Made in Lancashire - HMG Paints

Paints being mixed at the plan

Paints being mixed at the plan - Credit: Archant

This is a company with a big heart and the skills to work with worldwide names. Martin Pilkington paid them a visit.

Jonathan Falder and John Falder

Jonathan Falder and John Falder - Credit: Archant

‘We can never be anywhere else but here, in Lancashire – off-shoring is just not going to happen for us. We have long-term relationships with our suppliers, our workers, their families and this area – and hyper-long-term relationships with customers. That’s what we’ve always done. Our values never change, though our products do.’

It’s not a sentiment you hear too often in an era when cost-cutting and outsourcing seem to be at the main pre-occupation of our business brains.

The words are from John Falder, the managing director of HMG Paints which has a 14 acre site astride the River Irk at Collyhurst, north of Manchester. This was one of the Industrial Revolution’s starting points, with sandstone quarried and coal mined there, and the fast-flowing river driving waterwheels.

‘Long before we owned the site it was a logwood mill, using waterpower for grinding dye-wood, madders and turmerics for dying wool. It predated cotton,’ says John. ‘We dug up what we believe is one of the original sandstone grindstones quite recently. HMG came in much later, but this is probably the oldest continually operating paint and dye-making site in Europe.’ It is also the UK’s biggest independent paint maker with a huge range and a quite extraordinary customer base.

The Flying Scotsman in its smart new livery

The Flying Scotsman in its smart new livery - Credit: Archant

HMG originated in October 1930, when John’s grandfather and Harry Marcel Guest (hence HMG) established a company to make bottle capping solution, used to seal over corks. With the Depression at its height the timing was poor, and Marcel Guest soon quit the scene. ‘The business was only saved by mortgaging our family farm in the Lakes,’ says John. ‘One of many stories from our past that resonate still today.

‘By 1944 the business had got going but with everybody of working age away fighting, my father was pulled out of school on his 14th birthday to work in the company with a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old, plus my grandfather who’d had rheumatic fever. They were H Marcel Guest through the war.’

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Such support creates a bond. ‘With family businesses you owe people like that, have a responsibility to look after them, and the heritage of the company they worked in,’ he says.

That mindset brings concrete results. ‘Five of our seven board members are home-grown; we rarely advertise to bring people into the business, our staff come from networking.’

Mandy West and Rebecca Bishop of Macmillan Cancer Support with Jonathan Falder

Mandy West and Rebecca Bishop of Macmillan Cancer Support with Jonathan Falder - Credit: Archant

Loyalty works both ways. ‘In the recession of 2008/09 nobody left through redundancy,’ says John. ‘It was awful, a huge drop in business, but people took salary sacrifices, theoretically working four-day weeks though many came in every day regardless.’

John says the workforce is between 180 and 190, the figure imprecise because several ‘in-theory-retired’ managers and experts by mutual agreement put in a day or so every week, passing on their knowledge, the tricks of the trade and technical skills.

‘We expect people to work here all their working lives – and a bit beyond!’ he says, ‘The oldest employee is my father, Brian Falder, who is 86, only doing half a day per week now, but keeping the cultural heritage of the business alive, sharing stories of our history.’

Their high-tech paints, coatings and adhesives are used by some very impressive names. Customers include Aston Martin Racing, Euro Disney, Jaguar, the Alien film series and Aardman Animation. The Beatles’ original black guitars used HMG products! They love a challenge, so have been involved with tricky heritage projects like the refurbishment of Manchester’s Central Library and Stockport’s Savoy Cinema, paints for phone boxes being repurposed to house defibrillators, and the recent repainting of The Flying Scotsman. And HMG’s innovation brings work from all over the world – unique gold paint developed for Macao Casino was one project they’re particularly proud of.

The global company never forgets its local roots. The land around their factory is covered in trees they bought – some 3000 obtained for £1 from a nursery shutting down – then planted with a JCB, a fire hydrant and 60 tons of topsoil. When the nearby Lalley drop-in centre needed paint they supplied it, but they went further by finding it furniture via a customer revamping a hotel, enabling the centre to open ahead of schedule.

Lately they’ve worked closely with Macmillan Manchester. As well as holding the almost traditional sponsored bike-ride, bake sale and Christmas jumper day, they have inaugurated the Manchester Colour Collection, with £3 donated to the charity for every five litres sold – the range includes the blue-grey Manchester Sky, Mancnolia, and mushy-pea-green Manchester Caviar.

‘Our workers are local, we’re very integrated with the local community, we do a lot of stuff locally under the radar,’ says John. ‘A young guy who did our joinery was really an artist. We commissioned him to produce an artwork for us. He did The Dreadnought, a sculpture based on an old battleship. He said our business is like that, it dreads nought and does the right thing.’

And doing the right thing works for the business too, as recent record sales figures demonstrate.

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