WINE entrepreneur Tony Cleary aims to grow his company’s revenues by more than 60% to £50m in the next year after pumping more than £11m into the business.
His Lanchester Wine Group has nearly doubled revenues over the last six years and increased profits to around £2m last year.
It has three businesses, including his largest, Greencroft, which runs one of the country’s biggest wine bottling plants.
He has invested around £11.5m in the group, mainly in growing the bottling plant and fitting it with the latest equipment, which can keep wine it gets shipped in from around the world fresher for longer before it is sold.
And he also expects to see strong growth in his Lanchester Wines sales business, which supplies supermarkets, wholesalers, pubs and clubs across the UK. And his gift business – supplying hampers and fruit baskets to stores and the customers of online retailers – is also expected to grow by more than a third after winning some large deals.
The business, based in Annfield Plain in County Durham, now employs more than 220 permanent staff and is expected to take on another 50 over the next year or so, with scores of temporary staff going into the gift firm to cater for the surge in Christmas orders.
“We are the fourth biggest wine bottler in the UK and, by the end of next year, we hope to be the third biggest and the most modern in Europe,” he said. “We have been able to grow the company because we always keep investing it back in the business. In 31 years, we haven’t taken any money out at all – if we had, then we wouldn’t be here.
“When companies start taking money out they can’t be surprised if the banks turn them down for a loan a few years later. We will never do that.”
He also credits his decision to buy a 450,000sqft site back in 2000 when North East land was relatively cheap to help give the company a financial footing. A property division has leased out around 100,000sqft to other businesses and the size of the site means he has few worries about the cost of expanding.
Greencroft has seen repeated investment to increase the number of bottling lines and lines filling Tetrapaks with wine before the wine producers strikes deals to sell it on. His plant can now turn out up to 58,000 bottles and packs in an hour.
“Bottling in the UK is moving up because it is cleaner, greener and more efficient than anywhere else, and because it is near the major areas of consumption,” he said. “The equipment in here is the best of any plant in Europe and that is one reason why more wine firms are coming to us.”
And Lanchester Wines is growing, with new deals with supermarkets as well as smaller stores. “We are seeing business up each year, even though a lot of pubs and clubs are really struggling.
“It is about taking more work on for retailers,” added Cleary.
Likewise, Lanchester Gifts – which turned out 100,000 hampers last year – is thriving by supplying big-name retailers under their brand names. It not only supplies other online gift retailers but, last year, also took over Northern Irish “etailer” First4.
The company, which was part of a successful bid to the Regional Growth Fund organised by the Journal, is now also looking at its first serious moves into exporting, with shipments already sent off to the Far East and Northern Europe.
The firm was launched 31 years ago by Cleary and his wife Veronica, and she still works at the business, as do their daughters, Alex and Caroline.