Tony Mullins of QRL

Tony Mullins of QRL Radiator Group

The benefits of a Welsh pipeline

Tony Mullins, executive chairman of Newport’s QRL Radiator Group, explains how investing in a Welsh supply chain has helped turn the company’s fortunes around. Bryce Wilcock reports.

Newport’s QRL Radiator Group, formerly known as Quinn Radiators, is a stalwart supporter of Welsh manufacturing.

Led by its well-travelled executive chairman Tony Mullins, it is the only remaining manufacturer of panel radiators in the UK to create its products using 100% British steel.

In fact, all of the steel the company uses comes from the Port Talbot Tata Steel Plant, which is just 37 miles from the company’s Newport factory.

And it is the company’s commitment to buying local which has led to QRL becoming a real advocate of Welsh manufacturing and Mullins, alongside the rest of the management team, are now calling on other businesses to do the same.

“As a leading manufacturer our primary focus is always on quality.” Mullins says. “We are huge advocates of local sourcing, not least because we know we can get the quality we need right here in Wales, but because we’re also committed to doing all we can to help protect the environment.

“Buying locally is a key part of this, as it keeps transport emissions to a minimum. That’s why we buy 100% of the steel used to make our panel radiators from the Port Talbot plant, just 37 miles from here. Not only that, we are the only panel radiator manufacturer to use 100% British steel, and to make our products right here in the UK.”

Mullins helped lead the management buy-in of QRL back in 2014 following a decade which saw the company spiral into year-on-year decline. He recalls: “We – the current senior management team – bought into QRL Radiator Group (then Quinn Radiators) in 2014.

“We were attracted to the business because it had a strong standing as a leading player in the heating sector, but it was time to reaffirm this position. We strongly felt that we were the right people to launch a fresh vision for the future and take company growth to the next level.

“It was me who initiated and led the buy-in, as I had considerable personal experience of the business. In fact, I ran the company between 1989 and 2004, back when it was called Barlo – even before it was known as Quinn.”

Previously Tony had been running various other manufacturing businesses in the UK and further afield and had racked up more than 37 years’ experience in the heating industry. With this experience, he was well placed to take up the role as QRL’s new executive chairman.

Following the buy-in, the management teams first task was to decide how to turn the company around. After years of losses, the team knew they had to do something to change the company’s fortunes. This was what inspired the company to rebrand to QRL.

“When we first bought back into the business in 2014, we were faced with managing some reputational damage that had been left by the previous ownership,” he said. “We tackled this by setting out a new strategy for the company that was centred not only around increasing our market share, but crucially on delivering unrivalled product quality and customer service. Enhancing brand value and building on the business’s longevity and respected industry standpoint was also a key focus.

“As we were essentially relaunching the business with a new leadership team and a fresh approach, creating a new brand identity felt like the next natural step. The business also has several strong sub-brands in the form of hi-lo, Design by QRL, Merriott, Barlo and Warmastyle. To create unison, we needed an equally strong umbrella brand for all of these to sit beneath – and so QRL Radiator Group was born.”

Between 2004 and 2014, which was the period when the business was under its previous ownership, the group saw turnover decline by 60%. In Tony’s first year following the rebrand, the company returned to stabilisation, and by 2016 the company was seeing strong growth. The firm’s panel radiator division grew by 8%, while its design radiator arm saw a 30% uplift.

And at the heart of this growth spout is the company’s dedication to ‘buying Welsh’, which has really helped transform the company’s fortunes. Now Tony, alongside the rest of the team at QRL, are committed to ensuring other businesses follow their lead.

He said: “Within Wales, we’ve just gone public with an open letter calling on public sector specifiers to ‘buy Welsh’. We have also written privately in recent months to many Welsh local authorities about our own products – innovative, high-quality and super-efficient radiators that are manufactured in Wales, using 100% British steel.

“Our messages are clear: as a major manufacturing employer in Wales, we are proud of our Welsh heritage. We do all we can to support the Welsh economy, and we want others locally to join us by pledging to buy Welsh. We understand that businesses must be profitable, so we don’t expect them to compromise on quality, price or value – but where buying locally is a viable option on all three of these counts, we believe that supporting local employers is simply the right thing to do.”

He added: “If you can get high-performance, efficient and competitively priced products of the highest quality standards right here on home soil, then, why wouldn’t you? Buying British not only helps local businesses to flourish (which has a positive knock-on effect on employment), but the reduction in transport emissions from importation is good news for the environment too. 

“For us, sourcing locally ensures a reliable supply of competitive, quality raw materials – not to mention excellent local service. It means we can maintain the high manufacturing standards we’re known for and keep production at a level that meets customer demand quickly and efficiently. Why would we go elsewhere?”

And when asked what the future holds for the business, he concluded: “We hope to see QRL grow into a substantial European business which we expect to double in size in the next three to four years.”

Tony’s top tips for business leaders:

Persistence. Persistence. And persistence!