Today we are joined by Ross Weir, Managing Director of HJ Weir. HJ Weir is the leading manufacturer of flat work, preparation, feeding, ironing, folding and stacking solutions for commercial and industrial laundries globally.
HJ Weir has progressed over the last 12 months can you expand on that for me?
The company has had an absolutely fantastic year. It’s been wonderful, one of the best years on record. We’ve grown markets in the UK by 15%, Asia Pacific by 48%. We’ve brought new products on-board we’ve increased our staff numbers everything has been fantastic. Now going into the new financial year the order book as it stands is probably in the strongest position I’ve seen it in 5 years.
You said you’ve grown 15% in the UK market, tell me about that?
We certainly have seen growth in relationships with our independent laundries. So we’ve built some great relationships with some new customers and also maintained some great relationships with some existing customers. We’ve also seen growth through the government bodies so the National Health Service. We’ve had one of our busiest years ever with them and we’ve got contracts with the prison service so we are seeing growth through all the market.
So I’ve heard about the last 12 months, let’s hear about the future. Let’s talk about your favourite area, research and development?
As with everything with research and development something’s work something’s don’t. Most of it works – thankfully (he smiles). We have had great success with the new software; it’s been very well received by our customers with the extra features within the touch screen control. We’ve developed new machines. This year we launched a new blanket folder specifically designed for airlines and hospital laundries. We installed one into a customer just outside London and they’ve ordered 6 more since then and they’ve been installed and are up and running. So we continue to push on, we have more ideas coming forward. Our RFID technology for our operators to log into machines is continually advancing and we continue to drive this side of the business.
Tell us Ross, what’s new what are you developing now?
So we’ve got a new feeder in development, it’s in building tests now. It’s going to be called the Vacfeed Pulse based on the Vacfeed Low Line but with a lot more advanced options. That includes adjustable load height stations, retractable nose, we’ve got rid of the buttons on the front of the screen and replaced it with a HMI on each load station. We’ve also got RFID technology to login for the operators to login and individual performance can be monitored. Like I said it’s based on the Vacfeed Low Line, it’s going to be called the Pulse, it’s a bit of a game changer we think.
So you’re excited? VERY excited!
We also continue to build our relationship with Laco. That’s been hugely successful in the UK over the last 12 months.
Ross can I ask you why did you decide to partner with Laco?
Laco was a natural partnership for HJ Weir they’ve got a great range of ironers, obviously something that we didn’t have. The synergy between the companies, the fact that they are a family business and so are we. In some ways Dominique Lapauw is to ironing what my grandfather was to feeding and folding. So it was a natural team up for both parties.
How successful has the new relationship been?
It’s still a fairly new relationship we are just coming into 12 months. We installed the first ironer into a laundry just outside Heathrow in May and whilst we are sat here we have 4 more on order confirmed to go into UK laundries. That includes the National Health Service and several laundries here in London.
So is this a reciprocal relationship?
Yes it is. Laco has a small range of feeding and folding, but on a very basic level. They can now offer their distributors around the world HJ Weir’s full range of feeding and folding with the Laco ironers. So the business works both ways.
You talk about the range of ironers, but what is that range?
Laco historically have produced very small ironers more for the OPL market. Over the last few years they have started producing what we would term an industrial range of ironers. One of the unique products they have is what they refer to as The King. That’s a single roll 800 ironer but with much greater surface contact than anything else on the market.
You’ve spoken about commercial and industrial. What’s the difference?
The way we look at the difference between commercial and industrial is that generally a commercial laundry wouldn’t have a multi roll or a pass through ironer it would generally be a return feed ironer. So when I go back to the King ironer. It’s an industrial scale ironer with a commercial footprint. It’s a great bridge for customers between commercial and industrial taking that step forward.
A lot of people are talking about your most recent partnership announcement from The Clean Show in Vegas. Can you tell us more about this?
Yes, HJ Weir is now the sole, exclusive distributor for Milnor products in the UK and Ireland. We agreed the UK partnership because we always want to offer our customers the best quality products that last. We didn’t have a batch washer offering and we always wanted to have the full solution under one roof.
Ross, Thanks for taking the time today to answer our questions. We look forward to following the HJ Weir story online.