Modern day rag and bone business thrives despite the worst of times
Leicester based, Industrial Wiper Company, collects unwanted second-hand clothing and fabric and creates cleaning wipers that are used across a variety of industries from food to janitorial services. Despite a turbulent year facing many market disruptions, as well as the personal and tragic loss of Managing Director, Mark Walters to cancer, this rag and bone business has not just survived but is starting to thrive once again.
Mark’s father, Mike Walters established the business in the 1960s. Back then a horse and cart were used to collect the waste fabric from Leicester companies. These days t-shirts, sheets and towelling are collected from charities, hotels and factories right across the country and imported from Europe and Asia. As in the past, the fabrics are then sorted, cut up, bagged and sold – mainly business-to-business – using distributors who sell the wipers on to the auto trade, powder coaters, sign makers, food producers and ventilation cleaners to name a few.
When Mark became ill early last year, he called on the Business Gateway Growth Hub and his cousin David Burns for help. David had previously worked as Northern European Marketing Manager for Castrol and ran a capability consulting business.
At the time, the business was facing several challenges. David had come in but with little knowledge of the market or business. There was a shortage in supply of key fabrics, and they were losing significant sums of money a year, due to a combination of factors including inefficient internal systems and procedures, spiralling costs and an unsustainable pricing structure. In addition, their long-term bookkeeper left the company plus Covid-19 and Brexit struck which meant short term closure, a drop in demand for their products and further difficulties accessing the suppliers and the fabric needed to create the wipers. The number of challenges facing the business, from both internal and external influences was unprecedented. But by working in partnership with their Business Adviser at the Business Gateway, David was able to tackle every one of them.
David said: “This was a time of real disruption and concern. But all the way through I found adviser Joanna Moore and the Business Gateway was the one place I could turn to – to ask questions, get support and find out how things were done locally. I was literally on my own with the team and she was the only person I could talk to, express concern and get help.”
As well as providing David with an outlet to discuss problems and identify possible solutions, Joanna was able to offer practical help with several key challenges. For example, she signposted David to the Leicester Employment Hub to help him quickly recruit a number of key positions within the organisation and access support from the private sector to develop their internal financial systems and processes. David was also put in touch with one of the Business Gateway’s export consultants, Andrea Collins who understood the intricacies of Brexit and helped them locate a supplier partner to bring materials into the country.
David continued: “We’ve also had help with grants. When the metal detected products we supply to the food industry started to come in short supply from Europe, we wanted to set up our own detecting facilities within our factory. Joanna helped us source and apply for an NBV grant of £1,500 towards some machinery giving us in-house capability.”
They have also updated the website using a Small Business Recovery grant and Mark’s wife Kay, who is now working at the company, has taken advantage of the Business Gateway finance workshops to build her skills in this area. “It’s been a real partnership. Each time we’ve reviewed our capability we’ve come to the Growth Hub and said, ‘this has disrupted our market, we now need to do this, can you help us?’ And each time Joanna has provided solutions we could try. That’s what I like about it. It’s enabling and assisting to deliver on the opportunities from the disruption in the market,” added David.
Joanna Moore commented: “I’ve really enjoyed working with David and Industrial Wiper Company. As an adviser, it’s lovely when you can work with a client, over a longer period. It gives you the opportunity to really get to know the business and people involved and so it is extra rewarding when you help them to overcome whatever challenges they are experiencing at that time.”
The great news is, with the help and support of Joanna and a lot of hard work and dedication from David and his team the business has managed to turn things around and is on target to move from a large loss to a net profit of £15,000 this year.
The future is looking even brighter for the business. Growth plans include working with a new partner, which processes 50,000 tonnes of clothing from their bins and shops, to secure and grow fabric supply. New non-woven products have been added to the wiper range and a consultancy service has been launched to ensure customers can optimise performance and the cost of their wiping, cleaning, and polishing requirements. Plus, all Industrial Wipers products and services can now be viewed and ordered via their recently rebranded and redeveloped website – www.industrialwiper.co.uk
Finally, David added: “The Growth Hub has been a lifeline. The emotional impact of the support we’ve had is probably an area people don’t fully understand or value. In a small business with everything that goes on to have someone to turn to, bounce ideas off, talk about the market and get feedback: to have another rational voice there, that’s of amazing value.”
For a full business review including help with sourcing finance for growth contact the Business Gateway on 0116 366 8487 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured top right: Justine Mundin, production supervisor, one of the longest-serving members of staff, cutting fabrics
Bottom: MD, David Burns and some of their product range.