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Home is the where the success is

J A Harrison have defined themselves as a one stop shop for gaskets, but a recent move to bigger premises is opening new opportunities.

J A Harrison’s history has always been one of change and progress. They were founded at the turn of the last century as a mill furnisher for the textile industry, then when the textile industry moved from the UK to India they recognised they would need to move with the times, and move they did.

“We went into the gasket and conveyer belt and hoses side of the business,” explains Keith Shepherd, the company’s current managing director. “Competition on that increased and two compulsory purchase orders put us into bigger premises and each time we’ve outgrown them. Most recently we’ve started machining metal and producing plastic parts. Today we have relocated to a new facility in Manchester, but we also have our office in Cardiff manufacturing, one in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and one in Australia that’s more into the mining sector.”

Over more than a century J A Harrison has built itself a reputation as a place where businesses can get all their gasket needs met under one roof.

“We’re a one stop shop,” Shepherd says simply. “Many gaskets have numerous components, when we started we’d cut the base part of the component and buy the rest of the parts in. Now they’re all made under one roof, to the point where other companies that make the gaskets come to us for the components they can’t manufacture.”

Traditionally supplying other gasket manufacturers has been a large part of the business for J A Harrison, but all that’s set to change with the move to their new Manchester facility.

“A large part of the business was resale and we’re changing that with this relaunch,” Shepherd explains. “We have new premises, so we can stand toe to toe with any of the major OEM’s and utility companies including the MOD.”

Keeping up with demand
While a big part of J A Harrison’s epic relaunch is part of their goal to engage with bigger customers and projects, it has to be said that they’ve never had trouble with demand before. In fact, their ability to meet high demands at incredibly short notice is one of their key selling points. “Often the gaskets are the last thing they order, which means we need the spare capacity to get goods out sometimes within the hour, from manufacture to dispatch,” Shepherd says.

A lot of the products their customers need are pre-drawn, with materials already in stock, so when there’s a sudden demand for new parts J A Harrison can get products cut and delivered by a same day courier while someone else is doing the paperwork.

“We’ve had one customer who left it so late to order a gasket we had to send a man on a plane. They literally came out of passport control, passed the gasket and went back home,” Shepherd recalls. “That might seem excessive, but not having the right part can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds for a company if they have to stop producing.”

A new home
This new facility, built in Middleton, Manchester, is going open up many more opportunities for the company. A purpose built, state of the art factory and office complex, the premises also contains a training room and a testing room and has increased the capabilities to supply even better service to customers.

“There’s better machinery, more space, new ovens for plastics and major customers and new customers alike are blown away when they see it,” Shepherd says. “For gasket cutting and seals we’re well ahead of the majority.”

Of course, those aren’t the only advantages to the new facility. “It’s also closer to home so I can do the trip to work in 15 minutes!” Shepherd admits.

Shepherd’s not alone in enjoying the new facility, and its benefits have been felt throughout the company.

“It’s improved so much with the new premises. Our staff don’t get caught in rush hour on the way here, as the new location is halving the time to get in. We’ve invested money in recreational facilities, and even the coffee’s free!” Shepherd says happily. “We’ve had a lot of good feedback from the staff and we couldn’t have done this without them. They helped us move it to the next level. We virtually moved in a weekend which is amazing given the machinery we had to move.”

With the added facilities the staff is already growing as well, with J A Harrison readying the next generation of talent. Shepherd explains “We’ve worked with Oldham Council for rent and support, so we have an apprentice scheme in place for two more years. We’ve increased our staff by 15 in the new premises and will have another 30 over the next few years.”

A new era
The new facility is the dawn of a new age for JA Harrison, with their focus shifting from producing parts for other manufacturers to making, selling and promoting their own products.

Shepherd explains “We’re tendering for a £2 million job we’d have never got with the old premises, and if we get that it’s a 25% increase in our turnover right away. They’ve already audited us and we’re optimistic about that.”

The relaunch has included a new website, a new PR strategy and a doubling of the company’s sales force.

“A lot of front doors we’d have never got in through before are now accessible because of the accreditations we now keep,” Shepherd says. “We’re trying to improve the way we do things currently. We’re trying to bang the drum where possible. We’re buying a million pounds of machine metal parts in so that we can increase the number of things we can do ourselves, improving our profit margin and the control we have over the final product. We’re going to become a true one stop shop.”

As published in Business Focus Magazine