Ulster Carpets is financially floored again as furlough proves its saviour

FLOORED: Ulster Carpets has endured another tough trading year due to the Covid pandemic
Gary McDonald Business Editor

CRAIGAVON-headquartered Ulster Carpets has been financially floored for a second year running as customers in its key markets in hospitality and cruise ships simply stopped buying.

Sales slumped by 25.5 per cent to £53.8 million in year to March 21, which follows a 3 per cent decline in turnover from £74.3 million to £72.2 million a year earlier.

It also resized, with around 90 redundancies across the group, mostly on a voluntary basis, as its payroll fell back from 672 to 583 (around half those workers are in Portadown, with the remainder across operations in London, Paris, Dubai and the US).

But company chairman John Wilson insisted things could have been much worse, and he praised the company's "diligence and tenacity" for what he described as a "solid performance" in the circumstances.

And he admitted that, without the furlough scheme, there would have been "many more" redundancies at the firm's main Portadown site.

The accounts reveal that Ulster Carpets received more than £3.5 million in government grants through the various Covid support schemes.

Mr Wilson said: "Trading was carried out under the shadow of the Covid pandemic, where UK retail markets were closed or partially closed for more than seven months while hospitality and other contract markets such as cruising were drastically affected.

"So given this background, the company demonstrated considerable resilience, trading remarkably given the unprecedented turbulence."

Mr Wilson added: "The solid performance of the company is down to the diligence and tenacity of the senior management team and our committed workforce, and importantly very much reflects the benefits of diversification that has been occurring over the last 10-15 years.

On redundancies he said: "There would have been many more job losses without the furlough scheme and the majority could have been compulsory, which would have been very damaging to the local economy, blighting the lives of those affected.

"We are thankful this was avoided, and as global economies start to open up, Ulster Carpets is now well positions to take advantage of a sustained recovery.

"And early indications are that our new financial year has started well."

Ulster Carpets, which is the premier supplier of Axminster and Wilton carpets to the world market, saw its gross profit fall back from £28.9m to £21.2m.

It was helped by a credit of nearly £2m in interest on its activities, and on a bottom-line basis, its retained profit came in at £169,119 against £117,711 a year earlier.

The decline in its staff numbers saw the firm's wages bill fall from £26.7m to £24.3m, and its three paid directors had their total salary scaled back from £771,000 to £721,000 (though the highest-paid director Nick Coburn enjoyed a nominal increase from £331,00 to £336,000).

The company's cash reserves, which had fallen the previous year due to its acquisition of Axminster Carpets' underlay business Axfelt, grew from £17.7m to £24.4m.

In addition to its main production plant in Portadown, the Ulster Carpets Group also incorporates technical textile machinery manufacturer Griffith Textile Machines (GTM); wool processing and dyeing company Ulster Yarns; specialist commercial carpet manufacturer Danfloor; luxury interiors brands Roger Oates and Mourne Weavers; and the recently-acquired Axfelt in Devon, manufacturers of a fully sustainable underlay.

Established in 1938, it remains family-owned and has grown to become the premier supplier of Axminster and Wilton carpets to the residential, hospitality, marine and casino sectors across the world.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access