The new North Worcestershire Engineering Centre of Excellence run by specialist training provider Midland Group Training Services (MGTS). Lee Weatherly, CEO of Midland Group Training Services gave attendees a tour of the new £1.5m facility which includes new CNC machinery and manufacturing equipment
The centre which will provide a dedicated facility to ensure that young people within the area can be trained with the engineering skills that local companies require, has been set up to deliver advanced manufacturing education, training and assessment at Levels 3 and 4, with an emphasis on advanced CNC and automation. MGTS, as a registered educational charity, has invested £800,000 in the centre to deliver apprenticeships and engineer development programmes, which is set to train up to 200 young apprentices over the next 4 years.
The new £1.5m advanced engineering and manufacturing training centre in Redditch opened earlier this year, following a private and public sector collaboration with Midland Group Training Services (MGTS) investing £800,000 and both Worcestershire LEP and Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP investing £350,000 each. The North Worcestershire Economic Development and Regeneration (NWedR) team worked with partners on behalf of Redditch Borough Council.
Lee Weatherly, CEO of Midland Group Training Services (MGTS), said: “It was a pleasure to showcase the North Worcestershire Engineering Centre of Excellence and to give a tour of our fantastic new machinery and facilities. Our new centre of excellence will help to train hundreds of apprentices and I am confident that the centre will have a hugely positive impact on the future of the local engineering and manufacturing industry in particular.”
Gary Woodman, Chief Executive of Worcestershire LEP, said: “It’s great to see a large attendance for the North Worcestershire Engineering Centre of Excellence open event, following its Ministerial opening earlier this year. We have part funded the modern training facility to provide the relevant STEM based skills for the long-term development of our local workforce.”
Andrew Cleaves, Board Director – Skills, Greater Birmingham and Solihull, said:“We are delighted the facility is operational and helping the region’s engineers develop their skills in this vital sector. This project is an excellent example of what can be achieved when LEPs work jointly together with the private sector to inspire local people and deliver the skills the local economy needs”
Cllr Bill Hartnett, Redditch Borough Council Leader, said: “This Council is committed to providing apprenticeship opportunities because we want our young to be the entrepreneurs of the future and continue to live and prosper in their hometown. So I welcome the news that this excellent facility is now open.”
Gymshark is the UK’s most ambitious new gymwear brand and it’s taking the industry by storm
Interview by Nicky Godding
Fasten your seatbelt. This is retail for the 21st century. You won’t find Gymshark on the high street, unless someone’s wearing it.
You won’t find it on soulless edge-of-town retail parks either. The only place you can buy Gymshark now is online. This brand sells direct to the consumer, with a shop window on social media: Lots and lots on social media.
Gymshark is the UK’s fastest growing brand and it’s based at Redditch in Worcestershire. Launched five years’ ago by Ben Francis, just 19 at the time, it’s now generating annual sales of over £13 million with projected sales of £40 million this year – and £80 million the year after. Crazy? I know.
It’s an incredible story. In 2012 fitness fanatic Ben started making and selling gymwear with his university friends. They felt there was no sportswear which reflected their personalities, so they did it themselves, spending hours on a sewing machine and screen printer. And boy did they hit a rich seam of demand.
As a teenager, Ben had built websites (his first fully functioning website sold license plates), then he moved on to computer development, creating fitness apps. So Gymshark’s website was born. Sending their products to YouTube fitness stars they admired, they quickly learned the benefits of online influencer marketing, which remains the company’s fundamental marketing strategy today.
years’ Gymshark was achieving a turnover of £4 million, but success was
catching up with them and there were issues with product and on time delivery.
As CEO Steve Hewitt, who joined the business in 2015, explains: “99.9% of
people of their age and experience would have failed, but Ben was determined.
He also understands his consumer inside out. He is that consumer and lives the
brand, but at that age you don’t know what you don’t know. I came into the
business to add structure and experience.”
Steve asked Ben: Do you want to be a lifestyle brand in Bromsgrove, or do you want to become a global player? “Ben said he wanted to impact and inspire as many people as possible, so that’s what we’re going out of our way to do.”
