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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Olympic commissions open doors for company

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GOING FOR GOLD Staff at Clark Door celebrate after winning three contracts to do work for the Olympics 2012 site in London. Pictured is David Alexander, front, with managing director Andrew Ashley, Alan Balmer, Mark Wharton and Adam Wharton LOUISE PORTER

AS the debate rages over the true benefits of the London 2012 Olympics outside London, a Carlisle firm has no doubts.

First out of the blocks in the race to secure a chunk of the lucrative contracts on offer was Carlisle door-makers Clark Door.

A genuine world leader in its field, Clark Door won three contracts worth £400,000 and, in the process, associated itself with one of the games’ most iconic memorials.

Three commissions to fit specialist doors at venues around the Olympic Park, including at the top of the iconic ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower, the 100m-high structure paid for by global steel giant ArcelorMittal which has become Britain’s largest public artwork and will be used as a viewing platform during the games, offering stunning views across the entire site.

The tower will cater for 5,000 visitors a day, who will take a lift to the top or tackle its 455-step spiral staircase. After the event, it will be used as an exhibition space.

The firm has completed another contract to fit an acoustic door to a water pumping station on the Olympics site and a third job over which it has been sworn to secrecy.

Clark Door managing director Andrew Ashley was one of the first people to sample the Olympic tower’s amazing panoramic vantage point, in the middle of the Olympic Park.

He said: “The tower is right in the middle, between the athletics stadium and the aquatics centre – so you could say Clark Door will be at the heart of the Olympics.

“The view over the Olympic park and across to the city of London skyline is stunning.

“This was a fantastic contract for us to win. The companies involved already knew about our excellent reputation and involved us right from the design stage.

“It was a challenge because it is a groundbreaking building, something that’s never been done before. The difficulty was designing a door for a structure that hadn’t actually been built.

“When our staff sit back and watch the Olympics, they can be rightly proud that they have played a major role in such a prestigious project.”

Over recent years Clark Door has become one of Cumbria’s biggest success stories.

The firm that fell victim to the Carlisle floods of 2005 picked itself up and is now a world-renowned leader in its field.

For the staff of Clark Door who remain from that fateful Friday night when the rains continued to fall and fall, leaving their Willowholme factory sinking under seven feet of sewage-infested flood water, the turnaround in fortunes is nothing short of miraculous. Thanks to the efforts of the workforce, the business was able to move to a brand new £3m factory on the Kingmoor Park industrial estate, growing in the process. They’ve never looked back.

The new factory now provides more state-of-the-art manufacturing and IT equipment than the old one could ever have dreamed of hosting. At 30,000 sq ft, there was plenty of room to enable the workforce to expand and for new lines.

As the UK’s economy faltered, Clark Door had already taken the strategic step of spreading its wings and building a strong customer base throughout the world. Perhaps most notably it is now a key player in the construction sectors in the emerging economies of the Middle East.

Of course, these aren’t the sort of doors you buy at a DIY merchant or have a joiner install in your home. We’re talking high-tech highly specialised doors at the cutting edge of both design and technology.

From the Royal Opera House to the Qatari National Convention Centre, Cadbury’s to the QVC shopping channel... there are Clark Door doors everywhere.

The BBC made full use of their specialist acoustic doors in the mammoth Media City project in Salford.

Oman’s Royal Opera House is a 1,000-seat theatre designed to look like a palace where the Middle Eastern elite can watch performances in regal splendour.

Clark Door also designs, makes and installs specialist high-speed, fire and cold storage doors for customers all over the world.

As one of the world’s leading suppliers of cold storage doors, their Coldmaster product is now revolutionising the industry. It is the result of a £500,000 three-year research and development project and has been branded as the “ultimate freezer door”, boasting to be the only door that saves energy even when it’s open.

That’s achieved by motors blasting a curtain of air across the doorway when the door is raised, preventing warm air from infiltrating. It is set to revolutionise the industry and promises to save thousands of pounds on energy bills.

The firm’s complex processes are kept secret to scupper nosy competitors.

But, in basic terms, a wooden frame is produced in the joiners’ shop into which steel work is placed. It is then cladded, filled and shut off before the final hardware is added.

Firms are falling head over heels to snap up the doors.

Much of that success is down to a decision by its management team to tweak its business plan.

They recognised then that the UK construction sector was entering a potentially prolonged period of depression. It was essential that the company looked further afield for growth or risk declining at the same rate.

So the emerging economies of the Middle East and South America were targeted. Orders have since been bagged from countries including Oman, Qatar and Chile.

And Carlisle craftsmanship has been showcased on a global stage at the same time.

“Everyone has a part to play, right from the top to the shopfloor,” says Mr Ashley. “It’s all about the team. No one person is more important than anyone else. Carlisle people have a can-do attitude and that is very much our ethos as well.

“There’s a fantastic work ethic here. People are adaptable and get the job done without cutting corners.

“We have a very good mix of young people and experienced staff who work together to give our customers the best service possible.

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing a team come back from somewhere like Oman and telling stories about how they had to overcome language difficulties or cultural barriers to complete a project.

“It’s a massive learning curve when you go heavily into the export side. Different countries have different expectations about how long things should take or about how you should reply to a query – by phone or email or whatever. But it’s so rewarding when those barriers are overcome and you have a satisfied customer.

“In the door industry, the British brand is one of quality and because we have a good track record with prestigious customers like the BBC, the Royal Opera House, Sky TV, international customers respect that.

“We recognised the construction industry was in decline and we had to do something different. We grabbed the opportunity of exporting with both hands and we received a lot of help from UK Trade and Investment, who were excellent.

“Although we’re a product company, we don’t simply push our products at customers, we listen to their requirements, understand their needs and provide appropriate solutions.”

It might be a Cumbrian success story now, but Clark Door can trace its roots to a 19th-century timber merchant in Cranford, New Jersey, USA. It expanded into door production and by the 1950s had three American manufacturing sites and sister operations in Canada, Sweden and South Africa.

The business came to Britain in 1973 as a joint venture between Clark Door Incorporated and Christian Salvesen, at the time a big player in the frozen food distribution industry.

In 1990 Christian Salvesen, which has since been swallowed up by the Norbert Dressangle logistics group, bought out the US owners and launched it as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Then, in September 1991, current chairman Paul Ashley led a management buy-out with three investors.

Floods aside, the company has grown steadily since and can now claim to be one of Cumbria’s few genuine world leaders.

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