From show stands to showjumps

March 18, 2015

This week European Plastics News (EPN) spoke with Giles Fielding to find out about Excelsior’s history, its contract moulding capabilities and its links with the equestrian industry.

In this feature James Snodgrass profiles the UK family-owned rotomoulder, Excelsior, with an interview with its managing director, Giles Fielding.

We were established in 1896,” says Giles Fielding, Excelsior’s managing director. “We were incorporated in 1902. So we’re quite an old company. Originally the business was a horse-drawn coal carting operation in Rochdale, only a few miles from here. We’ve always been in the north west [of England].”

The company’s roots were in the textile industry, in the days when nearby Manchester was the hub of the world textile trade. But it needed to change direction when the region’s fortunes floundered.

“We started rotomoulding in 1976,” says Fielding, “when we took a plunge into that market, bought some kit and just started with a very basic operation. We started supplying the industrial mail-order catalogues in the UK and Europe, which grew and grew. And then we started contract moulding. And everything grew from there – we invested in new machinery, we moved premises as well. And we’re at the point where we’re outgrowing our current premises and are looking to move.”

One such contract is with Adventure Orb, a UK start-up that is marketing sturdy luggage called Tough Box. Made of a medium density PE body with a polycarbonate lid, the Tough Box is a suitcase for the more adventurous.

Fielding says: “With Adventure Orb, Ben Sherwood, the owner there, came up with the concept of the Tough Box. He was serving in the army and identified the need for a tough sports-utility luggage piece for adventure sports enthusiasts. His idea was a large-volume case that is completely waterproof.”

Excelsior has in-house CAD services and was able to assist Sherwood in preparing the design of the Tough Box.

“Our own in-house tooling service is sheet steel,” explains Fielding. “With products like [Tough Box] we work with a number of other tool makers, some in the UK, some in Italy as well. This product was outsourced to an external toolmaker.

“What would normally happen is that people like that will approach us. And they will come with concepts that aren’t rotomouldable, so we come up with something that is and go from there. We’re purely rotomoulders. If someone came along and said, ‘We have this great idea and we’re going to produce 30,000 a year’ we know it’s not going to be suitable for rotomoulding.

“Rotomoulding is seen as old-fashioned in some respects but equally, to bring a product to market, it’s by far and away more cost-effective than injection moulding. We have also dealt with people who ultimately wanted an injection-moulded product but they decided, cost-wise, to produce a tool to make sure the idea and the concept worked in roto and then take that over to injection moulding once that was proven.

“In terms of start-up costs, run quantities as well, if someone’s looking for hundreds, or anything from 50-up – we’ve laid tools down for as few as 30 before now – it’s ideally suited to small-to-medium sized batch runs. It’s obviously very flexible as well. Because we have our own in-house tool maker, once a design’s done we can produce a tool in six to eight weeks normally, depending on the complexity.

“For products with high definition, rotomoulding is not normally the answer but, having said that, products like the Tough Box – and other products we’ve worked on, like a missile case for the British army – they have to look right, so perhaps it’s moved on [he laughs].”

Excelsior is a family business based on two sites and employing about 50 people. Giles’s father, John, is the chairman. His brother Jonny is director of sales and his wife Karen is responsible for the sale of equestrian equipment.

The company started in 1976 producing products for industrial catalogues: safety steps, rock salt bins and the like. And they continue to this day: “It’s a sizeable chunk [of the business], probably a third of our turnover, I would say,” says Fielding. “Probably about 15% of that is exported into Germany and France; we do ship further afield but it tends to be those two countries.

“I’d say about 40% of the business is down to contract moulding. The exhibition display industry, used to be a huge part of the business for us but, over the years, people are now using [parts] which come from China. The Chinese made them more cost-effectively, that’s just down to change in market.”

When the show stand business started to decline Excelsior developed Classic Showjumps, which now accounts for about 10%. But the shift from show stands to showjumping came about by chance.

Fielding explains: “I think we just had an enquiry one day from somebody who wanted to use one of our safety steps as a horse mounting block. It was a lightbulb moment, really, when we realised how much plastic is involved in the equestrian market. And there was no other moulder who was dealing direct – that is making the stuff and supplying to trade. So we spotted a bit of a gap in the market and that’s been good for us.”