Scott Frost, HPP

HPP: ‘lessons learnt from Covid and Brexit have made us stronger’

HPP (Hills Panel Products) has described the impact of Covid and Brexit as ‘tumultuous’ and believes that the upheaval to the industry will continue throughout 2022.

But the Oldham-based furniture component manufacturer and distributor also said that, as a company, HPP had grown stronger as a result. Sales director Gareth Evans said: “Although there are negatives as a business, we’ve grown stronger, because each time something negative happens, we find a solution to work our way around it.

“We’ve had a shortage of materials that impact on production, but what we have done is multi-skill our staff more than ever before. We now utilise staff in so many different areas of the business. We’ve had to come up with a plan so that if there is a shortage which effectively makes a department overstaffed, we can transfer people around the business to where supplies are available to work on.”

Marketing and business development director Dan Mounsey added: “We’ve had to think on our feet and develop new systems and new solutions almost on a daily basis. You can’t predict what the particular set of circumstances or scenario might be, but whatever we might be asked to do, 10 times out of 10 the answer is a yes.”

HPP reflected on the challenges that emerged after Brexit and from the Covid pandemic, citing shortages of HGV drivers, skilled workers, fuel, food and job applicants.

Looking back, purchasing director Alan Bolton said of the effects of Brexit followed by Covid: “It’s difficult to know whether the challenges we’ve encountered are Brexit-related or down to the pandemic. It’s like the whole world has gone mad. What happened with our suppliers, particularly those in the UK, is they shut down completely. For example, Egger closed down chipboard production lines for two or three weeks. It was unheard of – it’s like shutting down a power station.”

HPP admitted there was some uncertainty when they came back to work after the lockdowns.

“When we came back in May and by July,” Bolton said, “we realised the market was actually taking off better than we’d anticipated. As directors, we spoke before we opened again and said if we got to 80 per cent of where we should be in October, we’d be quite happy. But by July, it was quite evident we were going to be back on track a lot sooner.”

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HPP added that the breadth and depth of the upheaval was such that in some cases lead times for orders have gone from eight weeks to 26 weeks overnight.

The company said that the unprecedented demand that followed the pandemic is here to stay and that looking forward shortages will continue.

Dan Mounsey

Mounsey said: “People in our industry always say it will be better after Christmas. We tend to shut down for a couple of weeks, but the big manufacturers carry on working to build up stocks. We already know Christmas won’t make a difference this year. We’ve already been told by suppliers they don’t foresee an improvement in supply throughout the entirety of 2022. What’s happened has created a two-year cycle (of shortages). There is no end in sight.”

On the subject of sustainability, HPP said it believes “the message is not hitting home” and that “consumers purchasing new kitchen, bedroom and bathroom products for their homes, have little awareness of the sustainability credentials of the goods they are buying, they say”.

HPP uses chipboard from Egger and Kronospan. Mounsey said: “Our chipboard from Egger and Kronospan is carbon negative material, it stores more carbon than it releases. Chipboard has a 10-to 20-year lifecycle and then you can recycle it again afterwards. They have been trying to get that message through to consumers quite widely.

“But I don’t think it has filtered through to consumers yet. There is a big question about whether consumers will be demanding more sustainable furniture. I think it’s something we are expecting to come.”

Bolton added: “But the big question is, whose responsibility is it to get that message over to the general public?”   

Gareth Evans, HPP sales director concluded: “I am sure the message will get there eventually, but it just seems to be a slower process, partly because of the complexity of all the different products that go into a kitchen.”

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