Display case specialist The Bond Group has been steadily expanding its business, based on a distinctive mix of flexible manufacturing and sustainable values. Andrew Gaved reports
By its own admission, display case specialist The Bond Group has not historically been a company to speak loudly about its achievements, but its recent doubling of production capacity, together with investment in a new design centre and test facilities, have certainly given it something to shout about.
In fact, in the words of Bond Group chairman Chris Woollett, it is ready to “climb the Premier League” – a statement of intent from the Sheerness-based firm, which in its 39-year history has been a passionate advocate of British manufacturing while displaying an impressive and evolving commitment to carbon reduction.
The recent opening of its £2m site at Telford has seen the firm’s production capacity shoot up from 37,000 sq ft to 96,000 sq ft.
While expanding the company’s cabinet offering, effectively duplicating the facilities in Sheerness, it will also become the midlands hub for Bonds’ remanufacturing operation – of which more later. At the same time, it enables the company to offer the ability to manufacture closer to its customers where necessary – Bonds claims flexibility as one of the key strengths.
The expansion comes after a successful year that has seen it raise turnover to £22m and sign a clutch of new contracts with retailers – the latest being a £1m-plus order with Southern Co-operative, which has seen its two-year contract extended for a further three years.
The portfolio is impressive; it is now also a preferred supplier to the likes of Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose, Iceland and Sainsbury’s.
The burgeoning convenience store market has proved particularly fruitful for Bonds, and it has also been working with Martin McColl and Spar on projects, including a new concept for the latter that comprises a two-storey combination of convenience store and café-bar.
At the other end of the scale, Bonds has been working with Ryan-Jayberg on secondary refrigeration HT cabinets using glycol for Waitrose. These are remanufactured cabinets, the company notes proudly.
One of its key advantages, Bonds believes, is its new design studio that enables its designers to create virtual versions of its cabinets using 3D CAD. The client can then see how different options on their proposed configuration will work in the exact environment of their store.
“It gives the customer an idea of how their fridges might look, which helps us with new concepts,” says sales director Phil Proudman.
Another new element is the Sheerness paint plant, which enables the firm to provide powder-coated cabinet elements at the same cost as onsite paint job, improving the quality of refurbishment. “We can also change paint colours quicker than just about anyone,” says Mr Proudman.
Convenience isn’t the only shopping trend that Bonds is tapping into either. Home shopping is, of course, a growing area and the company is developing a refrigerated click-and-collect locker.
The cabinet will ultimately feature both an ambient and frozen locker, governed by a control system that ensures the locker stays at temperature between delivery and the customer picking it up.
Importantly, the control system will also prevent the door from being opened if the refrigerator falls below temperature for a certain period.
Also keeping pace with cooling developments, Bonds is currently developing cabinets for use with dual temperature transcritical CO2. Here, the fact that it has its own in-house EN23953-standard test facilities – an impressive four test rooms – naturally enables the company to do its own validation.
If innovation is one of the biggest elements to the Bond mission, then carbon reduction is another.
Mr Woollett believes that its commitment to this is a differentiator in these competitive times. “What stands out about us is that we build sustainability into our cabinets.
We already use stainless steel, which adds a premium of £100, because it is easier to recycle, and then we can add remanufacturing. We believe we are ahead of the other remanufacturers by quite a stride.”
“Sustainability built in” is a slogan that we can expect to see more of with Bonds. But the firm – and particularly Mr Woollett – is not content to simply throw slogans around and hope somebody listens.
In fact, he was sufficiently concerned about the general apathy in the retail world to the concept of remanufacturing – where the display case is upgraded to a warrantied standard, as a lower-cost, lower-carbon alternative to buying a new case – that he took his argument to parliament in a bid to persuade policymakers that this was an idea worth backing.
His efforts over the past few years to raise awareness of this, which won him the Gold Award at the Cooling Awards in 2013, could now be about to pay dividends as those politicians have backed the wider concept of remanufacturing in a pretty wholehearted fashion.
The recent joint report by the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resources and Manufacturing Groups, as reported in RAC last month, makes the case that a whole industry can be built around remanufacturing, bringing jobs and prosperity while reducing carbon in the supply chain.
To politicians, the case for remanufacturing display cabinets appears compelling: A display case can be remanufactured four times in its lifetime on average – and tested to the standards of a new case – at around 80 per cent of the cost of a new one.
One key statistic from the report stands out in a cooling industry that has increasingly looked to face up to its environmental responsibilities.
A massive 87 per cent of display cases in the UK are currently disposed to landfill, despite the fact that half of them are physically still capable of being remanufactured and resold.
With an estimated population of 800,000 cases in the UK, that is clearly a big potential carbon saving.
Yet currently there is nothing like universal appeal for the concept in the retailing world, with only a couple of the majors committed to the concept – a state of affairs that Mr Woollett finds frustrating: “Despite all the interest in sustainability among retailers, most buyers are still fixed on the concept of buying new.”
This is despite the fact, he notes, that the company has the facilities in place to fully test the remanufactured units to meet the same standards as new ones – as well as to upgrade efficiency where necessary with the addition of EC fans, and, if required to change the refrigerant completely.
In the Sheerness plant, a series of serve-over counters being adapted from the carcass of a standard case demonstrates that remanufacturing doesn’t have to just mean a sprucing-up job. “Companies need to have the opportunity to be able to sweat their assets,” Mr Woollett says.
Bonds is putting its money where its mouth is by sponsoring a PhD student from London South Bank University to do further work on the carbon issues with remanufacturing.
This is the second such placement – the first resulted in a carbon calculator that will enable retailers to assess the benefits of remanufacturing to their carbon footprint – and the two partners were at the Resource Event last month sharing the benefits of the Circular Economy.
This is a term the industry needs to get used to, as all of us are encouraged to re-use and recycle – and to remanufacture.
But remanufacturing could also offer a more revolutionary change to display case transactions – the chance to lease the cabinet over the lifetime of the product, with the customer paying an annual fee.
“We are talking to [government-backed recycling agency] WRAP about the possibility of providing the lease financing to make it work,” says Mr Woollett. “We would take the responsibility of planned upgrades, and that would allow the customer to fix their costs and reduce their carbon.”