Success on a linte that's the Catnic ston
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The recession in Wales has done no harm , all to Catnic Components, nor has the supposedly depressed building industry.
Mike Rutherford has been looking at the company's fleet arrangements
STAGGERING. That seems the only word to describe the success of Catnic Components Ltd. For in 13 years the company has cornered 65 per cent of the UK's steel lintel market, and 45 per cent of the total UK lintel market and has become the largest private employer in Wales.
So well known are its lintels that many builders now specify "Catnics" rather than steel lintels.
Catnic's original 1.5-acre site on the Pontygwindy Industrial Estate, Caerphilly, quickly outgrew itself and a nearby 11acre site was therefore set up to handle increased production.
Although lintels are its forte, the company is also heavily involved in the manufacture of a wide range of building components including joist hangers, joist struts, steel straps, angle bead, render stop and plasterstop, mesh, lath and wall ties — all, basically, essential accessories for builders, plasterers and carpenters.
These products are manufactured from high-quality galvanised and stainless steel and are designed to take maximum advantage of steel's strength, lightness and versatility.
All Catnic products are sold exclusively through builders' merchants like Sankeys and UBM. Even a large builder like Wimpey cannot buy its stock direct from Catnic, but has instead to use a merchant. There is, of course, nothing to stop a large company starting its own builders' merchants in order to cut out the middle man.
About 1,500 merchants stock Catnic's products, and Catnic's marketing services manager, Robert Cozens, believes that the loyalty of these merchants is essential.
He says that Catnic spends an enormous amount on marketing and advertising and is extremely image conscious. Its fleet of vehicles, the men that drive them, and the Catnic livery all help to provide that image, says Robert. "You don't often see the vehicles go out tatty," he claims.
Indeed a Catnic driver I met briefly at the company's headquarters desperately wanted us to photograph his vehicle but only if he could wash it first. Explaining that we were pushed for time and that we would gladly photograph the vehicle as it stood, he politely refused — if he couldn't clean it beforehand he would rather not have it photographed at all, he said. And he meant it.
Catnic prefers to run its own vehicle fleet for several reasons. According to the company's transport manager, Ken Hall, there is better liaison with customers, and it works out considerably cheaper.
"We have more control from beginning to end — our drivers have to be ambassadors," says Ken.
In its early days, Catnic used outsiders and, according to demand, still sub-contracts work. During the summer months, up to 40 cent of its loads are carried by outsiders, "which keeps all of our vehicles running for 12 months of the year," says Ken. Many Catnic components are nail, light and delicate and we to be loaded and unloaded ith extreme care. Ken is confi)nt that his drivers take the )uble to provide such care.
They need to be patient too. any products go direct from e factory to building site and ivers often have to wait for the tes to open before they can unad. It is not every driver who aits but, says Ken, his men do. A typical journey for one of the )mpany's arks would be a six,-eight-delivery run, with the 'hide leaving Caerphilly on a londay an, l returning on Wedasday afternoon (the drops bela made at building sites or the remises of builders' merlents).
The lintels that are carried ange from lengths of 18 foot own to two foot. Maximum ayload on a 40-footer is 15.5 ms, which is within Catnic's wn safety level. Loads of 21 )ns could be carried but would e too high, says Ken.
There are 11 Scania artics (81s r 82s) in the fleet, plus three ew 16-ton Scania rigids (82Ms), wo 24-ton gross Mercedes, a .5-ton Magirus Deutz rigid and 116-ton Magirus.
There are 27 flats in the trailer leet, most of them being 40 ooters, plus a few 36 and 20ooters (a mixture of Crane Frueiauf, York and Taskers). Two new curtain-siders are due to be delivered shortly for use with the Mercedes tractive units. The curtain-siders they will be pulling will be carying smaller components like wall ties and joint hangers (10.5-11 tons payload). The Mercedes are perfect for the job.
Ken Hall has a high opinion of the Scanias in the fleet too. "I can't see anybody beating Scania. Reliability is the main thing. Their turning circle is good and the diff lock is a must on site deliveries. It's a proven thing."
Catnic carries out its own maintenance and replaces its vehicles at four-year intervals, by when they have clocked up about 200,000 miles. Rather than extend the lives of the vehicles, as many operators are currently doing, Catnic recently considered replacing vehicles after just three years. The Scanias, says Ken, have a good resale value too.
There are 400 Catnic employees, about 19 of them drivers. Turnover of staff is very low, according to Robert Cozens though the company was forced to lay-off a few workers about a year ago.
The drivers are guaranteed a 55-hour week but rarely drive the maximum eight hours per day. They are governed by the opening times of builders' merchants and sites and usually. only drive their full eight hours when running empty on return journeys to Caerphilly. Tachographs were introduced without any problems, says Ken.
Catnic's finances have grown dramatically since its start. Turnover has doubled to over E20m in the last six year. New ideas and new projects can be thanked for that. Continuous product development appears to the key to success.
Far from being hurt by the depression in Wales, Robert Cozens maintains that, if anything, the company benefits at the expense of other less efficient companies in a similar field. It is a survival of the fittest.
Largely thanks to the "continuous product development" Catnic products are now going overseas, usually in containers. They go to France, Belgium, Holland, the Middle East, Nigeria and Australia but not before the company does its homework. Every country's market has to be investigated and each lintel designed and made for a particular type of building. Once again, everything in the export market is distributed via the merchant stockist.
Catnic Components' vigorous performance contrasts strangely with the claims of the building industry that it is experiencing one of its slackest periods ever.
As Robert Cozens put it when he was departing: "They're saying that the housing market is depressed — but somebody must be doing something with the products they're buying from us."