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Average growth rates of 391% over the past four years; sales set to push £100m; pre-tax profits up to £3m: these are not the numbers we’re used to seeing shining through the gathering gloom of the past few years. But they’re the figures posted by Gloucester-based timber firm International Plywood.
They validate the accolade of Britain’s Hottest Company*, a performance that reflects the determinedly positive attitude and hungry appetite for growth that’s been the hallmark of the Attwood father and sons in their stewardship of their 30-year-old enterprise. They’ve guided the company through an almost seven-fold increase in turnover from £14m in 1998 based on high quality product and service.Launched by carpenter David Attwood in 1981, International Plywood is now largely run by his sons, Ian and Robert. Many of their staff have been with the business since its launch, and their three decades of experience of the market and understanding of customer needs are clearly pivotal to the success of the business.
They’ve always been innovators, ready to take risks and challenge the established players. “We effectively by-passed the established plywood supply chain which was heavily controlled and monopolised by the sector’s big six players” explains Managing Director, Ian Attwood. “We were also the first to source the majority of stock from China. By innovating, we honed our competitive edge – both in pricing and sustainability. “We’ve also always focused on logistics. Our shipping and distribution is ultra-efficient and that way we’ve sustained margins well in excess of industry norms.”They’re first to admit the past few years have been tough: volumes dropped by 20% during the early part of the downturn. But once again they’ve responded with a characteristic sleeves-up attitude. “We used the recession as a positive,” says Ian. “We took the opportunity to look even more closely at our operations. As well as carefully reducing overheads, we examined what we needed to grow. In effect, we spring-cleaned.”That ‘spring clean’ included a fresh look at finance. Having previously worked with two separate financial institutions to manage its trade finance and invoice discounting needs, International Plywood now wanted a one-stop service to streamline its facilities. “The tipping point for us,” Ian recalls, “was when we realised that one of our previous trade finance partners didn’t share our appetite for growth. We decided it was time to re-examine the whole financial side of the business. We considered several options, and Lloyds Bank’s firm grasp of our business enabled them to offer a great all-round package.”
The £37m deal comprised trade finance and asset-based lending, as well as the provision of working capital designed to support International Plywood’s ambitious goal of generating £100m turnover within 12-18 months.“We created a bespoke import facility to finance the stock coming into the UK,” explains Simon Robinson, Lloyds Bank’s Regional Trade Director, “and to support International Plywood’s overall growth strategy.”The facility hinges on a complex and very finely-balanced transactional timeline, he says: “It’s critical to understand the trade cycle of the business and the turnover of goods and levels of stock – that can only come through the deep and detailed sharing of information that’s implicit in our role as Trusted Advisers.” That close relationship is vital, Ian agrees: “The Bank’s solution gives us the flexibility to react quickly to market opportunities. It’s an arrangement that frees-up the business to trade and to pursue our growth plans. We know the market’s going to remain tough and competitive, but having a bank that knows our business this well gives us that extra confidence about our own prospects.”* International Plywood topped the Real Business Hot 100 List of the UK’s fastest-growth companies in 2010.
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