Ulster Carpets

Inspiration underfoot

Offering high quality, luxurious Axminister, Wilton and loop carpets, Ulster Carpets has two distinct areas of focus. As Jeremy Wilson, Sales Director, explained, the original business focused on the residential market, and it still designs and stocks a wide variety of options for this sector. “These are then sold through 2,000 retailers in the UK, Ireland, US and Europe,” he said, before continuing with further information on the contract side of the business. “Over the last 30 years this has grown rapidly,” he revealed. “New technology now means we can offer almost any design that customers can imagine in up to 30 colors. Mid- to high-end hotels, casinos, conference centers, cruise ships and restaurants, as well as individual clients who want a bespoke solution in their homes would be our main markets. We have offices in the US, Europe & the Middle East to service our contract customers.”

As Jeremy mentioned the original business, it is worth highlighting the pedigree and heritage that forms the foundation of Ulster Carpets. Founded in 1938 by George W Wilson, the business has grown and thrived under family ownership since then. “The current MD is Nick Coburn, who is the oldest grandchild of the founder,” added Jeremy. “The business has grown rapidly since the late 1980s, and this time period also saw the development of the unique Pre-Selected Yarn Loading Operation (PSYLO) weaving technology in 1999, for which we received a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.”

Efficient technology
A unique and innovative solution, PSYLO enables Ulster Carpets to offer unlimited design possibilities without the need for a repeating pattern, resulting in unprecedented depth and texture of design. “PSYLO has been a standout success and has given us the ability to offer clients almost any design they can imagine but also reduced our yarn waste by over 75 percent and reduced labor by over 50 percent,” Jeremy continued. “Continual investment in new more efficient technology in the business has helped us remain in the UK while many competitors moved to low-cost countries in Asia.”

In fact, Jeremy credits this process of reinvestment as ‘one of the main reasons that Ulster is the only weaver in the UK and Ireland that has not only survived but thrived’. “It is an ongoing strategy that has been in place since the early days of the company. We have invested heavily in modern dyeing machinery, which has halved our energy usage in this process, as well as improving quality with much reduced levels of waste in the effluent. Our current focus is on new high speed looms. These will enable us to significantly improve productivity as well as reducing lead-times for our customers.”

By keeping efficiency and waste reduction at the top of the agenda, Ulster Carpets is able to ensure that it offers the best possible solutions to its clients and Jeremy highlights this approach as one that sets the company and its products apart from the competition. He describes the company’s focus as being on ‘offering the best solutions for our customers whilst also focusing on value for the client’. “That comes in many forms but minimizing waste (by utilizing our wide variety of woven width options) and ensuring the carpet will last for as long as possible to optimize replacement cycles are two of the top drivers.”

Strategic acquisitions
These philosophies are also pivotal to Ulster Carpet’s focus on the environment, which Jeremy states has been ongoing for the last 20 years. “We have reduced our carbon emissions by over 54 percent since 1998 (a fact that was recognized when we received an award from the Carbon Trust),” he said. “Also we have zero manufacturing waste going to landfill and have found ways to reuse our textile waste, so everything else is recycled. We use more and more renewable materials and are working on ways to recycle our carpets at the end of life as well. We are committed to being Carbon Neutral and are well on our way to achieving that goal. CSR is a core part of our business and decision making process across everything we do.”

Having survived difficult market conditions and even thrived when others have failed, Ulster Carpets has supplemented its organic growth trajectory by recently including strategic acquisitions where a suitable company was found that complemented its own offering. “Two of our most recent acquisitions have been Roger Oates who are best known for their stunning stair runners, and Axfelt, which is an underlay business,” revealed Jeremy. “Both businesses have enabled us to move into the residential flooring sector where we currently had no offering. Both are still run as stand-alone businesses, but by sharing technology, market information and generally working together we have realized significant growth not just for them but for Ulster, too.”

With the Axfelt transaction completing in 2020, the team at Ulster Carpets also had to contend with the challenge of coronavirus and all of the tangential issues associated with it. Jeremy gave some more details about how the company’s operations were impacted by the pandemic and how it and its people came together to work through this difficult period. “First and foremost, we had lots of customers awaiting custom carpets all over the world so we had to keep production going whilst protecting our employees,” he said. “Once the first lockdown lifted we had a surge of interest and very high demand so we had to keep on top of that. Since then, business has continued to fluctuate with significant surges and quieter patches in between. Employees have been very flexible and happy to come in to work or stay at home whatever the business required. Short- to medium-term there are some challenges in our main markets but we have adjusted our workforce accordingly and are continuing to invest for the future when we hope to see a full recovery.”

With the new skills and products of the acquisitions now woven into the fabric of Ulster Carpets, and its team working hard to counteract the disruptions of Covid-19, the organization has been thrilled to find that the first half of 2021 has gone much better than it expected. “Our retail sectors are all busy and running well ahead of budget, and contract is returning,” concluded Jeremy. “Leading indicators are positive but demand is softer than normal this year. We hope that this bounce back continues in all of our key markets, so that we can return to some degree of normal. In three-to-five years, we would hope to be significantly further on with the roll out of new high speed weaving technology within the Group, as well as other investments we have planned, too.”

Ulster Carpets
Products/Services: Carpet manufacturer