Athleisure: the fastest growing retail trend in the
roots are in the gym, but it’s now developed into athleisure, or activewear,
probably the fastest growing retail trend in the world. The company’s target
market is those aged between 18-25, whose lives revolve around fitness, fashion
overarching focus, full stop, is to understand the 18-25 age group in our
sector better than any brand in the world,” says Steve. “The way we do that is
by being content-led.” For the Millennial generation, it’s all about the
experience and emotion.
“Price matters but more importantly it’s about being part of something. Our followers are very loyal, but they can also be very fickle. If we can’t be bothered, or seem to be taking our success and customers for granted. They’ll be quick to call us out.”
to do that on social media. Gymshark knows its room for error is very small,
but Steve’s view is that if you look after the brand and its community, the
numbers look after themselves – if you have commercial common sense.
Gymshark also pulls in 14 year olds, its customers of the future. “They are our Young Sharks, our next point of entry,” says Steve. And of course, there are the 35-44 year old fitness enthusiasts.
90% of the brand’s consumer interaction comes through Instagram. As I’m writing this, Gymshark has 1.4 million Instagram followers and a total of 3.6 million across all social platforms. They have a great customer care team who are fast to respond to any enquiries.
A brand for Millennials
Gymshark is a Millennials business. “We say that our legacy is not our bank balance. We want to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Steve. This might sound trite, a bit bleeding heart – but he means it.
Ben says he would rather know he’s affected people’s lives positively rather than having £1 million in the bank or a Lamborghini.
Steve adds: “Ben’s really humble. He could go on any holiday or drive any car he wants. But as a Board we have gone out of our way to ensure he stays real. And he’s up for that.”
Gymshark sees itself as aspirational and affordable.
The high-quality photography, videography filmed across the globe and the carefully-chosen brand ambassadors deliver the first, the second is delivered by its ‘direct to consumer’ model, cutting away retail outlets which need their own margins.
Manufacturing is done in the Far East but the company is hoping to move some to Turkey and Portugal. It would love to have some manufacturing in the UK if it can find the right sourcing partner and is putting significant money into research and development (“Art plus science equals wonder”, says Steve).
Steve is fizzing with ambition: “We have one chance. We want to make awesome product. We want to have owned IP.
“We are visionary in building a cult community, we want to be visionary in other areas too: wearable tech is on our radar. We want to get closer to our consumer.”
The vision also involves physical retail, but on Gymshark’s terms. “We want to take the brand to key cities across the globe.
“We did Mercer St, Manhattan, New York, just up from Lululemon and Nike Lab. Two hours before we opened a pop up store, there was a queue four blocks long. London is next.”
If the global opportunity for Gymshark is 10/10, Steve says the brand is currently at 2/10.
There is phenomenal growth potential, but Steve, Ben and their fellow directors are adamant the business mustn’t be complacent.
“When we launched our flex leggings this year we sold out of a large quantity with a proposed four-week cover in 11 minutes.
“We had teams high fiving but we said, let’s look at categories that are not growing as fast and put as much focus into those.”
At 60% of sales, the United States is Gymshark’s biggest market.
The UK comes in second at 25%, followed by the EU at 15%. Australia and Canada are growing markets – Gymshark is switching on its Australian online store in July. A French online store opens in October, followed by Russia, India, Japan and South America.
Women’s apparel represented 9% of the business two years ago, this has now risen to 65%. “We have to stay relevant,” says Steve. “Being relevant to an 18-25-year-old in a few years will be different from what it is now. It’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for the challenge.”
There is no exit plan. “None whatsoever. Our view is keep on doing what we’re doing and keep it fun.”
The lowdown on Gymshark CEO Steve Hewitt
Steve Hewitt grew up in the North East of England. Following a degree in sports business at Manchester he headed stateside to work, ending up running the commercial side of Adidas’ Reebok brand (softening his Geordie accent so they could understand him).
He headed up Reebok’s commercial interests in Europe. “Big numbers, a lot of travel, a lot of pressure. I left for one reason only, my wife and I had a little daughter and I was doing around 300,000 air miles a year. It was a work/ family lifestyle decision. I wanted to see my kids as they grew up.”
He was head-hunted to run Hartlebury-based Tiger Turf, which makes artificial grass for sporting and other markets. When he arrived, it was turning over £3 million a year. He helped take it to £25 million turnover in three years, after which it got sold to a Dutch consortium.
He met Gymshark when he was doing consultancy work with SMEs in the area, and the rest is history in the making.
