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THE DISPLAY TEAM

How Metroplan are putting on an impressive display

Kendal is best-known as the gateway to the Lake District and thousands of visitors pass through the town every year in search of some of the best countryside and scenery that Britain has to offer. However, underneath the crowds of tourists lies a thriving market town with a strong manufacturing heritage, which has been emphasised by Metroplan’s decision to bring manufacturing back from overseas to the UK.

Whilst the town’s most famous export is Kendal Mint Cake, several famous names including K Shoes, were born in Kendal and it was also one of Britain’s biggest wool producers for more than 600 years. Today, another Kendal based company, Metroplan is establishing a reputation as a market leader and even if you haven’t bought any of their products yet, you’re guaranteed to see them on a regular basis without even realising it.

Metroplan is the UK’s leading manufacturer of presentation and display products and has an impressive product range that includes noticeboards, poster frames, exhibition display systems, easels, audio visual and educational storage furniture. The company’s products are used by all types of organisations such as commercial businesses, schools, public sector organisations and hospitals. Classic examples of the company’s innovative range includes the Resist-a-Flame® fire retardant noticeboards, their Eco-Friendly boards that are made from high proportions of recycled materials and their Shield® Exterior weatherproof showcases. So anytime you see a notice displayed it is a good chance that a Metroplan product is protecting it.

The company was founded in 1973 and launched its manufacturing arm in 2008. The new division proved to be an immediate success and its manufacturing team quickly grew, meaning it now employs a 70 strong team and manufactures 50% of all the products it sells.

We met with Åsa Sutton, Sales & Marketing Director at Metroplan to find out what’s involved when you open a manufacturing plant in the shadow of three factories that all produce high energy, glucose based snacks.

What made you decide to start manufacturing in-house?

We wanted more control over key product lines and their development. It also enabled us to make further improvements to our quality control procedures, shortening lead times and improving service.

So, would outsourcing manufacturing mean higher prices for your products?

Yes, the main benefit is seen on products where the size and colour offerings are vast and the overall sales volumes are hard to gauge, resulting in small orders to an external assembly partner, leading to an increase to product and shipping costs as well as lead times. By having an in-house manufacturing facility we can offer a wider product range at lower prices and lead times.
Efficiencies made within our internal manufacturing processes also mean that we can offer competitive price points against traditional low-cost countries that have come under pressure due to labour rate increases, changes to exchange rates and material costs.

Do you still use overseas manufacturers?

We do for high volume items that have limited or no product choices and variations. However, we still maintain a high level of control because all these products feature our own unique designs and are made using tools that we own and they are even inspected by our own personnel.

Why was Kendal chosen to house the production team?

We have our main warehousing and distribution base in Rushden, but our sales, marketing and product development departments are in Kendal, so it made sense to base the manufacturing plant here as well. Having these teams together means we can develop products quickly, make immediate improvements to existing products and everyone benefits from a hands on approach to product training.

Have you found it difficult to recruit skilled personnel in the area?

The area has lost several manufacturers recently so we have been able to recruit a team of incredibly talented workers, including trades-people, crafts-people and even engineers. This means the whole team has a production background which brings additional benefits such as enabling us to introduce an internal supplier / customer style QA system, where every step in the production flow treats the previous step as a supplier and the next as a customer.

Has manufacturing in-house led to a reduction in your carbon footprint?

Yes, in many cases our wood and steel is now produced in the UK along with recycled card for packaging, so we’ve greatly reduced the amount of materials and products that we transport throughout the world.

By manufacturing in-house, are you restricted by the ability and capacity of your machinery?

All our development is market led and definitely not limited to the shackles of our plant. Machinery is specified to ensure future-proof efficiency of output. Our product design engineers are open-minded to creating new products and to finding the right manufacturing arrangement to match the individual product make-up.

What does the future hold for British manufacturing?

The future is very promising because British manufacturing offers so much flexibility and makes it much easier for the customer to order products that match their individual requirements. When this is combined with Britain’s ability to compete on price, there’s bound to be companies across all industries taking a similar view to ourselves.

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