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Riding a wave of expansion, Brompton sounds call for young talent

The bike maker’s new factory will showcase the latest production technologies and serve partly as a place for local schoolchildren to learn about manufacturing

Riding a wave of expansion, Brompton sounds call for young talent

The chief executive of Brompton Bicycle has issued a call for the UK’s “best brains” to work in manufacturing and technology, after unveiling plans for the biggest expansion in the company’s history.

Will Butler-Adams said: “The world is facing some big problems and they won’t be solved by people manipulating currencies or creating bitcoin. We need to tackle these problems through technology, industry and innovation. We need to inspire and enlighten the best brains to work in these activities.”

The UK’s biggest maker of bicycles – a Made Here Now sponsor – is planning to move from its home in London to a high-tech £75m plant in Ashford, Kent, that could open around 2027.

The facility will allow a big expansion in output with the company’s headcount likely to almost double over this period to around 1,500. Many of the new recruits are expected to be people in their 20s and 30s. Roughly three-quarters of the company’s sales – expected to approach £100m in the year to the end of March 2022 – are exported.

“We want to build a factory where we have room to grow over the next 10, 20, 30 years,” Butler-Adams said. “We need a building that reflects our brand, at a price we can afford, in an area where we can source talent and our staff can afford to live. Ashford ticks the boxes.”

Chief executive Will Butler-Adams says the new plant should set Brompton up for growth over the next 30 years

Brompton has built its reputation around highly engineered folding city bikes that can be carried on to buses and trains. It has become one of the country’s fastest growing manufacturers, illustrating how design- and technology-intensive products can be made profitably in the UK and achieve global success.

Butler-Adams said: “Most people don’t get good advice about manufacturing at school. If you don’t know what manufacturing is, it’s hard for you to consider it as a career. Brompton is a Made Here Now sponsor because it brings manufacturing and innovation to life. Made Here Now makes modern manufacturing accessible by giving tangible examples of the people who do it.” Made Here Now was launched as a forum to discuss innovation and job opportunities in manufacturing and to encourage more young people to consider it as a career.

The new development has a strong environmental theme as the plant – being built in association with Ashford borough council – will take shape on a floodplain, parts of which will be turned into a nature reserve for local people with a cycle path and a network of trails. The factory will incorporate high levels of insulation and make extensive use of solar and ground-source energy and natural light.

Other features will include a visitors’ centre, museum and café. A key aim will be to link up with local schools and colleges to equip pupils with direct knowledge about 21st century manufacturing. Overall costs of the development - including work to be financed from public sources - are put at about £100m of which the Brompton share is likely to be about £75m.

The new plant - due to be built in a nature reserve - will use modern design to cut energy use

Brompton – which started up in the bedroom of the bike’s inventor, Andrew Ritchie, in 1976 – recorded sales of £76.1m in the year to March 31, 2021, up 33 per cent on the year before, and showed pre-tax profits of £9.6m. The company has known for some time that to continue its expansion, it would have to leave its rented factory in Greenford, west London, which opened in 2016 and has become progressively more cramped. Other sites Brompton considered include Sheffield, Birmingham and in other parts of London.

It has in the past ruled out manufacturing outside the UK, arguing that the “Made in Britain” brand adds kudos internationally. This year Brompton is likely to recruit about 100 people including engineers, assembly and design workers and commercial and sales staff.

Brompton’s employee numbers could rise from about 800 now - most of them based in the company’s London HQ - to 1,500 by the time the new factory opens

“We believe we will be able to bring many of our staff with us over the next 10 years before we close Greenford. Ashford is 30 minutes by train from London so we will be able to attract young talent out to the factory two days a week. And if they go on to have a family, in time they could find an affordable home in Ashford,” Butler-Adams said.

The company has yet to gain planning permission for its new plant which – assuming this is granted – is intended to be a showcase for automation, advanced machining and computer-based design. The current generation of bikes is made from more than 1,000 components many of which Brompton makes itself.

Brompton produced nearly 70,000 bikes last year, 69 per cent of which were exported. In addition to its London factory employing 650 people it has a small plant in Sheffield, a joint venture with precision engineering company C.W. Fletcher, in which Brompton has a 51 per cent stake. The Sheffield plant makes frames for a new range of lightweight titanium bicycles. Brompton buys the metal from China rather than other sources such as Russia or Ukraine.