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Comment: UK design should support UK manufacturers says Nick Baylis of Castrads

The North of England has traditionally been seen as an industrial powerhouse. Of the 47 creative clusters across the UK, one in five of these ‘thriving creative ecosystems’ are in the North of England.

Working as part of a growing interiors business based in Stockport, I can see first-hand how creative diversity is continuing to swell across the UK design industry.

A decade ago, retaining manufacturing plants in the UK was deemed a drawback. However, rising foreign labour costs have led to higher production costs and one in six companies "re-shored" manufacturing capabilities in 2014.

We’ve always prided ourselves on our UK heritage, long history of innovative and high-quality manufacturing and now it seems other companies are starting to follow suit.

Maintaining individuality, quickly

Interiors and design trends are ever-changing. Sometimes a particular item will be more popular than you could ever have imagined, perhaps due to it being featured in press or picked up by a well-known public figure. Sometimes an item you thought would have moderate sales not only completely sells out, but is also in demand by those who didn’t manage to obtain the product initially.

If our manufacturing facilities were based abroad the notice needed for these changes in trends would be much longer. To predict accurately what people would be buying in six to eight weeks’ time can be a difficult task, and a costly one if got wrong. Being based in the UK has enabled us to be more reactive to the speed of the market and has given us the ability to create shorter, more flexible supply chains.

Having a manufacturer based in your own country can also make communication with customers much more efficient – especially if an issue arises with a product. Any glitches with deliveries or manufacturing can be dealt with in real-time. We are able to meet customer demands and answer queries more rapidly, as there is no time delay from working across multiple time zones.

Knowing your product from start to finish

Our products are inspired by tradition, a throwback to another era when the Industrial Revolution was at its height. These are not cheaply made, mass-produced items; they are built to last by expert engineers, like their Victorian counterparts. We’re there for every stage of production and we are proud our products are made by people we have met and in a country where we have solid knowledge of the market.

The essence of our brand is our heritage ‘Manchester-born’ radiators. Moving abroad may have meant our business wouldn’t have had as many production constraints, so we may have grown and broken new markets faster. But would there have been such a demand if they were mass produced in Taiwan or China?

Standing by our values

As the margin differences close between countries, UK businesses are starting to recognise the benefits of local manufacturing which may have been previously overlooked when considering the cost savings from foreign production.

By keeping our production local, we are able to manage our staff and ensure they are treated and paid in line with our company values. We strive for the highest quality in everything we do and that is mirrored in our treatment of employees.

Our Living Wage commitment sees everyone working at Castrads, regardless of whether they are direct employees or third-party contracted staff; receive a minimum hourly wage of £8.45 in the UK or £9.75 in London. Both of these rates are significantly higher than the statutory minimum for over 25s of £7.50 per hour introduced in April 2017.

Achieving the highest quality

While UK manufactured products may not be the cheapest, there has always been a genuine focus on excellence and longevity, rather than how fast and cheaply products can be made and sold.

As a result, consumer expectations are rising and they increasingly value quality and innovation over cost. Concerned with meeting these demands, businesses are starting to become less focused on the UK’s relatively high domestic cost base and choosing to prioritise offering quality and expertise instead.

To utilise the accuracy and efficiency of today’s technology, we’ve recently introduced 3D printing for our new prototypes, taking the aesthetics and spirit of Victorian‐era products into the 21st Century. We believe the progress of this innovation would be much slower in a factory thousands of miles away.

It is crucial the creative industries are equipped to play their part in strengthening the UK economy. The need to innovate, have control over quality and to be closer to customers, means it makes increasingly sound business sense to prioritise UK design and manufacturing.

Nick Baylis is director of Castrads