Quick facts on Gymshark
Gymshark is a fitness apparel and accessories brand, manufacturer and on line retailer. It is currently the fastest growing retail brand in the UK, supported by over three million highly engaged social media followers and customers in 131 countries.
Head office: Redditch
Revenue: £13 million in 2016 (projected £40 in 2017)
Nigel Hudson, Head of Strategic Infrastructure and Economy at Worcestershire County Council, said:
"Worcestershire is one of the fastest growing local economies in the country and the fastest growing economy for productivity.
"One of the County Council's main priorities is being Open for Business and so the continued investment into Worcestershire's transport and digital infrastructure is essential to provide businesses with improved access to markets and to support economic growth. This means breaking down the barriers to private sector investment and playing our part in the business environment to underpin decision making.
"More money is being invested into developing land, infrastructure and developing skills than at any other point in the last 30 years.
"A key strength of the County Council’s team that is responsible for Economy and Infrastructure is their collaborative working approach. Working so closely with the LEP, the market and district partners is essential as we face ever growing challenges, from financial pressures to service delivery challenges alongside increasing levels of public expectation. It is more important than ever that we work in partnership to ensure efficiency and a high quality delivery.
"Success in Worcestershire has been born out of the Strategic Economic Plan, which provides strategic objectives and the ability to agree priorities across the county. Being clear about the plan up front and sticking to it over time is one of the major keys to success in Worcestershire.
"Having good working relationships across the various organisations, translates into clarity over their individual responsibilities, the resources required from each partner and the progressive certainty over time to ensure successful delivery.
"The successful delivery of schemes on time and to budget, not to mention the high quality of work, means we are able to build on the confidence of funders and investors. Examples of such projects include the Hoobrook Link Road in Kidderminster and the various phases of the Southern Link Road project in Worcester.
"Despite all of these positives, there is continued work that needs to be done. The vision for the next 10 years is to increase Gross Value Added (GVA) by £2.9bn. We also strive to contribute towards the delivery of 21,500 new homes in Worcestershire by 2025 and create 25,000 new jobs."
Gary Woodman, Chief Executive of Worcestershire LEP, said: "Our key success over the last 7 years has been the alignment between the LEP, Local Authority Partners, both County and District Councils, then bring the business community together with Further and Higher Education creates a dynamic team working in partnership. This team is focused on delivery against the vision and strategic economic plan.
"All of the projects are built from organisations' strategic plans, local plans and institutional business plans, bringing together finance and partners resources to execute the plan.
"We now have the confidence of the private sector in investing in the County, with a track record of delivery enabling projects such as Superfast Broadband, transport infrastructure for housing and increased commercial space. A total of £18m has been invested by Liberty Property Trust at Worcester 6 Business Park in Worcester for example.
"The confidence matched with investment means that the partners relationships have matured, the discussions within the LEP Board are now a focused on ‘doing the right thing’ for the County to achieve the planned economic growth.
"We need to set our ambitions even higher though and making sure we play our part in the Midlands Engine, working collaborative with neighbouring LEP's and other areas to secure further investment and new projects which have a greater impact by removing the barriers to growth on our local business community.
"The focus on a set of priorities that deliver the vision of a connected, creative and dynamic economy that creates prosperity so Worcestershire can project a modern image beyond the beautiful rolling hills and countryside that the County is famous for."
Current and recent Major Projects for Worcestershire:
It’s been a torrid night at the elections. We look at some early views and opinions from business support organisations.
Carolyn Fairbairn, Director-General, of the CBI said:
“This is a serious moment for the UK economy. The priority must be for politicians to get their house in order and form a functioning government, reassure the markets and protect our resilient economy.
“Politicians must act responsibly, putting the interests of the country first and showing the world that the UK remains a safe destination for business. It’s time to put the economy back to the top of the agenda.
“For the next Government, the need and opportunity to deliver an open, competitive and fair post-Brexit economy that works for everyone across all our nations and regions has never been more important.
“This can only be achieved if the next government doesn’t put the brakes on business, remains open to the world and sets out a pro-enterprise vision.
“Firms will support the UK develop our inclusive, innovative and open economy. More than ever, the new Government must work together with business to make the most of the opportunities ahead. Firms can provide the evidence, ideas and solutions from the shop, office and factory floor to secure our future prosperity.”
