Garden decking sees family firm taking over the world

Echo: Stuart Burns, managing director of Dura Compostites, showing off some of their products Stuart Burns, managing director of Dura Compostites, showing off some of their products

AS family run businesses go, Dura Composites is surely among some of the highest achieving in north Essex.

In the past four years it has built up its annual turnover from just over £1million to more than £5million and increased its employees from eight to almost 40.

Managing director Stuart Burns explains his parents Colin and Jenni originally launched the company, then known as Fibreglass Grating Ltd.

The lightweight product was soon snapped up as a better alternative to metal or steel mesh flooring in industrial situations such as factories or water and sewage treatment works.

“It took over from the metal because fibreglass is much lighter and easier to install, it won’t rust and it is anti-slip.

“It is also fire resistant, so is good from a health and safety point of view,” adds Stuart, 37, who lives in Wickham Bishops near Maldon.

He says his parents happened upon the idea of using fibreglass as they had previously had a business building boats, which are made from that material.

Eight years ago Colin realised there was a market to supply a version of the material for pontoon walkways.

“It was perfect because it was anti-slip and would not rot or need to be replaced like wooden ones.

“He then designed ones in different colours for use by pets and high heel shoes,” he adds.

In 2007, Stuart joined the company, having worked for global company Heinz for ten years.

“I joined with a view to helping the company’s growth and to bring the things I had picked up from working for a much larger company,” says Stuart.

The company then employed eight people and had a turnover of £1.08million.

“We embarked on a real growth plan and as part of that we renamed it Dura Composites because we had already started creating products other than fibreglass.”

This was chiefly a new material which is a mix of recycled wood and plastic put together using an extrusion process.

Stuart explains: “The beauty of it is there is no upkeep needed, so it is perfect for decking.

“No mould will grow on it and it won’t get slippery. And you don’t need to treat it to stop it rotting like wooden decking.”

He is also proud to say it is 87 per cent recycled.

Stuart puts the turnaround, and increase of turnover to surpass the £5million mark, down to a variety of different things, including their global sales. The products are doing well in Australia, Dubai, Ireland and Italy.

“We have changed our sales approach drastically and started the overseas initiative by securing a major distributor in Dubai in 2008. The products are very well suited to over there, because they withstand extreme temperatures,” says Stuart.

A major deal with SIG, supplier to the main builders merchants in the region, is also in the offing.

Stuart is as passionate about the people who work for him as he is about the products they sell and he has put a number of different initiatives in place to make sure they achieve the most and get the most they can in return.

These include introducing a reward system called Gung Ho, which sees each team within the company score credits for reaching certain goals which they can exchange for money to spend on a treat, such as going out for a meal, go-karting, bowling or a trip to the cinema.

“Within reason, they can do what they like with it and they can cash the money in whenever they feel they have enough for what they want to.

“My only rule is that whatever they do, they have to do together as a team,” Stuart explains.

The company also carries out performance reviews every three months and hands out an employee of the year award.

“I firmly believe people are our biggest asset. If you don’t take time to help them develop, then you will just lose them, they will become disenchanted,” he says.

Dedication and loyalty pay off, and that’s demonstrated in the recent announcement one of its longer serving sales executives of the past eight years has accepted an offer to become a commercial director and shareholder.

With things going so well, there are no signs of Dura Composites slowing down.

Stuart, who has a two-year-old son, believes planning is one of the main keys to the firm’s success and in the spirit of this, he has the next three years mapped out.

“We plan to triple in size again to a £15million turnover through a mixture of distribution and growth in the UK and doing more with existing companies,” he says.

“And as part of getting ready for that, we have just signed the lease for an extra acre of storage four doors on from where we are currently based on the Gorse Lane Industrial Estate, in Clacton.

“We are busy transferring stock, which is manufactured in China, to the facility and once we have finished that, we can invest in more machinery.”

He said the company brings the material over from China and then the sales team works with customers to arrange having it cut and shaped to their specific requirements.

“The beauty of this product is it is ours and we carry out all the development and design on it.

“We take it to a lot of exhibitions and recently were able to give away a lot of decking we had cut specifically for that purpose to St Claire’s Day Nursery in Clacton, so they could have some decking where it is very boggy and the children cannot play.”

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