One of Sheffield’s fastest growing companies threw a party to launch a new factory - and revealed plans to open an academy and social centre and expand into India and Japan.
Hundreds of Gripple staff enjoyed a barbecue at its new Riverside works in Carbrook - a hi-tech facility that helps make a record 1.2m of its famous wire joiners every week.
It comes as the company’s expansion is starting to snowball.
Gripple Ltd, founded in 1991, sets the standard for controlled growth - 15 per cent for the last decade - and export - at 87 per cent - and looking after its almost 600 staff, who are shareholders at the employee-owned firm.
It has just bought former school, Grade II-listed Player’s House, on Attercliffe Common, as part of a £1.5m project to create a social centre with cafe and gym and a Gripple Training Academy for apprentices, including youngsters from other Made in Sheffield companies.
Spin-out company Gripple Automation was set up last year to make robotic assembly machines. After growing rapidly it is now selling its internet-connected kit to third parties, including Doncaster giant Polypipe.
It has just opened a new warehouse and hub in Canada, and in Poland, and has plans to possibly build a factory in India, where it employs 25, and open a business in Japan.
Gripple joined the Top 100 companies in Sheffield City Region by turnover for the first time this year. Turnover is £55m-a-year. Master Cutler Richard Edwards unveiled a plaque and took a moment to hail the growth of Loadhog, another spin-out company.
He added: “Loadhog was launched with no track record and with significant risks. I’m pleased with the way it has developed.
“I’ve seen Gripple and Loadhog grow over many years - it is one of Sheffield’s most innovative companies and a great exporting success.
“The fact that your are so determined to grow turnover and products is an example to many other Sheffield businesses. And that you give so much to charity, is to be commended.
“It is great to see continuous quality improvements at a Made in Sheffield company.”
Managing director Ed Stubbs said manufacturing was reasonably buoyant, but Brexit was a big worry.
He added: “Talking to other firms, the drop in the pound has been a benefit. But we are all very disappointed in Brexit and we are still hoping it might not happen, a view shared by the majority. We accept it but we want clarity.”
Gripple’s vision is to have almost everything made or sourced from Sheffield or Rotherham.
As well as its three sites in the Attercliffe area, it has shares in PMS Diecasting, the Rotherham company which supplies all the zinc bodies for its wire joiners. It is also a shareholder in GoTools, a Rotherham precision toolmaker.
Gripple Automation, which employs 10, aims to be a turnkey operation - offering a complete product and service business making robotic machines ‘by manufacturers for manufacturers’.
Speaking about the firm’s spinouts, Gripple MD Ed Stubbs said: “We are giving our employees the chance to run and build dynamic businesses.”
Gripple spent £1.5m doubling the size of its Riverside plant to create ‘a new industrial cathedral’.
It hired designer David Bowling who introduced ‘stained glass’ coloured windows, curves and angles reminiscent of a modern art museum. The new extension is set at an eight degree from the old building to avoid boring straight lines.
Special projects manager Gordon Mcrae said it stemmed from Gripple’s ethos of creating impressive workplaces.
The firm makes a wire joining device used in fencing and to suspend everything from lights to bridges.
Mr Mcrae said: “We are really proud of what we have achieved with this building. We started wild and wacky and tried to rein it in.
“Most people start with an architect, we started with a designer to create this amazing building.
“This move gives us more capacity and makes us more efficient. It’s also one of the greenest manufacturing sites you will find.”
Gripple Riverside has 400 solar panels on the roof and is heated using water from the River Don.
Some 15 jobs have been created, with more forecast this year.
Gripple also has a headquarters on Savile Street East and sister company Loadhog on Hawk Street, both in Attercliffe, as well as sites overseas.
It makes 50m Gripple devices a year and sells them in 80 countries. But 70 per cent of its supply chain is in South Yorkshire.
Mr Mcrae also said they spent £250,000-a-year on patents.
He added: “We see copies quite frequently from around the world, but they don’t perform. In the two instances we went to court, the judge found in our favour.”