“Over this year and next we’re looking to grow the [paper] business by at least 50%. We feel we’ve got the structure and the teams in place to achieve that,” said managing director Jason Middleton.
The family-owned, Midlands-based business’s long-term goal is to increase its annual paper sales from around 60,000 tonnes to nearer 100,000 tonnes.
As part of the growth strategy, the company has set up its first satellite stockholding facility in Purfleet, Essex.
The facility is managed by Canute Group, one of Middleton’s logistics partners. The site has capacity for around 1,500 pallets and will offer a same-day service to businesses in Essex and a next-day service for the rest of the South East.
While the firm already holds some stock in a facility in Grangemouth, Scotland, managed by another logistics partner, Duncan Adams, the Purfleet facility is its first satellite operation with Canute.
“The idea will be to look at our customer base and identify areas that would benefit from a satellite operation similar to Purfleet, and then identify a partner that we could work with in those areas,” said commercial director Ian Pentland.
The opening of the Essex facility last month is the latest development in the £73m group’s growth ambitions for its paper business. Earlier this year it installed a new Pasaban 1850 sheeter, which can produce sheets up to 1,850x2,200mm in weights from 40-600gsm – enabling the firm to move into the large-format POS market.
The 1850, the fourth sheeter at its Walsall headquarters, went into 24-hour production last month and was part of a £1m spend that also included an upgrade to Middleton’s Pasaban 1650.
The firm has also invested close to £4m in increasing its stockholding.
“We see ourselves as a top-end merchant nowadays with a comprehensive range of products and services. We need to dispel the misconception that we’re just a converter with a history in clearance papers,” said Middleton.
Pentland added: “We can offer everything the other merchants can, and are better in many areas. And in addition, our offering is backed by a considerable conversion service, which adds value.”
To complement the recent investments the business has also upgraded its IT infrastructure, with a new scheduling system and an upgrade to its CRM.
It has also acquired land adjacent to its main paper operations and has applied for planning permission to build a new warehousing facility, which will boost its capacity from 15,000 tonnes to around 18,000 tonnes. Subject to approval, the firm hopes the new facility will be completed early next year.
"There’s been a lot of investment in the business this year: we’ve had the new sheeter, we’ve increased racking capacity, acquired the land for the new warehouse, invested heavily in stock, and two new 26-tonne trucks, not to mention our investment in new staff across all areas,” said Middleton.
The 300-staff, £73m Middleton Group consists of three main businesses: food products, with sales of £18m, a £12m cash-and-carry business and the £42m paper business that consists of merchanting operation Vision Paper & Board, which handles direct sales to printers and packaging companies, and Middleton Paper, which focusses on inter-merchant trading of paper and board and trade conversion on behalf of mills, merchants, publishers and printers.