Tom Kirk, MD of the francis Kirk Group
Tom Kirk, the fifth-generation of the family to lead the Francis Kirk Group, charts the company’s growth from tool shop to global exporter…
This 'Around the World in 80 Trades' interview coincides with the PD Ports Northern Powerhouse Export Awards in association with HSBC, which is being held on 22 February in Leeds. For information on the event, to nominate or buy tickets, click here.
The eponymous Francis Kirk Group started life as a tool store on Denton high street, way back in 1868.
Founded by Tom’s great, great grandfather Francis, he launched the business with the aim of creating and selling quality tools for local workmen.
However, fast forward 150 years and the company now operates in the engineering and fastening sector, manufacturing and distributing high quality fastener solutions and other industrial supplies to customers locally, regionally and worldwide.
As Tom explains: “The company has been exporting consistently for the last four years and it now represents c 40% of our total trading activity.
“We mainly export our leading self-locking nut Philidas – which we manufacture in Pune, India - and distribute for brands such as Holokrome, Unbrako and Durlok, worldwide.
“We export via our partners to Portugal, Spain, Germany, Denmark, France, Sweden, Singapore, Iran, India, UAE, Japan, South Africa, Dubai, Australia and the US.”
The decision to start exporting consistently came when Tom was presented with the opportunity to acquire a competitor and saw it as a chance he couldn’t pass up.
“In 2013 we got the opportunity to buy the Philidas brand which led to us moving production from Pontefract to Pune in India,” he added.
“It also meant we could continue to invest in our plant and employees and build on the product’s fantastic market reputation, especially in the automotive, rail and construction vehicle sectors.
“Philidas is the self-locking nut of choice for Renault, Bombardier and JCB among others.
“It took about 18 months to get the export strategy set up right, but now worldwide sales of Philidas and other products like Holokrome, Unbrako and Durlok amount to 40% of turnover and have driven consistent double-digit growth for the last three years.”
Although the company started exporting gradually in the 90’s, it wasn’t until 2013 when the company acquired the Phildas brand that it started really ramping up its export activity.
He added: “When we first started exporting in the 90’s not many people were doing it and it was very difficult logistically but as time has gone on it has become second nature.
“A couple of years ago we got involved with UKTI [Now DIT] which is a government initiative to try and develop export into new sectors.
“Occasionally you receive updates and information from these guys that gives you a more knowledge and insight into new opportunities and areas.”
“Exporting has had a tremendous effect on growth, now accounting for almost half of our total £7m turnover in 2017,” he continued.
“The Middle East opportunity has been very interesting – they love a British-made badge on products – it is a guarantee of quality.
“We are helped by the growth of consumerism in Iran and the wider Middle East – the automotive sector is buoyant – which is a prime market for Philidas.
“We have introduced a stainless steel version of Philidas in last 12 months which has also helped sales.
“It is a product which consistently outperforms its competition in critical safety areas, so it’s in high demand.”
And for Tom and his team, the growth doesn’t stop there. After already penetrating a number of high-growth markets, the company is now looking to continue expanding its global footprint.
He concluded: “We are now looking outside of Europe into developing markets such as Iran, Middle East in general and some of the growing Africa nations where spend and infrastructure is developing with modern technology and trends.
“In five years’ time I would like to see 75% of the business turnover in export, steady growth in these new market places and nations. A global presence supported by a worldwide network of offices in key locations.”
Tom’s advice for businesses looking to export: “Pick a region and stick to it. The export market is so large that if you tried to target everyone it would be near on impossible.”