After 52 years in the packaging industry The Wilkins Group is investing over 3M USD into a brand new state of the art factory on the island of Sri Lanka.
The Wilkins Group bought the land overseas back in 2013, and work began on the two-acre site at the back end of last year, with a grand opening due on October 23rd 2015.
Wilkins Spence Packaging Lanka (Pvt) a subsidiary of ‘The Wilkins Group’ is situated in Mawaramandiya, and geared to produce packaging solutions for major brands and retailers.
This 40,000 sq ft factory has been built on the principles of green architecture adhering to the Green Building Council Standards for LEED certification.
For the past 15 years, the worldwide retail-packaging firm has developed a team in Sri Lanka with an experienced skill-set in the garment and general packaging industry, up to now the operation has been run from a rented facility in Colombo and is a Sri Lanka Board of Investment Company.
Over the last ten years, The Wilkins Group has become very integrated overseas with manufacturing hubs covering Eastern Europe, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India & China with the infrastructure to service many surrounding countries.
Chairman and Managing Director of the Wilkins Group André Wilkins, said: “Having emerged from a three decade long conflict, Sri Lanka is now experiencing a massive resurgence in economic activity on all fronts.
“As major infrastructure projects are put into place, the country is posed to welcome new investors to take economic activity to the next level. This building will house state of the art machinery to produce innovative retail-packaging solutions.”
’The Wilkins Group’, has one of the largest independent packaging factories in the UK with the group headquarters in Nottingham.
Last year’s turnover topped £33M, which is a stark difference from the firm’s humble beginnings back in 1963, based on Talbot Street in Nottingham when graphic designer, Ken Wilkins formed the company called Ken Wilkins Design Associates (eventually changed to Ken Wilkins Print Ltd).
Sales and marketing director at The Wilkins Group and Ken Wilkins’ grandson, Justin Wilkins, said: “My grandfather was into anything creative, he enjoyed painting portraits and he started the business owning just one drawing board and sharing a room to split the rent with another designer friend.
“My father, André Wilkins joined the business at the age of 18 whilst holding down other part-time jobs. It was his role to promote all of the design and creative services that the business had to offer and with a keen interest in production & manufacturing set about starting a printing operation to produce the designs his father Ken created they both worked hard together for over 35 years until Ken’s death in 1993. André is now group chairman & managing director.”
In the early days they eventually moved to a large converted house in Nottingham and set about developing the business with a high focus on customer service / reactivity underpinned with innovative creative design.
Justin Wilkins added: “It was a typical British start up with an’ in house’ manual screen printing operation and Litho printing press all from a converted house in Nottingham. They spent 25 years serving predominantly the textile market with printed packaging products, before moving to Colwick and purchasing a 5000 sq ft building in a bid to grow. They focused on designing packaging products for the textile industry due to Nottingham’s rich textile history.”
Progressively developing and extending the site at Private Road No 8 in Colwick to a 60,000 sq ft facility and heavily investing in the latest high speed automated printing and finishing equipment the firm was rapidly establishing its reputation as a ‘go to’ company for innovation, design and competitive production servicing many major brands and retailers.
During this time there were major moves to source garments from ‘off shore’ areas and it became clear the business needed to evolve to support the many apparel and retail customers who were moving their production away from the UK and also change the business model to keep the UK business growing.
Land close to the factory was acquired to allow further expansion at Private Road No 1 and in 1986 the firm moved into the food-packaging sector and plans were laid to build a ‘state of the art’ packaging factory to meet the exacting standards of food packaging.
1991 marked the first phase of building the firm’s new factory, which eventually brought them on to a fully integrated site at Private Road No1 where the firm continued investing in the latest production equipment to manufacture and service packaging for the food industry. The second phase on the site was completed in the year 2000 and it is still the firm’s UK headquarters today.
In 1999 the firm set up its first ‘off shore’ business facility in Sri Lanka because it was the largest player in the industry at that time and was growing fast. A lot of textile firms relocated to Sri Lanka in the 90’s, as did some of our textile-packaging competitors, which resulted in many UK workers losing their jobs.
André emphasised: “We didn’t make any job cuts, and instead ‘The Wilkins Group’ made sure that it diversified into the food packaging industry as an alternative. Our workers in the UK kept their jobs and the facility in Sri Lanka created new ones. If anything, we needed to employ even more staff to cope with the increased work load.”
Today, ’The Wilkins Group’ is focused on bringing progression to Sri Lanka and it’s other ‘off shore’ sites and recognised that the garment industry has a need to have its packaging well controlled and to a high quality which is backed up by a highly focused team in the UK to service retailers and customers.
Over the years regional manufacturing hubs in many other countries were set up to support apparel manufacturers and retailers wherever they may be.
Director of Wilkins Spence Sri Lanka, Yasantha Suriyapperuma, said: “The strong workforce of this new facility has undergone special training in printing and quality assurance in accordance with European Union and USA market standards. We are equipped with Heidelberg printing presses and specialised finishing equipment. This facility will possibly be the world’s only small format packaging solution unit with LEED certification servicing the apparel industry.”
Despite the Wilkins Group now operating on different continents, it still remains a family owned business with the same values and employee care of its founding principles. With André Wilkins in the business from the early days, his wife Ann joined the firm as a secretary, and is now group financial director. Justin’s brother Aron also joined the business when he left printing college and now is group operations director. Both Justin and Aron’s wives also have important operational roles within the firm.
The new factory facility in Sri Lanka currently supplies the island of Sri Lanka, and also exports on a regular basis to Asia generally.
Justin Wilkins said: “The factory will be geared up for the highly reactive apparel industry and will produce swing tickets, labels, collar cards, men’s boxer short packs, staggered packs and boxes for bras plus many other packaging products.
“The future is very exciting for’ The Wilkins Group’. And for over half a century in Family ownership are industry leaders in our field.
“Initially the future will be about consolidating and growing the various business units of the group but it won’t be too long before we are investing further and diversifying to offer even more additional services to customers.”