Welsh firm sees growth as it needles the pandemic, injects resource into its workforce and boosts revenue with new service offerings and sales channels.
As businesses across the world have been affected by the pandemic, with many still facing uncertain futures, it wasn’t all bad news for some. Successful family-run business, Flocon, defied CoVID-19 with a growth curve of over 40% throughout 2020 & 2021. I recently paid a visit to the South Wales-based firm to learn more about the company’s history, and to discover what’s in store for its future as the business hits the road to £10million.
When Cardiff brothers Dave and Nigel Phillips joined with their brother-in-law Phil Davies to start their own company in March 1990, their simple vision was to create a better life for themselves and their families.
Launching Flocon Valves, Pipes & Fittings on St David’s Day of that year at Treforest Industrial Estate, Cardiff, they got their first orders out the door while working on an old pub bench as a desk in a humble office space.
Now, as the company is due to celebrate its 32nd birthday, they do so as a multi-million-pound firm, selling and distributing at a wholesale level across South Wales and the wider UK.
“I sometimes walk into the office and have to pinch myself to see the team in front of me,” Dave, who still works alongside his brother, Nigel, comments. “There has been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. We have come through the recession of the 90’s, the banking bust of 2008, and now of course, we’re navigating our way out of the pandemic. A lot of our employees have been with us for 25 years or more, and that breadth of experience is priceless.”
Nigel adds, “Strong customer relationships have been a very big contributor to ensuring that Flocon is now entering its 4th decade, and a significant amount have been with us virtually all the way through.”
Keeping it in the family, Nigel, Dave & Phil have welcomed their sons to the board of directors; Craig, 35, Andy, 39, and Matt, 46. The second generation are keen to inject fresh ideas and modernisation into the business. The past two years have certainly tested their mettle and they have proven their capabilities as young business directors.
Sales Director Matt has worked for the company some 27 years. He explains, “We feel very fortunate to be steering Flocon into its 32nd year following what’s been a harrowing two years of the pandemic for everyone. Just like all businesses, we were extremely nervous about how things would turn out for Flocon as CoVID-19 took a hold in 2020. Furloughing most of the team and running a skeleton staff was daunting. Our people were naturally concerned for their jobs and whether there’d be a business to come back to, post lockdown. The usually bustling and busy building was so quiet and empty. It was a worrying time, but we were determined to sail the murky waters and weather the storm! As May kicked in, and fortunately, due to the types of essential industries we trade with, things started to pick up and by August, Flocon was back to its usual figures.”
Operations Director Craig contributes, “We retained all of our staff and employed a further five in 2021. As the pandemic eases, we feel that the business is stable and in the right place for us to pursue our plans and strategy for growth now. Like any successful business, we’re keen to develop new sales channels and methods that improve the customer experience, as well as offering service solutions that truly benefit our customer base. Ensuring a positive customer experience is at the forefront of every business decision we make. Before any new initiative or opportunity is implemented, we make sure it stands to scrutiny and will provide a significant benefit to our customers and prospects.”
I’m shown around Flocon’s impressive 23,000sq ft office and warehouse space by Andy, Flocon’s energetic and permanently happy Key Account Director. My eyes and ears are instantly drawn to the large, bright orange and brazenly loud pipe saw to the rear of the building, which is making light work of sawing its way through a length of hot finished seamless pipe.
Andy tells me with a wry grin, “We call her Bertha, and she’s very much part of the team here. The saw, along with the threading machine, are two of the latest additions to our service offering, and they’ve proven to be very successful for us. We were dubious about introducing the saw with the obvious concerns surrounding offcuts and wastage, but Steve, our salesman for specialist cut pipe & bar, has come into the business with so much experience and knowledge of this sector that, if you pardon the pun, this section of the business has become a very well-oiled machine. It’s enabled us attract customers that we would never have usually been able to target, and for existing customers, they’re now able to tailor the size of our regular pipe product lines, as well as have it threaded here – saving them additional labour costs, excess waste materials and delays on site.”
As we move on through the site tour, I’m led upstairs to meet with the sales & marketing team. Flocon has recently launched a buy-online e-commerce site and I meet with Danielle, Marketing Manager, to ask how things are going. She tells me, “I joined the business four years ago and was determined from day one to bring a commerce site to Flocon. Finally, we’re up and running and it’s certainly been a steep learning curve for us all! We experienced a few bumps in the road, which is to be expected when you’re selling lengths of pipe and industrial valves online. But the site is moving from strength to strength and we’re shipping all over the country now. We’re constantly trying to improve the site and are currently developing a customer portal that will enable Flocon account holders to login and buy product at their usual prices, which will hopefully be rolled out by the summer. The site has opened up a new sales channel for Flocon and brought the company firmly into the 21st century.”
As my day with Flocon draws to a close, I have one last chat with Craig. I’m keen to learn what the future plans are for the business and what its financial projections will be. Naturally, he’s coy about divulging the finer details, but he’s buoyant as he talks about the businesses’ immediate plans, “We’re looking to add another 3-4 staff to the team, the warehouse and transport departments will need more resources to cope with the increase in sales of the specialist pipe and distributing further afield. We’ll also be adding two more vehicles to our fleet this year and a further two in 2022/23. Following our partnership deals with Georg Fischer and Bürkert, the sales team will gain an additional head to help support the sales of the specialist valves and fittings that these companies bring to the market. We’re also looking to add another permanent head to the marketing department. The website has been such a success, we need to have strong, digital support in this area.”
I press the issue of what the financial forecast is for Flocon over the coming years, and he responds confidently “We’ll be turning over £10million by 2023/24. The company that our fathers have built is stronger than ever, and the e-commerce store has opened us up to new markets and opportunities. We are still keen to maintain the relationships that we have with our existing customers, as well as build strong relationships with our new customers, and all of our staff keep that at that forefront of their minds in everything that we do.”
You can find out more about Flocon and see their market-leading online store by visiting their website: www.flocon.co.uk