Some years ago companies in the UK and Europe started to outsource their manufacturing to those parts of the globe where wages were lower. There are signs, however, that this trend is running out of steam, and even going into reverse. As manufacturers of custom metal products including desks, shelves, game bird feeders, retail display equipment and CNC lasering (with no plans to outsource ourselves to the Far East or South America!) we are naturally delighted that the business world is starting to recognise the commercial benefits of keeping production close to home.
Clarks shoes retraces its steps
The most recent local instance of this preference for shorter supply chains is the decision by Clarks shoes to return some of the company’s manufacturing capacity to the UK.
The heritage footwear brand announced a few weeks ago that a new manufacturing unit is set to be opened in Street, at Clark’s Somerset headquarters, where the company started 200 years ago. The new unit will produce the iconic Desert Boot, originally designed by Nathan Clark, great grandson of the company’s founder. The new robot-assisted facility will be able to produce 300,000 pairs a year but should also create 80 new technical and managerial jobs.
Another West Country manufacturer bringing production home
Fashion brand Mulberry, also based in Somerset, originally started manufacturing locally in 1971. However, like so many other British companies they increasingly employed manufacturing partners in Turkey, Spain, Portugal and China. Since 2011 however their Chilcompton factory has been extended to increase capacity, and they have opened a brand-new unit in Bridgewater, employing 330 local people. This has enabled Mulberry to bring about 50% of their production back to the UK, and in-house.
Bright future for UK manufacturing as reshoring gathers momentum
Clarks and Mulberry are not isolated examples. Think tank Civitas produced a report in 2014 entitled “Bringing Manufacturing Back – is the tide of offshoring beginning to turn towards reshoring?” In that paper they stated that that 64 per cent of firms surveyed had re-shored some element of production to Britain.
In a 2015 report Ernst and Young also estimated that there is scope to generate 315,000 new jobs and an additional £15.3 billion for the economy by 2025 through bringing production back to Britain.
What is persuading companies that the grass is not always greener abroad when it comes to manufacturing? A number of reasons are cited including rising wages in international markets, escalating shipping costs, the problems created by language barriers and the growing acceptance that UK-made goods tend to be of consistently high quality. Similarly, many companies wish to benefit from the enhanced flexibility and reduced turnaround times that manufacturing in the home market deliver.
Manufacturing offshore proves expensive in more ways than one
In today’s competitive and fast-moving world the attractions of seemingly lower prices tend to be far outweighed by other considerations.
Mike Shearwood, Chief Executive at Clarks, comments that “Clarks has always led the way in shoe design and manufacture having developed a significant proportion of modern shoe construction technologies,” adding that the new facility “will help us continue that tradition of innovation. Clarks is changing and as a global business we need to innovate and respond to the changing global economic order. The 21st century craftsmanship that we are introducing will also lead to and encourage innovation in shoe design. It will be transformative to the process of how we design and develop shoes.”
Many companies, right across the western world, are finding offshoring to be a false economy. Through bitter experience they’ve been forced to conclude that it’s much easier to design new products, to respond swiftly to emerging trends, to maintain quality standards and to get the latest lines to market when the manufacturing is done in their home country.
We’re just down the road
Devon may not be the centre of the universe but we’re a lot closer to our customers than our competitors in the Far East! So if you need high-quality light-weight metal products, including components, office furniture and retail display systems, give us a call. We have a wealth of design engineering and value engineering expertise, speak your language, and can produce in small quantities at very competitive rates. So give us a call.