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Jans Group: ‘We want to grow to 500 people and hit £50m in sales next year’

Jans Group is a business not much older than the Covid-19 pandemic itself, but in that short time its expanded into three arms, grown its workforce from just a handful of staff to more than 200, has plans increase that to 500, hit a target of £50m in sales and double the size of its Antrim base. Its chief executive Ronan Hamill speaks to John Mulgrew


Ronan Hamill

Ronan Hamill

Ronan Hamill

Putting the foot down and growing the arms of an already very fresh business during a global pandemic may not immediately seem like the right move.

But Ronan Hamill’s Jans Group has expanded from just a couple of dozen workers last year, to a three-company group with a workforce of more than 200.

And he’s planning to double its already expansive 10,000 sq m Antrim base, grow its headcount to 500 and expand sales to £50m.

Jans Group now comprises of three arms – ETRUX, which specialises in electric vehicles, Jans Lifestyle, focusing on high-end campervan conversions, and Jans Offsite Solutions, building high-end lodges and modular housing.

The strand linking these businesses is a specialism in composites and similar skills, an element of the business which carried over from boss Ronan Hamill’s former employer, and sparked the seed for the already booming business.

Ronan spent a good chunk, almost 20 years, at Caterpillar, with global responsibility for one arm of the business.

“I then worked in Wrightbus as managing director of parts of the business, followed by a stint at processing manufacturer Terex.”

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Jans Group started out with a small composite business out of Wrightbus, after the then company went into administration and before the overall buyout by Jo Bamford.

It then secured its Caulside Drive site a year later – a huge 10,000 sq m development which Ronan and his team then had to figure out how to fill.

“The idea for the companies really came as a by-product of setting up a 10,000 sq m factory and filling it with something which is tangible and meaningful.

“Peter [Drayne] had that spark to buy the site and something of a decent scale.

“We have used a broad range of talent… people with serious background in industry. We put that all together and developed a road map.

“Each of the businesses all needed to have some use of advanced materials, so we are building on the composites. Electric vehicles for example, have lightweight composites, and the leisure, and we have developed bathroom pods, for example.”

The electric vehicle business sells and leases commercial vehicles between 3.5 and 12 tonnes.

“We set up a rental business in England. They are so expensive to buy in their own right so we realised if people were going to transition it would be a rental, not an outright acquisition.”

The firm has since set up a similar model working with leisure vehicles. “That is going well. We build the vehicles, finance them and put them onto a rental fleet and provide that service on the rental side.

“We also have a decent sales arm through that. They are traditional Volkswagen camper vans… we kit out the whole camper conversion. It’s typically about 60% of the value.”

Turning to the Jans Offsite Solutions business, Ronan says they are high-end products, typically in excess of £100,000. “We have signed up customers across Scotland and England,” he says.

The company started with just two dozen people at the beginning of last year. But it’s since gone on to crack the 200 staff mark, little over a year later.

“We would like the business to grow to 500 people,” Ronan says. “It would be a number which is feasible within our current levels.

“We are getting on a run rate which would see us achieving £50m next year. We are around £35m to £40m this year.”

Ronan says sales within the lodge business are approaching £20m but that’s set to double by next year. “That’s really driving us to drive our site and being able to double our floorspace from 10,000 sq m to 20,000 sq m.

“We are trying to shake off some of the historic elements of Wrightbus and we had to develop our own brand and we have our own cultural feeling in this site. We are not a corporation or family business, we are basically a few entrepreneurs trying to make a go of it.”

Turning to the impact of Brexit and the NI Protocol, Ronan says the latter hasn’t hindered much in terms of trade, but also has the potential advantage of making Northern Ireland a more attractive place to do business.

“I’d say the NI Protocol hasn’t really gotten in the way of our particular products,” he says. “The only one area has been the war in Ukraine. A lot of our initial purchases for wood were coming through Russian agents… that all ceased.

“The general drive on increasing costs of materials – commodity pricing. For example, bath building components. The wood we buy and vehicles are problematic [with] the supply chain challenges in Europe caused by the knock-on effect of the war.

“The NI Protocol has been a potential advantage as [people] are seeing Northern Ireland as a friendly place to do business.

“When we talk to our customers, they know it will be a friendly place and long-term it could be a potentially a very good opportunity for our types of products.”

And he said one of the main impacts of Brexit on the business is losing EU nationals from its workforce.

“[At one stage] we probably had three or four families that had to move back out of Northern Ireland because of visa structures.

“A family might have been mum and dad, and two kids, and their partners. Six people in a tight knit group who all worked here. When you lost one you were losing six people.”

He says he continues to struggle to get skilled tradespeople and workers for specialisms within his sector, as well as those in less-skilled roles.

The majority of the group’s trade happens outside of Northern Ireland, with the bulk taking place elsewhere in the UK.

And while it has little trade with the Republic, Ronan says that’s a market it’s now looking to break into.

“One of the major challenges is finding the people,” Ronan says. “We have moved up from 24 to 200, so we have been successful and have built up steadily. If we can continue that we should be in a good position with the new site and the ability to take on that additional capacity of work and get towards that number of 500 people.”