Steelite shows the strength of global brand
POTTERY manufacturer Steelite International describes winning two 2012 Sentinel Business Awards as one of the highlights of the year.
And the Middleport tableware specialist has had no shortage of achievements to celebrate so far during 2012 – in April it posted record sales for the second year in a row and in June chief executive Kevin Oakes was named Midlands Entrepreneur of the Year by accountancy giant Ernst & Young.
Steelite, which employs more than 700 people at its Orme Street base, was crowned Business of the Year at The Sentinel Business Awards ceremony at Stoke's King's Hall in March.
It also carried off the International Trade title.
Mr Oakes said: "Taking the double crown has been one of the undoubted high points of 2012 for Steelite International.
"While we do business in more than 130 countries and have bases right across the world, Stoke-on-Trent remains our heartland and being acknowledged by our home city was particularly special for us.
"We employ more than 700 people at our Middleport factory and it gave our entire staff a great sense of pride at winning the most respected awards in the region."
The Sentinel reported in April that Steelite had posted record sales for the second successive year – in the week it was revealed that the UK had fallen back into recession.
Turnover for 2011 reached £66.3 million, up 9.4 per cent from £60.6 million the year before.
Pre-tax profits were unchanged at £7.9 million due to high levels of investment.
Steelite, which specialises in tableware for hotels and restaurants, exports to more than 130 countries around the world. More than 80 per cent of its turnover comes from doing business overseas.
It has launched more than 70 new products in the past two years, as well as opening a New York showroom to help service the U.S. market, which now accounts for more than half of its total sales.
Last year sales to the U.S. grew by 11.25 per cent, and the firm is also building a strong following in Eastern Europe and Asia.
No surprise then that when Mr Oakes was crowned Midlands Entrepreneur of the Year in June by Ernst & Young, judges described Steelite as 'a truly international business' and a 'great example of taking a traditional Potteries business and reinventing it.'
They also praised Mr Oakes's 'calm, organised approach and innovation'.
Bosses at Steelite say its 'Made in England' backstamp has been a huge part of its success across the globe.
In 2010 it launched its Made in England, Made for Life campaign to highlight that the region still boasts world-class manufacturers and to persuade politicians to support Stoke-on-Trent and its firms.
That involved taking a campaign roadshow around the UK to showcase its 'bus-jacking' feat – where a double-decker is balanced on four Steelite mugs to show the strength of its Made for Life brand.
Mr Oakes has also written to Prime Minister David Cameron urging the Government to adopt European Union guidelines that would force goods sold in the UK to have clear country of manufacture labelling.
At a manufacturing summit held at the Britannia Stadium in February, the chief executive told the audience that 60 per cent of Steelite's direct manufacturing costs come from labour, and that its goods could be made cheaply abroad.
But the firm is not willing to make a concession on quality and has remained steadfastly committed to North Staffordshire.
It is planning to create 230 new jobs by building a new £12 million factory next to its existing site, a project which is due to be completed next year.
The Sentinel reported last year that Steelite had landed a £2.1 million grant from the Government's Regional Growth Fund – a £2.4 billion pot aimed at boosting economic growth and creating jobs – to put towards the expansion.
It has also developed a strong commitment to the environment – last year Sentinel Business reported how the firm had launched an ambitious pledge to go 100 per cent 'green' by 2015.
It already recycles 94 per cent of its waste materials, but wants to reach the 100 per cent mark within the next three years.
Mr Oakes said: "Of course, we are never complacent, and winning two categories at The Sentinel Business Awards has inspired us all to set our sights even higher.
"We are an ambitious company and as we prepare to enter our 30th year in business, we are determined to continue to grow and invest in the city that has helped to make us an international success story.
"Ceramics made in Stoke-on-Trent are still world-leading and Steelite International is proud to fly the flag for our city."