J Nicklin & Sons Ltd is a familiar name in the packaging industry, having been established 90 years ago by the great-grandfather of current managing director David Nicklin. Three generations of the Nicklin family are still involved in the business. David’s brother, Paul, is the systems and quality manager, his father Graham is both company chairman and president of Timcon, and his grandfather, Albert, now in his 80s, is still in the office every morning taking a keen interest in the company’s progress.

Back in 1913, the company’s original success came from cabinet making and egg boxes then, after the second world war, from the manufacture of timber packing cases and trading ex-MOD ammunition and de-mob suit boxes. Graham Nicklin added pallets to the business in the 1960s and heavy-duty corrugated products in 1981.

Doubling growth

Today, David Nicklin is driving an ambitious growth plan that will see the company double in size in just five years and introduce further products in line with customer demands. Now trading as Nicklin Transit Packaging, the company is well on the way to achieving this aim, recording 41% growth in the past two years, and rapidly buying up sites neighbouring its original premises to create a more flexible, effective and efficient operation.

“Everyone can make pallets and boxes, we have a service-driven business that has the flexibility to give customers what they want, when they want it, at cost-effective prices,” said David Nicklin.

Transit packaging is both an important market for Nicklin and a traditional one. To differentiate its business, Nicklin takes a non-traditional approach, without losing sight of traditional values. The company offers a bespoke packaging and logistic solution and views its suppliers as partners in the supply chain. Having long-term key trading partners supplying timber, corrugated products, automation and fastenings helps Nicklin facilitate its customers’ ongoing requirements in an ever-changing market. All timber is UK-sourced, helping to eliminate shipment and quality issues, with much of it cut to size; forward planning for customer demands means that 95% of the materials that come in are pre-sold as finished goods.

Same day deliveries

Nicklin operates its own transport fleet, allowing for greater control of deliveries so orders can be placed and received on the same day. This brings an added advantage in that Nicklin can fully use ‘transport groupage’ in order to satisfy any volume requirement in a cost-effective way, often leading to reduced batch quantities and increased value for the customer.

Key to Nicklin’s success, and that of its customers, is a variable, all encompassing approach. Nicklin must react quickly to order requirements in many different product ranges and requires manufacturing solutions that combine speed with flexibility. While automated nailing solutions offer speed, the vast majority are not geared up to provide the flexibility required for small runs and fast changeovers.

Three years ago, David Nicklin flew out to Italy with Duo-Fast to see, and buy, a machine that offered both. In 2000, Paslode and Duo-Fast came together under the ITW Construction Products umbrella, to join other household brands such as Spit, Ramset and Buildex. Nicklin now has a strategic alliance with ITW, as well as SCA Packaging, Howie Forest Products and BSW Timber among others.

Rapid machines

This year Nicklin purchased two even higher specification machines from ITW. Used for wooden transit packaging, including pallets and cases, these Paslode Duo-Fast Rapid M5 machines are up to four times faster than manual benchwork. Once programmed into the computer control, nailing specifications can be changed in seconds, which means they can be used on any run length, typically between 50-1,000. The Rapid M5 also guarantees the consistent, quality build Nicklin’s customers expect.

“In many ways the ITW philosophy is the same as our own,” said David Nicklin. “They don’t expect to do things the way they have always been done, and are continually looking to improve both their products and their service.”

Paslode Duo-Fast gives Nicklin a total support package with tools, fastenings and service support ensuring weekly servicing and round the clock stock.

Safety is also paramount. Paslode Duo-Fast is always looking to improve the safety of automated operation over and above health and safety requirements and runs both “Train the Trainer” and “Train the Operator” programmes. Safety is another reason that Nicklin is opting for automation – which is encouraged by the Health and Safety Executive in preference to benchwork – and all operatives have been fully trained. Despite the considerable automation in its business, Nicklin employs around 50 people, with some production done by hand.

As with its other strategic partners, Nicklin looks to Paslode Duo-Fast to help add value to its total customer offer. “We have formulated long-term partnerships with several key trading partners who are market leaders in their respective fields. This enables us to integrate expertise, resources and processes in order to facilitate optimum return for our clients through professional packaging and bespoke logistics solutions. It is quite normal for us to take our partners along to customer meetings and for them to provide technical and advisory support. We are aware of our strengths and weaknesses and out-source accordingly; our suppliers bring real value to our operation and are an integral part of the package. In order to maximise potential earnings and value at every stage of the supply chain it is key that all partners understand our clients current and ongoing requirements,” explained Mr Nicklin.

Nicklin’s forward thinking extends to its internet presence. It was one of the first transit packaging companies to create a website six years ago, and is now developing a new site, stage one of which is already live (www.nicklin.com). This currently provides a sales and marketing tool for the company, but future stages will enable customers to design their packaging on-line and introduce on-line order placement and project tracking functions. The pioneering technology for the next stages of the website is currently in development. Its introduction, however, depends on the reaction from the rest of the industry and clients.

Gradual process

As David Nicklin said: “We won’t make the mistakes of many companies in moving too quickly, it will be a gradual process driven in tandem with the core business and future market development.”

David Nicklin may be in a hurry to double his company’s turnover, but his approach is strategic, rather than a quick fix. By putting customers’ needs first and finding ways of adding value to their business, Nicklin has grown its business in every area.