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Passing of the torch: Sons taking dad’s award-winning manufacturing business to another level

Mallon family Malplas

Gerry Mallon has been at the helm of his window manufacturing business, Malplas, since he took the brave and bold decision to go it alone back in 2001. As he approaches his 72nd birthday, in June of this year, he feels it’s nearing that time he passes the torch over to his two sons.

However, unlike the Roy brothers in the hit TV show, Succession; sons, Ryan and Philip will not be vying for that number one spot. The pair, over the last number of years, have worked together in tandem under the expert and watchful eye of their dad – it’s a proper family-run business – to build a company that is now growing at an exponential rate.

I caught up with all three of them to discuss the growth of their business in recent times. Their turnover has increased from £500,000 in 2017 to an impressive £3million today. For comparison, turnover in the first number of years was around £150-200,000. We also discussed their decision to go to a four-day work week and how this decision has revolutionised their business.

The firm was also awarded the 2023 Business Eye Manufacturing Company of the Year just before Christmas. It’s an accolade that meant a lot to the Mallons, especially Gerry, whose life work is now being recognised beyond the confines of the trade.

Gerry brought me back to his origins. Born and bred in Moy, where Malplas is now headquartered, the 71-year-old first trained as a carpenter after leaving school, and worked on building sites across Ireland, England, Germany and Iraq. He joined German manufacturer, Re-Hau, in the early 1980s, working in their technical department before being transferred to Slough in England.

He then joined Dessian, a Belfast-based window manufacturer, where he was a director for 16 years. By the turn of the century, Gerry’s itch to set up his own business became too great and in 2001, he took that entrepreneurial leap.

The company started out with those five employees (Gerry included) in Benburb – that number has now grown to 27 and is likely to increase in the near future.

It’s been gradual growth but “we didn’t take on too much; we took on what we could cope with and grew like that over time,” said Gerry.

His eldest son, Ryan, came on board in 2015, starting on the factory floor where he worked for nearly six years. Philip started in the office, joking that he’s “not one for manual labour”.

For both sons, it was a natural route for them to join their father’s business.

“When Philip and I were growing up we would have been running about the yard,” said Ryan. “We grew up around the business.”

Philip, not as keen to get his hands dirty, went to Dungannon Tech to complete a course in business studies which he is now putting to very good use.

“I knew I was coming here,” said Philip. “I didn’t have plans to do anything else. I was on the floor for a very limited time but like I said, I wasn’t one for manual labour.”

The boys have been central to the changes witnessed at the factory in recent years, and like most industries, the internet and technology in general has allowed for great change, something Ryan and Philip have wholeheartedly embraced.

“It’s all about changing and trying new things,” said Ryan. “With the rise of social media and the internet, it has opened up so much more possibilities. We are looking at what companies are doing on a global scale and getting ideas for our own business. Before, it was just from the magazines and companies local to us.

“It was semi-automatic back when dad started the business. Now, it’s a lot more automated. We invested in a brand new Stuga ZX5 machine which has improved our efficiency massively.

“We went from doing 200 frames a week; now this new machine has allowed us to up the output to 500 frames a week. The job itself would have been carried out by three men for 200 frames; now it’s one man for 500 frames. The staff however are a large part to play in this”.

In the last four years, workload has increased but so has efficiency – revenues have correlated to this, much to the family’s delight. The introduction of a new distribution warehouse in Ashbourne, on the outskirts of Dublin, in 2020 has been another game-changer.

Before, Malplas would have been delivering to every corner of Ireland. What can now be done in a single one-and-a-half-hour trip would have previously taken three days. Malplas deliver their frames to the warehouse and the client picks them up from there. And one man manages the warehouse!

“That has been a huge boost to the business,” says Ryan, who also bestowed the benefits of the central location of Moy.

While all that is great, it would mean little if the product wasn’t great. The German Engineered Kommerling uPVC are top of the range, high end profile.

“The quality is the biggest factor in our success,” says Gerry, unequivocally. “Coupled with the new machinery, we can get quality frames out within the week whereas others’ lead times can be 3-4 weeks. It’s quantity but our focus is on quality and that’s important.”

Another factor to the success of any business is its people. Turnover of staff is not something Malplas have had to worry about; after all, four of Gerry’s original employees are still there. Any who have left tend to come back too! It also helps when the employer listens to what its workers have to say.

And that was certainly the case 24 months ago when several employees floated the idea of a four-day work week. Gerry, Ryan and Philip sat down and considered the proposal, which led to a trial run – and that is now they way they do things on a permanent basis.

Employees work 7am-5:30pm Monday to Thursday. Gerry, Ryan and Philip are in the office on Friday for mainly administrative purposes. Mark Burns, technical manager and Lucia Abernethy, office manager are also part of that core team that helps the cogs moving in the right direction.

“Staff were delighted,” said Gerry. “We asked for the same production during the four days, and it has been, which has been brilliant for the company.”

Ryan explained: “It’s a day less of driving, especially for some who live a little further away. They can schedule their hospital, bank appointments etc. on that Friday. As for ourselves, clients know they need to get orders into us earlier and our electricity bills have been cut down too. It really has revolutionised the way we work.”

“It’s all about changing and trying new things,” said Ryan. “With the rise of social media and the internet, it has opened up so much more possibilities. We are looking at what companies are doing on a global scale and getting ideas for our own business. Before, it was just from the magazines and companies local to us.

“It was semi-automatic back when dad started the business. Now, it’s a lot more automated. We invested in a brand new Stuga ZX5 machine which has improved our efficiency massively.

“We went from doing 200 frames a week; now this new machine has allowed us to up the output to 500 frames a week. The job itself would have been carried out by three men for 200 frames; now it’s one man for 500 frames. The staff however are a large part to play in this”.

In the last four years, workload has increased but so has efficiency – revenues have correlated to this, much to the family’s delight. The introduction of a new distribution warehouse in Ashbourne, on the outskirts of Dublin, in 2020 has been another game-changer.

Before, Malplas would have been delivering to every corner of Ireland. What can now be done in a single one-and-a-half-hour trip would have previously taken three days. Malplas deliver their frames to the warehouse and the client picks them up from there. And one man manages the warehouse!

“That has been a huge boost to the business,” says Ryan, who also bestowed the benefits of the central location of Moy.

While all that is great, it would mean little if the product wasn’t great. The German Engineered Kommerling uPVC are top of the range, high end profile.

“The quality is the biggest factor in our success,” says Gerry, unequivocally. “Coupled with the new machinery, we can get quality frames out within the week whereas others’ lead times can be 3-4 weeks. It’s quantity but our focus is on quality and that’s important.”

Another factor to the success of any business is its people. Turnover of staff is not something Malplas have had to worry about; after all, four of Gerry’s original employees are still there. Any who have left tend to come back too! It also helps when the employer listens to what its workers have to say.

And that was certainly the case 24 months ago when several employees floated the idea of a four-day work week. Gerry, Ryan and Philip sat down and considered the proposal, which led to a trial run – and that is now they way they do things on a permanent basis.

Employees work 7am-5:30pm Monday to Thursday. Gerry, Ryan and Philip are in the office on Friday for mainly administrative purposes. Mark Burns, technical manager and Lucia Abernethy, office manager are also part of that core team that helps the cogs moving in the right direction.

“Staff were delighted,” said Gerry. “We asked for the same production during the four days, and it has been, which has been brilliant for the company.”

Ryan explained: “It’s a day less of driving, especially for some who live a little further away. They can schedule their hospital, bank appointments etc. on that Friday. As for ourselves, clients know they need to get orders into us earlier and our electricity bills have been cut down too. It really has revolutionised the way we work.”

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