Ulster Business Case Study on Smiley Monroe
- 08 April 2012
- Company & Industry News
Ulster Business magazine Case Study on Smiley Monroe
Below is an excerpt from the featured cover article on the Northern Bank 'Playing a leading role in economic recovery', which appeared in the October 2011 issue of Ulster Business magazine:
'With uncertainty in the air again Northern Bank's Managing Director for Business & Corporate banking Kevin Kingston tells Ulster Business the bank is ready to play its part in economic recovery by backing those local businesses prepared to hold their nerve and invest for the future.'
Smiley Monroe is Europe's largest producer of endless conveyor belts for the mobile crushing, screening and recycling sectors. Managing director Vaughan Monroe recounts the challenges his business faced in the downturn, his relationship with Northern Bank throughout that time, and how with the support of the Bank, the business has emerged with confidence into new markets.
"The first glimpse of the challenges that we were to face began to emerge in the autumn of 2008. After six years of sustained growth, we faced the stark reality of order cancellations and uncertainty. Our clients typically amassed stock. Before the year was out some of those "what if...." possibilities had come to fruition.
The downturn may be characterised by the tough decisions that many businesses have had to take and we were no exception. We took an uncompromising position on cost reductions, which was not without its inevitable impact on our staff.
We brought the Northern Bank team up to speed with our challenges and the actions we were taking at the earliest opportunity. The bank was entirely supportive as we renegotiated contracts with suppliers and we stayed close to the team throughout this process, with a shared priority to stop what might have become irrecoverable haemorrhaging of cash from the business.
Establishing conservative and realistic targets
We had moved swiftly to stem the flow, and the Bank put its weight behind our efforts. We established conservative and realistic targets. Three main imperatives would steer our way to recovery though an agreed new business model: achievable financials, stricter control of credit and costs, and the potential revenue from export.
We had been exporting since the 1990s but the challenges presented by the downturn were to give our export focus new momentum by 2009. Northern Bank had always been encouraging of our overseas expansion and we kept the team regularly appraised of our plans, forecasts and successes. Despite our vulnerability at a time of crisis for the business, Northern Bank's genuine interest in our export potential enabled them to stand firmly beside us. That relationship and investment from the Bank enabled us to continue with the modernisation of our factory – work which was underway but far short of completion when our problems began and which was to be crucial in our recovery.
That support enabled our ambitions to be realised and gave us a substantial competitive edge, allowing us to aim not just for survival and recovery but also for diversification, growth and a new and sustainable way of operating. We have since diversified into new sectors that have weathered the storm better than others (including fisheries, food, pharmaceutical and packaging). We are also introducing lighter duty conveyor belts and gaskets to traditional and new customers, particularly in the growing recycling sector.
Despite the challenges we faced, we maintained a steady presence and profile in both existing and potential new markets. The combination of the right financial controls and sustained marketing ensured that we had the ability to react quickly when business opportunities arose.
The Northern Bank stood by our plans
The challenges and opportunities of the past four years have been characterised by the support of two teams. Our own staff team at Smiley Monroe showed unparalleled commitment and remain central to the ongoing success of the company, whilst maintaining our involvement in the local community in which we operate. The Northern Bank team stood by our plans and the creation of a new company model with a flexibility and interest that has been vital to the confidence that was so important in turning around our business.
With those teams behind us, Smiley Monroe has been able to stay the course, fulfil its ambitions, and expand further its world-wide reputation for service and solutions."