Fifty years after an advert in the Birmingham Mail to recruit toolmakers for what was then a fledgling firm, Barkley Plastics is bracing itself to break the £7 million turnover barrier for the first time.
The plastic injection and toolmaking specialist, based in Birmingham’s Highgate district, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in style after landing a clutch of new automotive contracts and launching its own line of PVC floor tiles called ‘Plasfloor’.
The firm has already seen turnover rise by more than £600,000 over the last year and recruited eight new staff, taking its total workforce to 112.
Barkley Plastics might be flying high but its current success is a world away from the early days when founder John Barkley placed a job advert for four toolmakers in the Post’s sister paper the Birmingham Mail - then the Birmingham Evening Mail.
Mr Barkley was keen to start his own plastics firm, spotting a gap in the market to supply local suppliers in the booming automotive sector.
He ended up recruiting Bob Chittleborough, Bob Fisher, Maurice Harwood and Tony Challinor - all of whom initially kept their day jobs at Lucas, choosing to work the evening at ‘John Barkley Plastics’.
A surge in demand from Mini, Rolls-Royce and Lucas soon saw the quartet take the plunge and go full-time.
“We’ve certainly come a long way since we first started in Balsall Heath in 1965,” said Mark Harwood, the firm’s current managing director and son of Maurice Harwood.
“The name Barkley Plastics is now recognised throughout industry for its world-class quality in injection moulding and toolmaking and we currently supply components that are used in domestic goods, innovative locking devices and for car makers including BMW, McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover.
“Just last year we hit the headlines for supplying 20,000 plastic baubles to the world’s largest chandelier used at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.”
Speaking about the firm’s growth he added: “It’s fantastic that we are on course to hit a record £7 million turnover in 2015, a great way to mark the efforts of every member of staff that has contributed to 50 years of manufacturing.”
Barkley Plastics has endured some ups and downs during its 50-year history.
In its current Highgate Road home since 1968, the firm made the most of the automotive boom of the 1970s but felt the full force of MG Rover’s collapse ten years ago and the global recession of 2009.
Now it is enjoying a resurgence, thanks in large part to the current trend for reshoring.
Its 85,000 sq ft facility has the latest plastic injection moulding machinery and a dedicated toolroom that is working 24-hours to keep up with demand.
As well as the many automotive products it has produced the firm has also seen some more unusual items created.
They include the 70s ‘Homepride Flour Men’ and the Big Yellow Teapot for bluebird toys.
Barkley Plastics has also produced paintball products, skateboard wheels and parts for Raleigh bikes.
Its strong relationship with the automotive sector continues and it makes flashing beacons and interior components for several car-makers.
It also makes door handles for Jaguar Land Rover and rear lamp components for Nissan.
In addition it is capitalising on increasing demand for light guides which now feature in many new cars to create ambient lighting.
Mr Harwood, who is not the only link to the firm’s founders, said one of its greatest strengths was its workforce.
He said: “Our people have been vital to our success, with many being with us for long periods of time.
“In fact, the longest serving member of staff is David Challinor, who is also one of the sons of the original four and spent 43 years working on our tools.
“Only this year we also saw one of our directors, Maurice Cassidy, retire after 35 years of hard work and fantastic service.”
A number of celebrations are planned to mark Barkley Plastics’ 50th anniversary, including a party for current and former employees.
It is also going to be installing its largest ever plastic injection moulding machine - a 650 tonne Negri Bossi.
“It will give us the opportunity to produce larger components and go after contracts in markets we’ve never looked at before,” said Mr Harwood.
Another milestone in Barkley’s history has been its involvement in the Midlands Assembly Network (MAN), a group of nine sub-contract manufacturers working together to win work at home and abroad.
The company was a founder member of the collective and says it has benefitted greatly from sharing best practice, learning about new processes and collaborating on apprentice training programmes.
It is currently working with other MAN companies to bring two innovative locking devices to market in Loqski and Guardfreight.
Reflecting on the firm’s past and looking to the future, Mr Harwood said: “Who would have thought that a little job advert in the Birmingham Mail would have turned into a successful 21st century manufacturing operation.
“The key now is to plan ahead and how we are going to make the most of the next 50 years.”