Despite the many challenges thrown their way over the last 25 years, husband and wife team Paddy and Philippa McShane from McShane Packaging have built up a successful and rapidly expanding business from their Armagh site.
It’s been a journey set with many obstacles, especially while raising a young family. However Paddy and Phillipa have just commenced an extensive expansion plan, which will see their business grow further in 2021.
With a solid background in packaging supplies, Paddy started out on February 1 1996, with a £3,500 loan from the Armagh Credit Union and an ambition to tap into an industry which needed a fresh alternative.
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Paddy purchased a second-hand van and rented a small unit in Dungannon Business Centre in County Tyrone, then set to work selling chemicals and sundries to the local mushroom industry.
Developing close relationships with his clients which have carried on to this day, Paddy went on to purchase his site at Aghanore Road in 2000, and began recycling second-hand plastic trays for the mushroom sector.
Philippa had been working in Belfast and joined the business at this most critical time, helping them to expand and move away from chemicals and sundries, to focus on innovative plastic packaging solutions instead.
Philippa explained: “We could see such huge potential the business and we knew we needed to throw everything we had at it.”
Responding to changes in consumer behaviour, McShane Packaging built their current factory in 2005 and purchased a second-hand Forming Machine, enabling them to make new trays for their customers. While the recession brought some enormous challenges, McShane were resilient and were able to continue to thrive under the pressure.
In 2007 McShane Packaging attained an AA grade from British Retail Consortium (BRCGS), which they have retained to this day. The BRCGS approval meant they could supply packaging to customers who could sell directly into supermarkets, giving them the scope to grow even further.
More challenges from consumers and supermarkets meant McShane Packaging diversified again, and in 2009 the company moved away from single-use polystyrene and started to manufacture a variety of smaller trays in the more versatile and sustainable polypropylene, which can be recycled repeatedly.
From 2014 things moved quickly again with the company investing £4m in technology. Purchasing their first new Extruder and Forming Machine facilitated greater speed, flexibility and reliability. McShane Packaging became leaner and more agile than ever before.
This greater flexibility and increased productivity meant that in 2016 they could diversify quickly into the poultry sector, manufacturing packaging for a number of high-profile poultry businesses.
McShane now provide packaging to a number of vegetable and poultry businesses throughout the UK, Ireland, EU and South America. With their state-of-the-art tooling they are now able to design and manufacture solutions for any food product.
This increase in output meant they soon outgrew their facility at Aghanore Road, which led to them purchasing a nearby 21sq foot facility on Cathedral Road. This larger warehouse and office space gives them much-needed room to invest £1.2m in the development of their Aghanore Road production site, expected to take nine months.
The move has given them a 25% increase in productivity, a 180% increase in warehouse capacity and their single-story office space has now increased to two stories.
A momentous day for them both, the turf on the Aghanore Road site was cut on February 1 2021, exactly 25 years from when Paddy first started out with his second-hand van from Dungannon Business Centre. A further investment of £1.1m is being made in state-of-the-art technology at the new site, as demand for precision and sustainability reaches a critical point in the packaging industry.
There have been many challenges for McShane Packaging over the years. From aggressive competitor pricing tactics to the recession. However growth continued at McShane Packaging as they faced the challenges head-on; making sound financial decisions, employing the right people and investing in the right technology.
The pandemic has changed day-to-day operations and brought another pressure to their business. However they are proud to say that they’ve not had a single case of Covid-19 on- site to date, crediting the implementation of rigorous new procedures at the facility. These procedures range from frequent daily temperature checks, a strict sanitation regime and the addition and enforcement of additional PPE.
Over the course of the pandemic, output at McShane Packaging actually increased 20%, due in no small part to more people staying and working at home, shopping at their supermarket as opposed to dining out or eating at work.
Aside from some additional paperwork, distribution to their clients post-Brexit hasn’t presented many challenges for McShane, as retaining good relationships with their haulage companies and ensuring supply chains stay intact, has been one of their top priorities over the last four years of market uncertainty.
The biggest pressure they now face is finding the right people to fill the roles they’re recruiting for. They have plenty of work available, but the shortage of people coming to Northern Ireland from the EU to work has led to a shortfall.
While there has been talk of Northern Ireland being a ‘hub’ for businesses between the UK and EU, Paddy fears the industry could choke if there’s nobody here to fill the roles that are so desperately needed.
Paddy continued: “Four or five years ago there were no issues with recruiting staff; we’d regularly have people coming in off the street looking for a job. But that has all dried up now, there’s far fewer people available and we have to do so much more to try and keep them.”
McShane currently employ 35 staff, some of them celebrating over 20 years at the business. However with expansion plans already underway, they are looking for another 20 permanent people on site.
They’re currently recruiting for two major new roles; an Operations Manager and a Quality Manager. While these roles need to be filled first, there will also be positions available in Production, Stores, Marketing, HR and Engineering, later in 2021.
The effect of plastic pollution has been at the forefront of the news agenda for a number of years now and McShane Packaging say they’ve been working tirelessly to improve the impact their industry makes. All of McShane Packaging’s products are 100% recyclable and they urge the public to do their part to ensure trays are disposed of in the recycling bin and not sent to landfill.
McShane Packaging have also been working with supermarkets and customers to cut down the overall amount of plastic being used in the packaging. They have also committed to ‘zero waste’ on the factory floor; where no by-product of the manufacturing process is disposed of, everything is put back into the manufacture of new packaging.
Working with their suppliers, McShane have also developed an innovative infra-red- detectable black plastic tray. Black plastic trays had previously remained un-detected, rejected by recycling plants and sent to landfill; but McShane’s black trays can now be detected and recycled like any other.
“There are so many innovations coming out of the plastic industry now and it remains a low-cost and low-energy material to produce. If plastics are recycled by consumers there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be seen as a sustainable product,” continued Philippa.
McShane are a 24-hour operation and they pride themselves on a flexible relationship with their team, trying to accommodate every individual’s unique circumstances. A community player, McShane Packaging have worked with local sports teams and schools, to increase engagement with the area.
McShane Packaging say their ethos has always been to deliver exceptional service to their customers. Paddy prides himself on being available to his clients day or night. Reflecting on his humble beginnings,
Paddy added: “The last 25 years have been a tremendous challenge but we’ve enjoyed every bit of it. I’ve really enjoyed watching how much the industry has changed and I know there’s a strong future in plastic packaging solutions in the food industry. As a business we have become flexible and agile as a result of so many changes and challenges and we’re hugely excited and immensely proud to start this new chapter in our business.”
While 2021 delivers a fresh set of challenges, Paddy and Philippa remain a strong unit and are prepared to invest in the company to bring it to new markets and territories, all while retaining the personal relationships they have with their clients.
Reflecting on the last 25 years, Philippa concluded: “We like to think that the complications the last 25 years have thrown at us have resulted in a strong and resilient organisation, ready to take on the next set of challenges which will inevitably come. It’s been extremely hard work but also incredibly rewarding. We are so proud of what McShane Packaging has achieved.”
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