The Forum of Private Business
is calling more loudly than ever for the UK’s politicians to recognise
that the economic strength of the UK is reliant on the country’s five million
Chief Executive of the Forum, Ian Cass said: ‘The voice of small business has been completely ignored during the election campaign, with both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn both demonstrating that they have no real understanding of the critical role played by businesses to the importance to the UK, both in economic contribution and job creation,’
Facing a period of increased instability and uncertainty that a hung parliament will once again bring to the business community, Ian Cass is pushing for business to be put at the heart of government, with a Small Business Minister sitting at the Cabinet table and having teeth.
‘Businesses are tired of being paid lip service to. We have over five million business leaders in this country. Young and old, North and South, Remain and Leave, who have their feet firmly on the ground and need, once and for all, to be taken notice of, as the negotiations with Europe are progressed’
The Forum’s ‘Get Britain Trading’ campaign welcomes Members of Parliament into Forum member businesses so that they can truly understand what is needed to make the British high street great again.
‘With such a divisive split in the UK political scene, it is time for business to take control of the Country’s future,’ adds Ian Cass, ‘Not just big business with their sights purely on shareholder value, but small businesses who live and breath common sense survival in a changing world. In pushing for a proper, long term, Small Business Cabinet Minister, the Forum stands ready to support the government and its members in creating a strong and stable future UK. This will not come from politicians throwing verbal stones at each other and trotting out sound bites. It will come from a sensible and calm business approach,’ emphasises Ian Cass, a business owner in his own right.
‘The politicians have a choice. Listen and take note of the business voice, or continue sounding the ‘mayday’ siren,’ concludes Ian Cass.
Sophia Haywood, Policy Manager at Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce: “These results place even more uncertainty on our local business community, who have already persevered through recent years of political and economic turbulence. Businesses are already grappling with currency fluctuations, rising costs, and the potential impacts of Brexit. It is vital there is a swift formation of a functioning government to build business confidence and our wider economic prospects ahead of the EU negotiations. Just as businesses come together in difficult times, so should our politicians.”
By Ian Mean, director for Gloucestershire, Business West
With a hung Parliament today - no overall majority for the Conservatives - business will be very concerned about more and more uncertainty and delays in the Brexit process.
When you think that Theresa May had committed us to start the initial Brexit talks in just over a week’s time, the political earthquake that has now erupted puts a big question mark over the whole Brexit negotiation.
Will the opening Brexit talks actually go ahead on Theresa May’s timetable?
Will she even be prime minister by the end of today? Or even in a few days? There are already calls this morning for her to resign.
Our Business West members have told us in our recent survey how frustrated they are with the lack of information on the ongoing Brexit process.
They will be even more annoyed that our government’s standing will be at rock bottom with the EU now that Theresa May’s credibility has been shattered by the General Election result which she totally focussed on Brexit.
Calling a snap election with just eight weeks to give herself a stronger hand in the EU talks was a big gamble which the British people rejected.
Never underestimate the electorate is an old adage used by experienced politicians and today they have confounded expectations.
For many months now, companies I have talked to in Gloucestershire have been doing their best to ignore the “noise” generated by politics in order to focus on their own operations and ensure they retain good relationships with their export customers.
So, what will happen now?
More frustration for these businesses who now face the prospect of those initial Brexit talks being further delayed, because we might now have a Tory Party leadership election on our hands.
If Teresa May does resign, that delay in the talks could be as much as three months, and on top of that she will not be in charge of the Brexit process.
How can she retain any credibility with the EU, having had her wish for a stronger mandate for Brexit well and truly torpedoed?
For many companies in Gloucestershire where the strength of the pound is a big issue to make them more competitive, the lack of urgency created by a hung parliament could well affect their profitability for quite a period.
The key word here for companies is: confidence.
From day one when David Cameron committed us to an ‘in or out’ referendum, confidence has been the key issue for business.
In my experience in Gloucestershire, few companies have had any confidence in the government’s secretive Brexit process and during the Prime Minister’s election campaign, it became no clearer at all.
And at the heart of the government’s poor showing in the election was that the British public rejected the Prime Minister’s hard-line focus on getting the best deal for Britain.
