'It's a massive achievement turning this around' - engineering firm set for closure, bounces back
PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:44 18 July 2019
Thanks to the efforts of staff, Sudbury precision engineering firm C.Rayment has come back from the brink and is now growing again.
Andy Thackeray can remember the moment last October when he first stepped into the workshop at C.Rayment, a precision engineering company in Sudbury, to start his new role as operations manager.
"I was shocked - the place was a hell hole," he said.
"The business had lost direction: the order books had dropped off, the place was in a state - it was dirty and smelt of coolant.
"The guys weren't wearing safety gear - they were in trainers, Bermuda shorts and T-shirts. You'd never seen anything like it."
This state of affairs was a far cry from the company's origins - a well-regarded business established by Cliff Rayment after the war to offer a one-stop-shop of turning, milling, fabricating and welding services. Mr Thackeray had worked there before as a lathe operator in the 1990s at its present location on Sudbury's Chilton Industrial Estate. "It was cutting edge at the time," he remembers.
But when Mr Rayment passed away in 2003, leaving his family to run the business, things started to gradually go downhill.
"Unfortunately, for the past three or four years the business had been declining due to lack of investment and lack of care," added Mr Thackeray.
Last summer, staff at the company were told the business was set for closure but the news reached Gary Harvey, CEO of the Mel Group, a highly successful engineering firm specialising in the aviation sector that has its headquarters nearby. Mel Group purchased C-Rayment with a view to keeping "engineering craftmanship and create job opportunities in Sudbury and Suffolk."
Mr Harvey then contacted Mr Thackeray and offered him the position of operations manager, tasked with turning the business around. "It was a great opportunity but there was a lot to do," he said.
With only four people left on the shop floor, there was a need to build the business up.
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Production supervisor Matt Laws remained as part of the management team but some fresh blood was also required.
Having worked for a number of engineering companies around the Sudbury area over the years, Mr Thackeray is well-connected and knew of some experienced engineers who were due to leave Delphi Diesel Systems, a major employer in the town, which is slowly winding down and moving its operations to Eastern Europe. A number of these were brought into the business, including Tony Bocking, who had worked at C.Rayment with Mr Thackeray previously, and who came back on board as project engineer.
"This business had a very good reputation back in the day, so it's good to bring people back who have had a connection with it," added Mr Thackeray, who along with all members of the new team, rolled up his sleeves and started to clean the place up.
Eight months later and the workshop is fit for purpose. It is tidy, a new floor surface has been installed preventive maintenance is in place, everyone is wearing work wear clothes and eye protection, and a training and staff development regime has been implemented. Old attitudes have changed, morale has improved. Quality control and audit systems are now reinstated.
There's been investment too - in two new engineering machines, and the company is on course for 9001 accreditation this autumn.
And most importantly: new business is coming in.
"We've pretty much transformed the place in eight months," said Mr Thackeray.
"We do work for a number of businesses within the Mel Group but, like any business I need to balance the books and get orders in. We are going out and getting external customers - some have used C. Rayment before and have come back to us and we've also had enquiries from some potential new customers.
"I've done quite a lot on social media and Linkedin over the past few months - putting it out there what we are doing, where the place has been and where it is going. That's resulted in one company from the North doing an audit on us and placing an order."
The new-look company, which now employs 15 people, held its first open day last month and welcomed representatives from seven businesses. The event has already generated orders and follow-up enquiries.
"These are companies who use engineering businesses farther afield and want to work with local companies - they are impressed with what they have seen," said Mr Thackeray, who said turnover has gone from "almost nothing to around £750,000" in the first year.
He added: "Looking back to where we were eight months ago, I think it's a massive achievement in turning this around.
"We've had all the guys down there, getting dirty and cleaning, sorting through cupboards and moving machines around by hook and by crook - we've done it ourselves.
"Our people have been involved in the turnaround and now they feel an extra level of pride working here."