The famous old Doncaster racecourse has seen more than its fair share of risky bets over the years, but none can surely match the massive gamble taken in the town back in 1980. That was the year when former apprentice plumber, Kevin Mcdonald got together with engineer, Geoff Harrison to establish a plastic piping company to take on the odds-on favourites of the era.
Today, as the business celebrates its fortieth anniversary, it employs more than 3,000 workers, has 18 sites throughout the UK and Europe, and has a diverse range of plumbing, heating, drainage and ventilation systems for use in residential, commercial, civils and infrastructure sectors. And, at 87, the good news is that Kevin is still around to take more than a passing interest in the latest product developments.
It’s hard to imagine just how much water has quite literally passed under this particular bridge since a fifteen-year-old Kevin left school shortly after the conclusion of the Second World War to begin a building trades course at his local college. After obtaining a City & Guilds qualification, and doing National Service, he later returned to the classroom as a teacher, supplementing his income with a part time sales role for OSMA plastic drainage systems. Eventually he would turn these roles on their head to concentrate on a love for all things plastic, which still exists more than seventy years later.
Some of our more mature readers may recall the Bartol Plastic Company, which Kevin set up in the early sixties, as one of the first to specialise in domestic plastic plumbing fittings. In 1966 he sold the business to Hepworth ceramics, joining the board and running the plastics division until 1972, when the entrepreneurial spirit resurfaced and he left to start another business, Macdee Plastic Baths.
Unfortunately, a desperate economic slump in the mid-seventies undermined the company’s progress, and by 1980 he was ready for a new challenge. It came following discussions with an engineer, Geoff Harrison and Brian Leesing, a systems expert, and the decision to get back into plastic piping with a view to seriously disrupting the market with significant price reductions. To this end, and with encouragement from Doncaster Council, a new factory was constructed, and the first fittings were soon rolling off the production line in their millions. So much so that in just five years a flotation valued the company at £150 million, and the man whose ambitions once simply extended to becoming a jobbing plumber with his own firm was now a multi-millionaire.
Production today primarily centres around sites in and around Doncaster, and as far apart as Glasgow and Caerphilly, where consistent innovation and sustained investment in the latest machinery has seen the business dominate the plumbing market, with more than 20,000 product lines available. One of the biggest breakthroughs in this respect was the establishing of Polyplumb in 1996.
At the heart of this highly flexible and durable complete plumbing system is a commitment to polybutane pipes.Suitable for domestic hot and cold water systems, predominantly in a traditional grey colour, it is firmly established as the number one choice amongst the trades. As well as ready-to-use, straight out of the coil pipes, four different push and press fit non-demountable ranges are offered in 10, 15, 22, and 28mm, which require no specialist soldering skills and help reduce metal theft on site.
Hand demountable fittings are also available in white, whilst the range is further complemented with the innovative Surestop stopcock range, helping to prevent water leakage with the flick of a switch. As you would expect, environmental and recycling issues are always at the top of the company’s progressive agenda.
In recent years the company has also extended its warm water underfloor heating system with a complete product solution for every conceivable floor type or residential heating project from ceramic stone tiles to wood, engineered wood and carpet. No less impressive in terms of annual output is the below ground product portfolio, which services the market with a prodigious amount of sewer pipes. Inspection chambers, soil and waste pipes, and associated fittings and accessories, make it, according to the company, the UK’s largest range of domestic drainage products for the contractors and developers, whilst the civils side is at the forefront of larger construction projects and tackling the important issues of the day, such as property flooding and pollution of waterways.
The past forty years have seen a succession of acquisitions, mergers and management buy-outs, which in recent times have added some well-known brands to the Polypipe portfolio, including Silavent, Domus and Nuaire, and given its history you would assume that there are certainly more in the pipeline. Today, Kevin is still in regular touch with the business, ready to add his considerable experience to key decisions surrounding new product developments and business ventures, which will keep the company firmly in the winners’ enclosure.
For further information on Polypipe visit polypipe.com/