China, India, low cost, out-source outsource outsource, seems to have become the mantra of some manufacturers as they aim to survive in the global market.

Not so for Midland flooring firm Amtico.

In a turnaround from the normal UK manufacturing survival plan, Amtico is heading down the value chain.

Instead of heading for the higher value and niche markets to compete with cheaper Far Eastern imports, the maker of plastic floorings is now widening its range and increasing production.

That's not to say Amtico, which spun off from chemicals and textiles company Courtaulds in 1995, is heading for a bargain basement strategy either.

At present Amtico floorings are used on the floors of American nuclear submarines, hospitals as well as high street retailers like Marks & Spencer and Debenhams.

But it is also aiming for mass appeal with production firmly at its two Midland sites - Coventry and Solihull. Jonathan Duck, chief executive of Amtico, said: "A lot has changed in the last two and a half years.

"In 2001 to 2003, our sales had plateaued, but the market was growing.

"There was lots of Chinese competition and we were heading up towards the top of the pyramid, going up the value chain.

"The danger of becoming more and more niche is the market becomes smaller and smaller."

Mr Duck highlighted the example of motorcycle maker Norton as a salutary lesson. "They went upscale to deal with foreign competition, but this meant they were losing market share.

"But you can only do that for so many years until you run out of customers. At the top of the pyramid there are less and less customers."

So, ultimately you run the risk of selling only one, very expensive motorbike, I said.

"Exactly," said Mr Duck, sitting in the meeting room of the firm's newish facility in Foleshill, Coventry.

"We also want to make sure we are part of the big store improvement roll outs for example.

"But we wanted to sell more and grow our market share. Now we compete hard with our competitors, rather than just becoming more specialist and high value."

Amtico now competes on cost and innovation, with a series of new products launched every year.

During a tour of the Foleshill facility I noticed posters comparing Amtico's products with those of its competitors - it's clear the company is not resting on its laurels despite enjoying a bit of a turnaround.

Sales have doubled from £40 million in 1995 to £86 million, while profits have risen from £4 -10 million.

More than 300 different types of plastic flooring are produced, ranging from different wooden effects to ones which simulate glass and metal effects, bright colours and textures.

The company employs 460 people in the UK at two sites in the Midlands - 400 in Coventry and 60 in Solihull, while it opened a factory in the US in 1999.

Production levels now run at about 300 yards per hour, although this can be increased to cope with demand, Mr Duck said. It currently has about 30 per cent of the UK market, but is aiming for more.

Mr Duck said: "There is big trend for people to use smooth flooring. It is easier to clean and people think it is more hygienic than carpet or wood floorings.

"It is also tougher, it does not stain or indent very easily, and it is on the ground longer."

Mr Duck said the increased popularity of plastic floorings, with a variety of different prints and designs, was also as a result of people 'trading up' from laminated or carpeted floorings.

Innovation remains important to the firm, which has a 50-strong research and development team.

This has led to new floorings for the health care market - which produce fewer emissions - and a new flooring product for car showrooms.

The flooring, called Amtico Auto, is resistant to tyre marks and stains.

Another area has been its wood products divisions which has digitally scanned wood from church pews, or the stone in certain churches, to be used on its prints and designs.

Mr Duck said: "We hunt around for the best quality and digitally scan it for our designs. Nobody can do what we can do."

But changes are afoot for the company, which is owned by Electra Investment Trust.

Options include a floatation, a trade sale, or a secondary buyout.

No decision has been taken yet, said Mr Duck, as Amtico targets further organic growth.

Sales in the commercial market in the UK have grown by 20 per cent in the last year, while the firm is also targeting more sales in Europe.

Mr Duck said: "We have done quite well in the UK with the refurbishment programmes and takeovers in the retail sector.

"We have done a lot of work for M&S, Arcadia, Debenhams, for example. We are also hopeful of doing better in Germany.

"The hospitality sector over there is showing signs of life and we hope that will pick up."

Amtico is also hoping to improve its performance in America, where in addition to retail flooring, its Stratica range of flooring is being picked up by hospitals on the West Coast.

The flooring has no volatile organic contents, which means it does not react with any of the medical substances found in hospitals, as well as being hard wearing and easy to maintain.

If successful in California, Mr Duck hopes the product will be taken up by other hospitals across the US.

Meanwhile, the future of manufacturing appears to be safe in the UK, where productivity has also increased following changes to shift patterns.

All the products are produced to the customers orders, but speed and quality remain vital.

"We've got a good workforce," said Mr Duck. "Everybody pulls all the stops out."

This has offset the increase in energy costs, which have risen by an extra £750,000 this year.

"We have got adequate capacity to continue our growth without adding to the staff.

"We operate at the top end of our market. Our floorings are thicker, with more performance layers and higher grade plastic.

"With our manufacturing processes it is difficult for Far Eastern competition to do that."

The company is dipping its toes into China, with some sourcing work for its Spacia range of cheaper flooring.

"As long as we focus on what we are good at we can meet Chinese competitions. If we carry on doing that, no jobs will disappear to China."

Proximity also played a key role in the flooring trade and helped insulate it against overseas competitors, he added.

"If you are dealing with a customer, they will say they want to roll out the flooring to their sites in the next month, or might suddenly want to change the colour.

"They do not want to wait for something coming over on a boat from China. Some people have tried it and it goes spec-tacularly wrong.

"The product might not work, or does not arrive on time, which affects the shops particularly because, obviously, they want to be open and start trading.

"We provide a service where people can see the benefits of using a local manufacturer - service, lead times, and quality.

"You always, always have to work on the cost of manufacturing. It is a never ending endeavour reducing the waste, improving the product and being more cost effective. But local manufacturing is what really works. That and always, always knowing what you do well and focusing on that."