Alexir Partnership has lived up to its name, becoming an Employee Ownership Trust as a means to reward staff loyalty and to secure the continued independence of the packaging design, printing and packing company.
The full implementation of the provisions associated with the new status have been delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The official transition took place at the start of the year when Robert Davison, who founded the company 30 years ago, stepped aside. However, at the request of Jeremy Keable, as partnership managing director, both Davison as chairman and his brother Ian Davison, finance director, will remain in post for a transitional period over the next two or three years.
The business has sales of around £36 million and employs 162 at its main site in Edenbridge and its co packing site in Uckfield. But the new team is not resting on these laurels. A new Koenig & Bauer Rapida 106 has been installed during the lockdown and the company has received permission from local authorities to expand its Edenbridge operation, says sales and marketing manager Claire Sommersby. It will be taking a further unit in the same small estate as its main print factory.
These are the first fruits of decisions taken in the best interests of the partners in the business. Alexir is joining around 470 businesses across the UK with EOT status, including John Lewis and more recently, IFS. The announcement of Alexir’s transformation was made to coincide with EO Day (26 June).
Before then Sommersby had been to the EOT Association conference and had been invited as a guest to the John Lewis Partners council day. “There was a great atmosphere and people were friendly and helpful,” she says. “At the John Lewis event there were 100 people present, and the board is answerable to them all. It is still early days for us and we have plans to become more transparent and inclusive.”
The growth plans include expansion of the design side of the business with the ability to produce mock ups and prototypes, including 3D printing to help brands who must otherwise to receive these from suppliers in China. The shift away from plastics has boosted demand for its fibre based ovenable trays and food packaging.
“We have been very busy during Covid,” she says. “Demand from food service customers fell off a cliff, while some customers were placing order after order at the point where consumers were hoarding and in Uckfield we were packing food into bags and labelling these, managing to set this up inside a week.”
The EOT has had a bumpy rise in print. Papermaker Tulles Russell was the sector’s standard bearer for employee ownership, successful for many years until a big shift in demand; Colchester Print Group and Anton both failed for different reasons. Alexir comes to the status in a growth sector and as a well invested business. Davison says: “We had to consider the future of the Alexir business as a whole. We have been approached to sell the business on numerous occasions, but we knew that this would not meet our criteria for protecting jobs and ensuring that the whole Alexir family has a future.
“The creation of the Alexir Partnership EOT is the best solution to ensure Alexir stays independent, keeps growing and enables all partners to reap the rewards of their hard work.”