Award-winning firm branches out to keep competitive edge

Management team: From left, operations director Peter McDermott, managing director Stuart Maxwell and finance director Josie Welburn.                                                                                                                            Pictures: Steve Parkin
Management team: From left, operations director Peter McDermott, managing director Stuart Maxwell and finance director Josie Welburn. Pictures: Steve Parkin
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You may never see them, but Ancon’s building products are everywhere.

From tunnels to stadia, bridges to office blocks, oil platforms to window boxes and brick facades to ‘living walls’ – wherever there is a safety critical construction challenge to be met.

In the 40 years since the Sheffield-based group was founded, it has built up an enviable reputation for safe, secure, elegant, rapid, easy to use, economical and, increasingly nowadays, eco-friendly solutions to tricky problems.

The Queen’s Award winning innovator has also made a name for developing ground-breaking products to meet the demands of new building techniques that rely on engineering design to reduce the use of materials and increase the speed of construction.

And, its reputation is spreading further abroad.

While more than half of Ancon’s sales are in the UK and Ireland, the company also does business in Australia and Europe and is realising the increasing potential in the Middle 
East, through its operations in the United Arab Emirates.

Although Ancon was hit by the downturn in the UK construction industry and, after doubling its turnover in 10 years, is only now seeing sales return to pre-recession levels, it has not suffered as badly as other big names in the industry and says its UK business has remained profitable.

Part of that is thanks to a deliberate decision to diversify.

“Our strategy was to make sure we weren’t dependent on the UK market, and we weren’t dependent on historical routes,” says managing director Stuart Maxwell.

“We also looked at cutting costs by re-engineering 
our products so that we 
were making things a bit smarter, faster, thinner…”

Innovation, and keeping a continual eye on cost, gives the company a vital competitive edge

“Offering shorter lead times and lower product costs is what stops products coming in from China and even Eastern Europe,” adds operations director Peter McDermott.

“We have been working 
on operational excellence since the early 1990s. We ran our first Lean Manufacturing training course in 1993 and introduced our first cell the following year. That runs through the whole business now – even in sales, the commercial teams are doing things in a lean way.

“We are targeting savings of £200,000 – we generate that every year and we’ll beat that this year.”

Stuart Maxwell pays tribute to Ancon’s workforce for coming up with a range of ideas for improving products and processes and reducing costs

“We try to ensure employee engagement in everything we do – not just in innovation but in areas like health and safety, too – and that has really worked,” says Mr Maxwell.

Peter McDermott says Lean Manufacturing and employee engagement has paid dividends in other ways, too.

“People are used to change now. Lots of businesses are not used to change, but, because we have lived 
with it for so long, we are used to it. We are used to trying things and, if it 
goes wrong, changing
 it again.

The focus on savings doesn’t mean Ancon is unwilling to invest – quite the opposite.

“We invest between £1 million and £1.5 million a year in capital projects across the business and we design and build our own equipment,” says Peter McDermott.

“We are maintaining the drive to keep getting better. You can’t stand still because, if you stand still, in reality, you are going backwards.