Timber boss Alan Jones saw fate play a big part in his career choice. Having left school at 16 without qualifications he was lined up for an interview with an accountancy firm to secure his first full time job. But the accountant he was due to meet died suddenly and Alan was instead taken into his dad’s timber haulage business.
“You need people you can rely on and I’ve gone out of my way to get my top staff. When you find someone who is good you grab them and then you can find them something to do. “My top end staff have been with me a long time and I know I don’t have to be looking over their shoulders, they will go the extra mile for us.”
Retaining good staff is the key to success. Alan Jones
He has not looked back and after taking over the family business 30 years ago he has transformed it into a 100 employee firm based in Ruthin with a £12m annual turnover.
Alan, who was born in Wrexham and now lives in Llwyn Einion, near Rhos, said: “My father, Clifford Jones, started the company in 1948 and we were timber hauliers.
“He had been wounded at Dunkirk. We had army surplus vehicles and dealt mainly in large hardwood trees. The ex-army lorries usually had winches for towing and we modified them to act as cranes to hoist timber.
“We worked within a 70 miles radius of Wrexham and later for Flintshire Woodlands, who were based in Mold.
“I left St Joseph’s School in Wrexham at 16 without many qualifications and actually had an interview arranged with an accountant but he died suddenly and my dad took me into the timber haulage business.”
He added: “I have been running the business for the last 30 years and bought the Ruthin site 25 years ago when it was a small stake mill employing two people. “That was when we changed from a haulage company to a business manufacturing timber products. “Now as well as fenceposts and playground equipment we make a whole range of wood products from laminated timber for construction to wood briquettes and pellets for heating and even horse bedding and cat litter.” The company, which also has a base in Gretna, Scotland, is now the UK’s largest manufacturer of fence posts and outdoor playground equipment. But they have also diversified into growing markets like biomass heating products to ensure future success. Alan, who is married to Sonja, and has two children, Richard and Sarah, and five grandchildren, still has an active role in the firm. He said: “I am chairman of the company and still have a hands-on role, working at least 10 hours a day but I’m not as hands on as I was. “I used to buy the forests, run the forestry contractors, work in the office and drive a lorry because we used to deliver the posts we made. “Now my son and daughter are involved in the business and I’ve got a good team here and I oversee and smooth any problems – but I will still get on the production line if I need to and pack wood briquettes.” Alan, who is also a black belt in karate and has represented Wales in the sport, describes himself as “entrepreneurial, outward-looking and hard-working” and says this has helped him survive in the challenging world of business. He said: “Some people think they can start a business and six months down the line you can sit back but you can’t you’ve got to keep working at it and you have to make sacrifices but I love my job, I love getting up in the morning and coming to work.” He says being prepared to diversify has also helped the company get through the hard times.
He said: “By diversifying we haven’t had to rely on one or two products.
“Our range is quite extensive so that when one dips another picks up and we avoid the big troughs and that means our business runs more evenly through the year.
“We were actually ahead of our time with the wood pellets and briquettes – we were making them before the market really took off so we had to diversify into horse bedding and that has proved profitable and now thanks to the Renewable Heating Incentive the pellets are catching up. “We have invested £100,000 in kiln drying logs and kindling because it fits neatly into our portfolio of biomass heating products with the briquettes and pellets. “We now have equipment for cutting and splitting the logs. “We use everything that comes through the gates except the water that is in the wood and that goes out of the chimney as steam. Everything else is used and that’s because we are always looking to add value to what we produce. “We were giving our residue away for nothing and so we took the chippings from making fence posts and made them into wood briquettes and pellets and also into horse bedding and cat litter.” One of his highlights was when turnover went over £1 million, which “was a thrill”, but he added: “Business is about peaks and troughs and how you deal with the lows but you have to grit your teeth and get through it.” Alan is also keeping it in the family with children Sarah and Richard taking key roles in the firm. He said: “I’m also lucky with my children. Richard has taken on a major role in running the business with Keith Corbett while Sarah, who is currently on maternity leave, has run the Scottish mill. “You also need a good financial person and I’ve got that in Keith who is now our managing director.” He described his own business icons as Alan Sugar and Richard Branson.
He said: “I admire people who have started with nothing and built something. People like Alan Sugar who might not be everyone’s cup of tea but he was a teenage barrow boy and look what he has achieved or Richard Branson who started off selling records from a telephone kiosk. I learned a lot from my dad too because he was very sensible in business. I used to have some arguments with him when I was young but he was usually right!”