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    Event Review: Business Excellence Member Networking Event – Mini Gears, 18 February 2014

    Last month, NAA Business Excellence members enjoyed a tour of Mini Gears and were treated to an excellent presentation from the company’s chairman, Paul Darwent. To our knowledge, Mini Gears is the second NAA company that started off in a garage and has grown to a turnover of around £10 million.

    Mini Gears started off in a garage near Manchester in 1966, making small gears for the textile industry. Because it was the era of the Mini car and the Mini skirt, the company was named Mini Gears.

    The company’s first foray into automotive engineering came from a contract with Cosworth Engineering, which was helping to develop cars such as the Ford Sierra Cosworth, which offered high performance for low cost.

    Before long Mini Gears employed 40 people and had reached a turnover of £1m, and even appeared on the BBC. As the company grew, Paul explained that one of the highlights was that it had its own football team!

    There was a family buy-out in 1993, and in the 1990’s Mini Gears’ main business was in the stairlift market, working for companies such as Stannah.

    In 1996 Lotus, or more specifically its V8 Esprit, became another automotive client. The company kept growing and reached a turnover of £4 million. At this point a new, larger factory was required and a move in 1998 to a 35,000 sq. ft. factory in Stockport took place.

    In 2002 the company had to expand again, and borrowed £1m to fund new machinery. Soon afterwards one of the company’s main clients decided to source its products from China rather than from Mini Gears in the UK. This could have been a disaster for Mini Gears, however the company instead set up its own buying/technical office in China and sourced all the parts on behalf of the customer.

    Paul explained how the process of setting up a new business in China involved receiving very warm hospitality from the Chinese, although one unexpected challenge was the trips to restaurants which usually involved food such as birds and frogs being presented alive shortly before having to be eaten.

    Further international expansion came with the opening of a small factory in the Czech Republic, unfortunately this was shortly before the crash in 2008, and the site had to be closed, along with many other local companies in the area.

    Today we’re in a period when automotive manufacturing is coming back to the UK, and Mini Gears is benefiting from this. The company is expanding into a new market of motorsport, where the profit margins for high end products are much greater.

    As the company has moved into the production of high end products, it has been picked up for doing work in the oil and gas sector, where quality requirements are extremely exacting. A further diversification has been into the area of manufacturing first-class aircraft seating.

    Paul’s extremely engaging and entertaining presentation showed that growing a company from a start-up in a garage to almost a £10 million turnover has its challenges, and that determination is certainly required to overcome such adversities.

    European Regional Development Fund Northern Powerhouse
    Partners Department for Business Innovation and Skills Finance Birmingham