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Business: Hard work key to survival of Flint firm Bryn Thomas Cranes Ltd

DETERMINATION is key to beating the recession, according to Janus and Dylan Thomas.

And they should know. The brothers manage Flint-based crane firm Bryn Thomas Cranes Ltd, founded by their father and late mother in 1979, and have endured a fierce period of economic incertitude.

Janus and Dylan needed all their experience to cope with the financial squeeze which pulverised the construction sector four years ago.

Their story has been a turbulent one; almost overnight after completing work on the Westfield White City shopping complex and Trent Valley 4 rail venture in the autumn of 2008, the company’s income was instantly slashed, primarily as a result of the credit crunch.

“We were hit by a perfect storm between 2008 and 2010,” said managing director Janus, 42.

“Work dried up, banks stopped lending and customers paid later and later. We suffered bad debts from customers also hit by the recession. We did all we could to keep the business going.

“We sold or refinanced equipment where possible and picked up some good work. We worked on the Olympics and had work with NHS and BAE but after three years we just could not sustain the loss of business or overcome bad debts and in 2010 we filed a notice of intention to appoint administrators.

“It was a very dark day for us and after 30 years of trading we entered administration.”

He added: “We are slowly on the road to recovery.

“We have focused on our core business of crane hire ranging from 25 ton to 500 ton lifting projects and maintained employment during these difficult times.

“All the employees in the company made sacrifices to help make it work and we are pleased to have maintained more than 40 jobs and continue to contribute to the local economy.”

Bryn Thomas is close to completing a major five-year contract with Devonport Royal Dockyard, which will see seven cranes worth an estimated £2.5m return to their Flintshire base.

The next aim, according to operations director Dylan, is to get them back out as soon as possible on another landmark venture.

“That would be ideal, but contracts like that are not so easy to get these days,” said the 37-year-old, married to Anne Marie with two children, Emily and Isabella.

“The costs are so much higher in all industries, especially this one – wages, fuel, health and safety, you have to look at everything and there is not much left to go around.

“That said we are battling hard to get contracts and have been successful, which is down to our name being out there and the hard work of our team.”

Led by Janus, who is married to Amanda and dad to Louis and Philippa, the company has risen from the flames.

Former pupils at Flint High School, the siblings were driving cranes from their teenage years and know only on type of work... hard work. It’s an ethos drilled into them by their father.

“He started out with one crane, now we have 27 machines with value of about £6million,” said Janus, a Liverpool FC fan.

“The mantra has always been the same; we will do jobs of all sizes, from putting in a beam at someone’s house to working on a naval base or windfarm.

“After 2008 we just went for it, we knew it was sink or swim; you can’t really say no to anyone because the next day that contract might not be there.

“Sometimes that makes it tough but it’s a tough business and we know that better than anyone.

The ‘serious restructuring’ of two years ago saved jobs and kept them afloat.

The brothers appointed restructuring partners Dermot Power and Patrick Lannagan from the Manchester office of accountancy firm BDO as joint administrators and sold them to two associated companies, Bryn Thomas Cranes and Bryn Thomas Holdings. The administrators said the sales were made ‘following a review of the business and an extensive marketing exercise’.

The deal raised a few eyebrows, particularly among rival organisations, but Janus and Dylan salvaged the company and their workforce which is of vital important to them.

“When the bad debts came we could not move, we had no choice,” he said.

“But we had to preserve our workforce as best we could. These people have mortgages, families... we could have closed the business and set-up a smaller one but we did not want to do that.

“We tried to keep it going, we had to diversify into different sectors like windfarms and renewables and now we’re building again.”

Dylan added: “The next 12 months is going to be tough, we have to change the way we do things and have started to look at the petro-chemical side and more sustainable business such as new-build and dismantling of turbines, especially onshore.

“We invested heavily as a result of the Devonport contract and we need to find another one like that, that’s our aim.”

Janus is confident that deal will come.

The Bryn Thomas team is driven by success, but also doing a good job. Quality not quantity.

“You don’t know what’s behind the door until you knock on it and find out... business is not easy, every day is a new day,” he said.

“It is tough out there so you have to be positive and strive for growth.”

Family ties help, though being brothers makes tough decisions even tougher at times.

“It works both ways. We don’t agree on everything but we make the right decisions between us,” said Janus.

“We have a younger brother who’s also in the business.

“Whatever happens we’re a family business working hard to keep going. That will never change.”