She failed with a lacklustre election campaign where she almost hid from real voters - as opposed to party activists. This was the case particularly when she made a whistle stop tour to Cheltenham this week.
Most voters did not understand her Brexit argument in my view. They were more interested in domestic matters like the so-called ‘dementia tax’ and the NHS.
By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn ran an old-fashioned people-focused election campaign meeting everyone he could possibly meet.
Despite his obvious political shortcomings and a vicious right-wing press campaign against him, his anti-austerity ticket resonated with the public - particularly young people.
Business has been largely ignored in the election campaign.
That has to change and quickly.
Whoever now leads the country has to understand that the whole Brexit process will not be successful unless companies are regarded as important passengers on the journey - they must not be left standing on the platform
NIC Enterprises Limited has acquired a majority ownership of Worcestershire based, Orchard Valley Foods Limited. Mike Forrester and Cherry Blumberg remain as shareholders, and also become board directors of NIC, with Cherry remaining as Managing Director of OVF in a “business as usual” arrangement.
NIC currently owns three other companies in the UK all involved in the supply of decorations, inclusions, wafers, cones and other consumables mostly to the ice cream industry via food service and retail. There are a number of other NIC companies based in Europe including Candeco in Sweden which is a long-term business partner for Orchard Valley Foods.
NIC is part of Orkla Food Ingredients within the Orkla group, head quartered in Oslo, Norway.
Orchard Valley Foods said shareholders welcome the fact that synergies between the group companies in both the UK and internationally are likely to bring new opportunities to OVF at Tenbury and Leominster. Some of these have already been identified and work is underway to transfer business to OVF. Leominster is likely to become the distribution point for the group into the Midlands, North England and Wales. OVF makes up half of the sales of the combined NIC UK businesses and bring experience to the group of working with food manufacturers.
Agritech is the use of technology in agriculture and horticulture with the aim of improving yield, efficiency and profitability. The £500,000 investment from Worcestershire LEP, through the Government’s Growth Deal, enables WCG to launch a ground-breaking initiative with an Agri-tech STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) centre based at Pershore College.
The project addresses current and pressing skills shortages in agriculture and horticulture that act as a barrier to innovation and growth for this important sector in Worcestershire. A new applications laboratory and live field-based experimentation and demonstration facility will enable the college, local horticultural businesses and students to work together on industry challenges involving the application of innovative technologies.
The dedicated agri-tech applications laboratory will house electronic, robotic and computer based technologies that will be used to educate and train students and employers on modern applications of agri-tech and provide a centre for simulation of application. The room will also serve as the ‘control hub’ for accessing information from the external applications across the various growing facilities at the college and remotely controlling operations. Technology will be deployed across the Pershore College growing areas to experiment, test and demonstrate innovation and automation across a wide variety of settings.
Alongside this, the project will enable the development of a suite of “Horticulture Technology and Innovation” courses and will embed technology focused learning into all Pershore College programmes to attract more new entrants to the industry and allow progression from school through to HE, employment routes and apprenticeships. This specialist suite of programmes will deliver training in higher level skills to provide technology experts for the agriculture and horticulture industries.
The new STEM-focused facility will also enable the college to develop and deliver a programme of support for schools to raise awareness of agriculture and horticulture as high-tech, highly-skilled industries, again encouraging more new entrants to the industry in the longer term.
Professor Roy Kennedy is leading the agri-tech programme at Pershore College. He said, “This investment from the LEP is vital to ensure we have the state-of-the-art equipment and facilities needed for our students to become the skilled workforce of the future. “Importantly, Pershore’s agri-tech centre will also be a resource for industry, where businesses can come and be trained in innovative technologies and work with students on projects to help develop solutions to the many challenges facing the agriculture and horticulture sector.
“Pershore College has a rich heritage and this investment means that we will continue to be at the forefront of land-based education and training in the region.”
Gary Woodman, Chief Executive of Worcestershire LEP said, “Agri-tech is one of Worcestershire’s key sectors for economic growth and our investment into Pershore College will enable our future workforce and local businesses to benefit from the latest innovations. STEM skills are particularly important in supporting the long-term growth of the county’s thriving businesses and the College’s new cutting-edge facilities and equipment will help to provide our younger generations with skills that are relevant for the future.”
For more information about courses at Pershore College, call 0300 456 0049 or visit the Warwickshire College Group website .