Siddall & Hilton Products Ltd – Meshing Together

We learn how a little-known UK company is quietly dominating an industry.

Siddall & Hilton Products Ltd is the UK’s largest welded mesh manufacturing business. It is a well-established business with a history in the wire processing sector that goes back to 1895. It has a long history that has most recently involved some big changes to the firm’s ownership.

“We have been through two management buyouts in the last five years; In 2015 my former business partner and I, as Managing Director and Finance Director respectively, bought the company from the Siddall family who were fourth-generation owners of the business,” says Ian Thurley, CEO of Siddall & Hilton Products. “I then led a second management buyout, this time with the existing management team, to buy out my business partner in 2019.”

But while the ownership of the company has gone through some changes, the fundamental values of the business are the same that it had in 1895. Thurley’s ambition for Siddall & Hilton Products is to become a world-class mesh manufacturer and the local employer of choice.

“We pride ourselves on quality products and outstanding customer service,” Thurley says simply. “We measure ourselves on a number of metrics but a major one is the on-time and in-full-measure that defines our delivery performance.” The world-class benchmark for this is 98.5% and it’s a target the company is fast approaching.

“We are hitting around 97% most of the time. We’ve achieved world-class status on occasion, but we need to build consistency on that,” Thurley tells us.

For Thurley, this is about more than numbers, however. It’s about creating a positive experience for customers, even when things don’t go precisely according to plan.

“Customer service is paramount and we recognise things sometimes go wrong but when they do, we’ll work with the customer to put them right,” Thurley points out. “We have a good track record for service and support which builds trust and forms a deeper relationship with our customers.”

The Next Generation

While Siddall & Hilton Products has a track record to be proud of, it’s clear talking to Thurley that his primary concern is for the future of the business.

“The biggest challenge we face currently is the demographic of our workforce,” he admits. “We have an average age approaching 50 in our workforce, which means we need to be bringing the next generation onboard as a matter of some urgency.”

Thurley explains that the issue is that, although Siddall & Hilton Products is a company that provides essential products to a range of industries, with over a century in the business, Siddall & Hilton Products is far from a household name.

“We’re in a manufacturing industry that’s not in the public eye, particularly because we make an anonymous product and are selling business-to-business, so we struggle to attract and retain talent,” Thurley points out.

It’s a problem that Siddall & Hilton Products is responding to with an ambitious outreach programme that marks the dawning of a new age for the company.

“We’re embarking on a new era here,” Thurley says proudly. “We are putting employees front and centre of our business. We’re actively working with them to increase employee engagement and participation.”

Word of mouth is an incredibly powerful recruitment tool, but for Thurley, it is also about improving the experience of his existing staff.

“We’re improving the work experience, and that goes far deeper than a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work. It’s about empowerment, training, development, and ensuring it’s a fun and enjoyable place to work because we all spend a long time in work,” Thurley tells us. “It’s something we’ve introduced since the buyout, and we’re already making good progress, despite the difficulties we’ve faced in 2020.”

As well as creating a company culture that people will want to be part of, Siddall & Hilton Products is also raising its profile by getting involved in the community.

“In a change to our ethos, we’re partnering with local charities as we believe that it is a poor business that focuses only on profit and we recognise our social responsibilities to the community from which we draw our workforce,” Thurley says. “We’ve partnered with local men’s mental health charity, Platform 1, based in Huddersfield and will also be supporting both the Overgate Hospice and Forget-Me-Not children’s hospice next year. We’ve also raised over £2,000 for the British Heart Foundation through a number of activities in the last couple of weeks and we’ve had a community defibrillator installed on our premises. We’re also planning to engage with local schools, colleges and universities to promote a career in a manufacturing environment.”

The message Thurley wants to promote is that while “welded mesh manufacturing” may seem like an extremely niche sector, it’s one that encompasses an entire sphere of skills and experiences.

“Manufacturing is a collection of different trades, professions and skills brought under one roof,” he says. “You might leave school wanting to be an engineer, an accountant or an HR professional but we need all those skills in the manufacturing industry, alongside skilled machine operators and fork truck drivers. We need to get that message out there, so we’re raising our company profile, getting more press coverage and letting the local community know that we’re the largest mesh manufacturer in the UK and that we’re a progressive, forward-thinking company, with a strong future.”

That forward-thinking approach is also why the company is looking to completely revamp some of its facilities.

“Part of our site is an old Victorian dye works, and the premises are past their sell-by date and not conducive to 21st-century operations, so we’re working on plans to redevelop that,” Thurley says.

But while the company is going to evolve, it will still stay true to its historical roots.

“The company has been a wire products business for its entire history, although over time it has moved into different product ranges,” Thurley says. “We see the future of the business as staying in mesh, making it more efficiently and with significantly less process scrap. We’re investing in new machinery to enable us to do that. We operate in a mature market with stable technology, but we are looking at ways of utilising our knowledge and expertise in other areas. The key focus for us is investing in the future. We have recently committed to a £2 million project for a new welding machine, the first major investment we’ve made in twelve years, to increase our mesh welding fleet from four machines to five. This will be on stream by mid-2021, and the project also involves increasing our workforce by 25%. In the fullness of time, we will also be expanding our back-office operations as well.”

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