Tuesday, 18 January 2011

EDITOR'S COMMENT: As one factory door closes...

While the news of Ideal Standard’s factory closure in Middlewich makes for uncomfortable reading, I thought it was just another sign of the times. Cold comfort, I know, for the 249 affected employees and their families. My heartfelt sympathy is with them all. But it seemed to signify an inevitable turn of events for British sanitaryware production. After all, it follows hard on the heels of Twyford Bathrooms closing its Alsager factory and is only a matter of years behind Ideal Standard shutting plants in Stoke-in-Trent and Hull.
How many times have we heard companies talk about ‘leveraging group strengths’ and ‘maximising scales of efficiency’? Or to put it more simply, source from other companies, within the same group, from countries with a lower cost base.  It’s why mass production of high volume pieces no longer takes place in the UK, it’s just not cost-efficient, leaving all but niche and complex product manufacture remaining.  But, quite honestly, how long is it going to be until China gets that right, too?
Or so I thought….
Then, a glimmer of hope.
It appears China may not have all the answers to sanitaryware production, as it has been suffering from the global recession too. According to Imperial Bathrooms, which is renowned for manufacturing in China, factory workers were encouraged by the Government to return to the fields, leaving them (among other suppliers) unable to meet demands.  A situation, which we have been informed, has now been resolved.
But to meet its future growth plans, Imperial Bathrooms has now chosen to expand its sanitaryware production out of China.  Far away from the Far East, the company is seeking to acquire a ceramic manufacturing plant in the region of North West Europe, ‘with a strong preference for the UK’.  What a turnaround of events! Fingers crossed they will opt for a plant in the UK, after all the country is awash with talented, experienced employees in sanitaryware production.
While it would be foolhardy to suggest the two stories are interlinked, it does show there is more than one turn of events in the bathroom industry. I guess as one factory door closes…

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