading the way.
Jackie Reid, Deli Lites
Jackie Reid and husband Brian have grown what was a small Newry sandwich shop into a major food business exporting across the UK and Ireland, and in to burgeoning markets such as the Middle East and Europe.
Deli Lites has gone from 30 sandwiches a day to 30,000 – selling its wide range of fresh and on-the-go food to some of the UK’s biggest coffee chains, supermarkets and other retailers – including Costa, Sainbury’s and Tesco Ireland.
“When we worked in the shop we saw a big demand for sandwiches and saw the changes in people’s eating habit and lifestyle,” Jackie says. “In 1998 we decided to open Deli Lites wholesale – selling pre-packaged sandwiches.”
The firm expanded to a new site but outgrew that quickly, and 10 years ago developed a 25,000 sq ft production facility in Warrenpoint to produce an expanding range of fresh products.
“We knew there was a huge demand. The fresh market was growing significantly year-on-year, and is still growing. We have moved into European markets, having outgrown the Irish market.
“We are seeing a huge potential in the growth in the business in those markets, and there’s still a lot of innovation left in Ireland – new ranges, including vegan, gluten-free and high protein.”
The firm has around 300 staff spread across the business – including sales, accounts and production – but also operates its own logistics, with around 15 staff and 30 vehicles.
As for Brexit, Jackie says the business has been planning ahead for any major changes, but is confident that it will be business as usual, with dual production sites both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic.
Ciaran O’Hagan, Specialist Joinery Group
If you’re searching for the heart of Northern Ireland’s manufacturing sector, then Mid Ulster is where you’ll find it.
And Specialist Joinery Group is a high-end bespoke joinery manufacturing company, based in Maghera, which has had to evolve and seek new markets in order to expand – and expand it certainly has. It now employs around 250 people, and is target to turnover £27m this year.
Established in 1988 by John B O’Hagan, his son Ciaran is now managing director. Alongside his two brothers Sean and Dermot, the group has aspirations to grow turnover to £50m. This planned expansion will see Specialist Joinery competing in major markets such as London, and continued diversification in glass and metal which will see a further investment of £7m in a new glass, metalwork and finishing facility to expand its capabilities.
Formerly a business born out of the Irish pub fit out market, before developing wider into the hospitality sector, education and healthcare. Now, it's breaking into thehigh-end London market of office fit-out and residential.
“Since 2011 we have established our name in high end office and residential fit out,” Ciaran says. “Our overall ambition is to have our customers come here to visit and have all the solutions on one site. We imagine then having small feeder factories around a large joinery factory.”
And taking care of its workforce is another key component in its business model, which includes plans for a new on-site creche for its staff. “We believe that people are our biggest asset and that we have to enhance what we have to offer to the workforce in order to attract the skills we require.”
Ciaran says while it’s always exploring new markets, the company remains “firmly rooted here in Northern Ireland”. “We are developing our markets in London, and are also looking at education and health care. We are also looking at the marine market in next 12 to 18 months, and exploring the office fit-out market in New York.”
Gavin Killeen, Nuprint
“Northern Ireland has a hard working ethos – it’s about getting things done and just getting on,” Gavin Killeen says.
The managing director of Nuprint is someone who understands what it takes to see the downside of one declining market, and then evolve a business to expand and grow by exploring emerging industries.
Back in 1984, the Derry firm was focused on the printed fabric sector, working for major firms formerly based in the city such as Fruit of the Loom.
“Businesses go through challenges and difficulties but keep fighting through to the other side. There’s real resilience in Northern Ireland,” he says.
He’s been with the firm since 1997, and bought the business back, alongside founder Alan McClure, from former owners in 2004. Gavin saw the changing marketplace, and moved Nuprint towards food and drink industry printing. It now works with some of the largest food firms in Northern Ireland, such as Moy Park.
It now employs more than 40 people and has invested millions in a host of top-end printing equipment, allowing the company to grow and expand further still. That includes producing the labelling for all of the Bushmill’s single malt range, and UFC fighter Conor McGregor’s own whiskey.
It’s also putting a major focus on extensive coaching, training and upskilling within its workforce. That includes mentoring and management programmes, working alongside North West Regional College to help staff reach the next level of their careers.
It’s also one of just a handful of firms which are part of The North West Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (NW CAM), which works on the research and development of innovative solutions.
The company does around half of its business in Northern Ireland, with around 35% in the Republic and 15% elsewhere in the UK.