Lowestoft: Sports equipment firm among winners as east manufacturers’ optimism grows

Stephanie Harrod, managing director of Harrod UK

Stephanie Harrod, managing director of Harrod UK - Credit: Archant

A sports equipment maker supplying the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow reflects a picture of growing optimism in East Anglia’s manufacturing sector.

The third Manufacturing and Engineering Survey conducted by MHA, a UK-wide group of accountants, found that 92% of respondents are predicting growth over the coming 12 months, and showed that East Anglian companies were investing heavily in research and development.

Harrod UK Ltd, based in Lowestoft, specialises in the manufacture and distribution of sporting equipment including football, rugby and hockey goalposts, but has diversified into horticultural equipment to combat pressure from cheap imports, especially China.

In response, Stephanie Harrod took the decision in 2002 to diversify into a completely new area, taking the company into the horticultural arena, starting a new venture, Harrod Horticultural.

The philosophy behind the diversification was quality British-made products for the discerning customer who was prepared to pay a little extra for the best, with most of the research and development work being done in-house.

“Looking forward, we are extremely optimistic about the future and committed to growing both sides of the business,” said the firm’s managing director Stephanie Harrod.

“There are some exciting sporting events on the horizon to showcase our products, while we will continue to increase the horticultural products we offer.”

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The national survey paints an optimistic picture for the country’s manufacturing industry, which is mirrored in East Anglia.

The outlook for the manufacturing and engineering sectors in 2012 and 2013 was positive with the majority of respondents anticipating growth for their business.

In 2013 these positive expectations were almost met with 71% of respondents reporting growth (75% predicted growth) and only 8% reporting a contraction in their business activities.

Looking forward to 2014 the respondents continue to report an increasingly positive outlook with 92% of respondents anticipating growth and 51% of respondents expecting more than 10% growth for their business.

“It remains to be seen whether this optimistic outlook will match with reality as businesses strive to recover from the ongoing impact of the recession and meet the challenges of a truly global market,” the report says.

“The results are very encouraging and show the manufacturing sector in our region is confident about its future, although not complacent about the challenges it faces,” said Charlie Savory, a partner at accountants Larking Gowen, a member of MHA.

“The survey showed respondents in East Anglia have the largest percentage of research and development tax credit claims than any other region in the country. Given research and development is at the very heart of manufacturing companies this is very positive news.”

Harrod UK, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, has built up a worldwide reputation for its products, which were used at the London 2012 Olympics, the final of the UEFA Championship in the Ukraine in 2012 and will be used at the Rugby World Cup in 2015.

Harrod UK Limited has also been highly successful in overseas markets particularly Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East.

Ms Harrod said: “If you are a manufacturer then research and development and a pipeline of new products are the lifeblood of your business. You cannot stand still or you will be left behind.

“For us, it has been important to expand sales overseas and being a supplier to the 2012 Olympics was critical to that goal as it gave us global exposure. We also attend a number of exhibitions aimed at overseas markets.

“But of course the domestic market is also vital and we have our products at a number of prestige venues including all Premier League football and rugby clubs, Olympic legacy Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre and Twickenham Stadium to name a few.

“We are supplying the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Rugby World Cup next year in England, and we have been specified for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

“While we are very proud of our Lowestoft roots, running a manufacturing business from the country’s most easterly point does give us problems with distribution.

“It is a two hour drive to the nearest motorway and as we often install equipment as well as supply it, this means staff are away for longer. Also while we have an exceptionally loyal workforce, again our location can make it difficult to attract senior managers.”

In addition, Harrod Horticultural offers a range of structures including arches, pergolas, obelisks, supports, fruit cages, raised beds and planters. One of its fruit cages is at Balmoral.

“Customers appreciate quality and recently there has been a move to healthy eating with people wanting to grow their own organic fruit and vegetables,” she said.

“We attended this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show and were delighted with the number of customers who came to visit and talk about how they used our products.”

Mr Savory said: “Harrod UK is an excellent example of how a family-run, independent manufacturing business based in Lowestoft can compete in a highly competitive global market.

“A number of years ago the company took a brave decision to move into a completely new area but in doing so played to its strengths of research and development and manufacturing, which contributed to make the horticultural business the success it is.”