When Farhad Seka arrived in the UK from Iran in 1972, he never thought he’d stay. Now, he runs Linco Care, which produces sun screen for more than 60 countries from its base in Manchester, as Maria McGeoghan discovers.
It seems appropriate to be strolling around a sun protection cream factory on the hottest day of the year. The fact that it’s in Carrington, just outside Manchester, and is exporting to destinations like Dubai, takes the old “coals to Newcastle” saying to new levels.
Linco Care is a family-run business that provides personal care products and has been manufacturing for nearly 40 years. Its factory, laboratory and head office are all under one roof just off the M60 and, on this rarest of Manchester days, it’s just too hot to stand outside and admire the vast delivery area that has just been refurbished.
Linco’s best known brand is Calypso, a high-quality family sun protection at an affordable price. Re-Gen is a cream, oil and serum used to reduce the appearance of scarring, stretchmarks and ageing, while new hair care brand Restora provides three salon-quality products for consumers to use at home and is sold exclusively online.
Calypso and Re-Gen products can currently be found in many high-street retailers such as Home Bargains, Wilko, Aldi, Asda and independent pharmacies. And business is good.
Growing demands for Linco’s products abroad mean it is now exporting to more than 60 countries, including markets in Europe, Asia, South America, Australasia and the Middle East. The percentage of export-related turnover has increased from 20% in 2010 to its current level of 44.5%.
Due to the increase in exports, Linco Care has invested more than £500,000 in an expansion of its head office and production facilities, including a factory refit and a new, cavernous warehouse. It has recently increased staff to more than 60 people and the company continues to support apprenticeship schemes, which have often turned into permanent positions.
“We love the sun – we need the sun,” says operations manager Asif Saleem as he proudly shows me around his kingdom. And what a sparkling kingdom it is. I’ve been around quite a few factories wearing the obligatory Ena Sharples hair net, but this is by far the cleanest, tidiest and most organised shop floor that I’ve ever been on. And the massive new storage warehouse is something to behold.
Picture the final scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, as the Ark of the Covenant is tucked away amongst thousands of other artefacts, and you’re nearly there. Pallets are loaded with products destined for countries right around the world and are shipped out as fast as the production lines can fill them.
“We make 280 products a year, some new and some old,” says Saleem. “We are able to react with the weather and get our products out there.
“It’s a big market. I don’t think many people realise that you should throw your sun protection away after 12 months. You can’t just leave it in a cupboard and expect it to be effective.”
Having been awarded the Which? seal of approval in 2014 and 2015 for best buy sunscreen, the product team recognised it had achieved a winning formula and has expanded the range. It now includes “Once a Day Sun Protection”, “Tanning and Protection Spray” and “Sensitive Lotion Spray”.
And, for the first time in more than a decade, the Calypso sun care range was advertised across a range of lifestyle channels including ITV, E4 and Sky Living on the run up to the summer rush.
We move on the equally neat and tidy laboratory lined with jars filled with a rainbow of various ingredients – some of them very expensive indeed. Linco uses more than 700 ingredients amongst all of its products, and the lab experts are always striving to develop the next big thing.
There are definite trends in tanning and the hottest one at the moment is based on the humble carrot. Saleem takes me to a very busy production line filling bottles with carrot oil, which promises to provide a deep, rich and long-lasting tan while protecting and hydrating the skin.
“This is really popular in the UK,” he says. “We’re working hard to keep up with the demand. We pack thousands of bottles day from this production line.”
Linco has also started producing halal sun products for the Middle Eastern market in response to demand. The team also offers a one-stop bespoke private label service in all areas of wet-fill manufacturing, including oils, creams, lotions, gels and liquids, specialising in sun care, personal care and depilatory products.
The formulations are either created from their own extensive database, or customised to clients’ requirements by its own in-house team of chemists. It also offers advice in research and development, providing solutions for technical issues and package design, with the flexibility and capacity to handle most types of packaging.
On one production line alone, 10,000 sun care travel packs get completed in a day, while on another 16,000 bottles of sun lotion get filled, packed and labelled for export. It’s a quiet and calm hive of industry and one Saleem is very proud of.
“I think this is a great company,” he says with a grin. “I started out working for the NHS but decided to move and I love it here. I’m very proud of what we do.”
With more growth on the agenda, it’s no surprise that Linco Care was recently recognised as North-West England’s leading export business by scooping up the export prize at the Made in the North-West Awards. The trophy was recognition for the record-breaking year Linco Care has had, building upon its existing export successes and registering products and intellectual property in Malaysia and Indonesia.
One of the men behind this success is Farhad Seka, company director and head of product development. Looking nothing like his 73 years, he relishes going right back to the beginning when he first arrived in the UK from Iran in 1972.
“I never thought I would stay, but I did,” he says as we settle around the company boardroom surrounded by shelf upon shelf of Linco products. “When I first arrived, Bijan Todd was my landlord and he was working with wigs and hairpieces and set up a shop in Bolton. I was studying to be a chartered accountant and he asked me to work for him one day a week and I eventually decided to stay in the UK.”
A business partnership was born and, in 1978, they set up Linco, concentrating on hairdressing products and accessories. In 1987, they moved into sun care and shortly after launched their signature Calypso range using a manufacturer in Scotland. As business grew, they decided to start manufacturing their own products in Carrington in 1994.
“Sometimes people think that if you are charging £2.99 for sun protection it’s an inferior product,” says Seka. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“You should see how many times we have audits and checks. It’s a very, very good product.”
The company expanded its range and continued to grow until disaster struck in 2003 when fire broke out at the factory and warehouse, causing major damage. It led to a four-year legal battle with insurers and a big bill for legal costs, but the company kept going.
“It was the day of my son’s wedding,” says Seka. “I’ll never forget it. It was such a shock to come back and to see all the damage to everything we had worked so hard for.
“Our cash flow was good so we survived. Our turnover went from £8m to £3m, but we built it back up. We’re now a £9m-turnover business. We are an ethical company who pay more than the minimum wage and we have a really good team. “
And the secret of Linco’s success? “Oh, that’s just hard work,” he smiles. “No secret really, just hard work.”