Simon Hunter of Hunter Apparel, a clothing manufacturer based in Derry~Londonderry, answers some quick fire questions about the business and its plans for the future.
How long has Hunter Apparel been in existence?
Hunter Apparel Solutions Ltd was formed in Belfast in 1936. The Company became a manufacturer in 1952 and uniquely still offers its own manufacturing unit in Northern Ireland to complement what has become a global sourcing operation for all aspects of uniform and PPE clothing. We source product across South East Asia, North Africa, Eastern Europe and other parts of Western Europe as well. The company currently has 45 staff.
Who are your clients?
Hunter Apparel supplies across a very wide variety of sectors which include; work-wear, PPE, corporate wear and formal uniform wear, taking in clients in retail, financial services, hospitality, food, agri, industrial, post, transport, airline, airport, and blue light sectors. Our clients have included John Lewis, Waitrose, British Airways, and HMRC, and today include the Metropolitan Police, An Post, Canon, Body Shop, British Airports Authority, Royal Flight of Oman, Emirates, Kuwait Airways, and the UK Fire Service. Locally we supply Hastings Hotels, NI Ambulance Service, HSCNI, the Merchant Hotel, NI Fire, Robinson Services, and our local airports.
Have you won any significant contracts recently?
The most recent wins include a multi- million pound contract for postal operative’s Gore-Tex boots for An Post, a contract for the supply of bespoke corporate clothing both tailoring and work-wear for the Hastings Group of hotels, some specialist work-wear for Agri, the UK’s leading bio-diesel recycler. We have also recently won some framework contracts for PPE, managed services, and uniforms with managed service options across the whole of the UK.
What does the future hold?
We believe that the UK economy will remain challenging for at least another several years but that a strong set of finances, an excellent reputation, and a high level of staff and IT capability will help provide our company with global opportunity. Our client base is not restricted to the UK, we have a successful business in ROI, and the Middle East and we are exploring business opportunity in Africa currently. We have a track record of supplying global businesses and have supplied across UK, EMEA and in the Pacific Rim countries.
We have just signed a new licence with W.L. Gore the owners of the Gore- Tex brand to allow us to enter a highly technical new market niche. We are one of only four UK companies licensed to provide technical apparel items to the growing UK utility market sector.
How are you investing in the business?
We have really reinvented ourselves as a business during the period of this recession and are now a stronger business in all regards than we were before the start of the recession. We are one of the very few businesses in our sector who are without medium or long term debt. This means we have the cash available to invest in strong levels of stock which then allow us to provide agile customer service.
We have strengthened the skill base within our Company in the last 12 months. Having downsized staffing during the early part of the recession we have rebuilt our skills base with new staff that have the best possible skills suited to today’s market. Our new staff are IT savvy graduates with an excellent work ethic who are helping transform our business.
Hunter Apparel has always invested heavily in IT and continues to do so. We have recently redeveloped our critical path system, our stock forecasting system, and our QC system all of which enhance the speed at which we carry out daily processes, this has helped us reduce cost and become more customer focused.
We are starting to see resurgence in demand for our NI factory production. Increasing prices in South East Asia, coupled with decreasing flexibility offered in those countries is starting to bring production back closer to home. We have begun hiring staff to help us manufacture more products at home for the first time in many years.
What are you most proud of?
We are proud to have survived for 77 years in business and still remain a profitable, cash generative business despite facing the toughest recession in living memory. We are one of only two businesses in the UK in this sector that have remained in the same ownership structure for the last twenty plus years. There is good reason for this success, and it is essentially down to sensible sustainable business practices allowing the business to invest at the appropriate times and grow when the opportunity permits.