THE region’s biggest builders merchant chain plans to defy the industry’s woes and open more branches after seeing sales rise last year.
Sunderland-based A Thompson pushed its revenues up to £16.6m last year from £13.8m a year earlier after broadening its range of products.
It even weathered a halving of its wholesale business by winning new customers, particularly those in search of environmentally-friendly building products, at its five Thompsons builders goods stores and five Taps plumbing stores.
Managing director Anne Ganley said: “Business has been steady, but there are signs things are getting better and we are seeing a lot more confidence in the industry.
“The bad weather in the winter last year was also a help for our business as a lot of repairs needed to be made. We have also tried to improve service and win more customers.
“Although a lot of builders companies are finding it difficult, something which is not helped by credit insurance firms calling in debts and being overcautious. Funding is difficult and there need to be efforts to have more confidence and allow firms to grow.”
The firm put its expansion plans on hold last year and restructured, separating its “steady” builders merchants from its more buoyant plumbing retail business.
Ganley added: “We wanted more visibility of the business and while building work can be put off, people can’t delay when they need water or there is a leak.”
She said the strength of the Taps brand meant she could revive the expansion plan and is looking to open three more stores over the next 18 months. The shake-up put its administrative expenses up to £2.3m from £1.9m the year before and dragged it from a loss of £9,667 in 2010 to £537,182 last year.
The company has been trying to review its overheads and cut costs, but Ganley said she is optimistic about the growth of the firm and of the construction market and has increased its workforce from 85 to around 100.
It said that the main risk to the business was the current weakness in the economy but pointed out that Thompson is in a better position than many of its competitors. Its financial report said: “The directors feel that the company is better placed to cope with these difficult trading conditions than many of its competitors as the company has little exposure to major contract building or house-building.
“Its strength continues to be the repairs maintenance and improvement (RMI), small trade and DIY sectors, which results in a good spread of customers.”