Corporate strategy

A-SAFE to Expand into Europe, Regardless of Brexit

James Smith

A dynamic and flexible culture should help UK businesses stay ahead of any Brexit-inspired negativity says a prominent UK manufacturer.

A-SAFE are a UK manufacturer of polymer-based safety barrier systems with a notable exposure to the international market place.

The company currently export around 75% of its goods around the world and have benefited from the fall in the Pound.

"In the short-term Brexit has been good because of the weakening of the Pound, as the majority of our business is export based. However, things can change and A-Safe is about being dynamic and flexible enough to stay ahead and continue its growth,” says A-SAFE co-owner James Smith.

Sterling has this year fallen to its lowest level since 2009 on a trade-weighted basis.

Indeed, the company are focusing on growing their business both in Europe and beyond.

“The company’s plans for expansion and further integration in Europe won’t be influenced by Brexit at all. As a proud UK manufacturer, we are committed to investment in new product development, new people, machinery and the expansion of our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility and we don’t intend for any of these things to change because of Brexit,” says Smith.

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It's the ability to diversify that has led A-SAFE to where it is today, when James joined his Father fresh from University in the year 2000 the business employed just 30 people and had an annual turnover of around £1m.

Today, A-SAFE employs 160 people in the UK and 250 globally with a turnover of around £25m.

Smith explains how the thinking has changed since he started work after completing his business degree.

He says, “Strong, robust companies like A-SAFE need to be flexible enough to perform well outside of market forces that are, ultimately, beyond their control. A-SAFE is a truly global business and we intend to forge ahead with international expansion, both inside and outside of the EU.”

“Innovation is a key ingredient of success but when things have not succeeded, we have moved on and tried something different. This can be seen at a glance throughout A-SAFE’s history, when Polythene film manufacturing gave us the idea to make the scrap into plastic tubes to wind the film. The plastic tubes gave the idea of putting profiles together to make plastic pallets. Standing a plastic pallet on its side gave the idea for a plastic fence and then a plastic safety barrier.

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Drawing on Britains history for innovation he believes that despite Brexit, the next big idea is only round the corner.

The key is building a company that is strong enough to weather post politics and the economy.

Smith says: “A-SAFE has helped create an industry and market place for industrial safety barriers that did not exist.  Some companies that don’t fully manufacture or import goods are less confident.  

“However, because A-SAFE has full control, from innovation and design to manufacture and installation, it has created niche products and new markets that help to continue its confidence and growth. We’re staying ahead through new innovations and inventions and breaking the mould by creating markets that didn’t exist previously.”

For this British business the only way to compete internationally is by taking control of our own talent, and that means encouraging failure as well as success.

But what is also important for the firm is for young people to realise their potential and not get disheartened when ideas don't go to plan.

It's why Smith is calling on the government to invest more in schemes designed to get youngsters in to the manufacturing industry.

He says, “One area I believe is key is to encourage manufacturing. Education, for example apprenticeships, schools and universities, should encourage the vocation of engineering and manufacturing, rather than pushing pupils down the route of university with an office job set as the end goal. Entrepreneurial spirit is about having the confidence to give something go and potentially risk something for the reward.”

He is particularly keen for youngsters to learn that failure in ideas does not always mean failure in life, as that is how this company was founded.

“Let’s think how can we make products cleverly in order to reduce costs rather than through cheap labour abroad," says Smith.

Very much a family business, it was started by Father, David Smith, and then passed down to his two son’s Luke and James.

Like lots of businesses today it started out in a different guise but in the failure of other products, they discovered the plastic safety barriers they are known for today.

According to  it is this incentive that he wants to see instilled in young people.

He says, “Ideas do fail but the key is never to stop having them”. The passion to succeed is something which he believes is at the heart of the manufacturing industry.

“Not everyone is suited to a job in an office”, says Smith. “The truth is companies need flexibility and that comes from ideas. It's the only reason why we're in such a good place to withstand Brexit and now for us, it's business as usual.”

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