Investing to grow is not a new concept but it is one that still eludes many businesses – not so with Hardwood Sales in Knowsley where annual turnover is on track to hit £30m this year, against £23 last year.
And that is thanks to investment in new machinery over the past couple of years totalling almost £5m. Director John McCoy said: “We are much more than just a timber yard. We can supply customers to their exact specifications using precision engineering.”
Operating out of a 75,000 sq ft, nine-acre site, Hardwood Sales has a legitimate claim to be the UK’s leading independent hardwood specialist importer. It was founded in 2006 by three friends – John McCoy, Tony Collins and John Crosbie.
Its headquarters houses a mill, multi-rip saw and lacquering facilities. The business imports hardwoods from Europe, America, Africa and the Far East and offers its diverse array of customers a bespoke machining service to suit individual specifications. It employs around 70 people.
According to John McCoy, Hardwood Sales has built special relationships with many of its regular customers and has established a reputation for turning around urgent jobs in “impossible timescales”.
He explained: “We do a lot of work for clients in London. Some of it can be quite complex. The other week we had one request for a three to four-day turnaround on a job that would normally take a month. We have an amazing team here and we dropped everything and got it done.
“That is the kind of relationship we have with our clients. We will work with them to make sure things get done. You say you want it by Tuesday, then we will do our best to get it to you by Tuesday. That kind of commitment is really appreciated.”
Hardwood Sales’ customer roll ranges from small joinery manufacturers in Ireland to some of the best hotels in the world. It has worked on celebrity mansions, luxury apartment skyscrapers, schools, hospitals, prisons and has even supplied hardwood to Chester Zoo. It exports products to around 10 countries worldwide.
One of its current jobs is to supply a £1bn development that is transforming former Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s war rooms into a five-star Raffles Hotel and 90 apartments that will sell for £15m each.
The business is enjoying considerable growth and success right now but, similar to many companies, Hardwood Sales has had to adapt to challenges thrown up by both the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.
“I’ll be honest, when the pandemic first hit we were initially quite scared,” explained John. “However, within a short space of time we had customers ringing us up saying ‘please don’t close’. That was an indication of how much demand there is for what we do.
“We found ourselves doing a lot of work for the NHS. A lot of hospitals and laboratories had to be reconfigured to cope with the virus so we were building new doorframes and screens. We started to get similar requests from door manufacturers.
“In terms of Brexit, that has created challenges of its own. We had to adjust in terms of currencies and over the past six months we have been seeing issues around deliveries. Pre-Brexit it might have taken three to four days to get a delivery from within the EU. Now, with all the extra paperwork, you can easily add a week onto that.”
This means to make sure they can continue to fulfil orders from customers, Hardwood Sales now has to keep a higher level of stock than it used to. At any one time, it will carry 2,500 cubic metres of consistent quality hardwood in stock with another 500 cubic metres waiting to dock.
Sustainability is now on the radar of most businesses and in the case of Hardwood Sales, there are two aspects to that. All its wood has to come from sustainable, and legal sources. John Added: “We do a lot of work for Government organisations and so we have to absolutely stay on top of that.
“And in terms of our own carbon footprint we have invested in the latest machinery that helps us cut down on both waste and energy usage. When we engineer the wood it produces a better yield with less waste. That has also helped us become more profitable.
“This is important because, like most businesses, we are facing rising costs – energy prices, haulage costs. We are navigating through that right now and the big question you always face as a business is how much of the extra costs do you pass on to your customers.”
Hardwood Sales’ Knowsley base gets frequent visits from customers and other people within the wood industry. John says they are always amazed at what the company has managed to build in such a short space of time.
“What we have built here is one of the most advanced hardwood engineering facilities in the UK and people in the trade who come here always remark on how incredible it is what we have achieved,”
“As I said, we are so much more than just a timber yard and our reputation for expertise is growing. We are seeing an increasing number of requests for timber to be machined to precise, and often complex, specifications.
“Myself and the other two founders are still very much hands-on. We have a great team and one of the challenges is finding people with the right experience to bring into the business. That is why we also invest in young people. We have people who we took on when they were young who now have senior roles in the business.
“We actively encourage established members of our team to work closely with the next generation of our people so vital skills are passed on. We have built a fantastic business here – we are really pushing the boundaries in terms of what you can do with wood.”