Despite international difficulties, Bonningtons Plastics is staying

This April will signify Bonningtons Plastics’ 56th year in business. Ian Fisher, who took over from his father, Paul, about 22 years ago, decided to visit some shows in China where he looked mainly for garden products to kickstart the company. It was only when the company started to manufacture hosepipes that things started to change. This then led to importing fittings for the original hosepipe products. “Over the years, we have dabbled in a number of ranges, some have not worked, while others have done very well,” begins Sergio Tartaglia, Managing Director. “Ian will always try something new. We now also have a container storage business on the same site, and we rent out office spaces as well,” he shares. “I think the main reason we have done so well is down to our staff. We have a wide range of experienced and loyal staff who have been with us for many years,” he continues.

Sergio, on the other hand, has been in sales for over 35 years and joined Bonningtons in December of 2003 as a sales representative. “This was after Ian poached me from a UK plastic manufacturer. At the time, Bonningtons only imported gardening products, which typically sold for five months of the year. We had a good customer portfolio, so it didn’t take us long to open new accounts.

“Ian then started to bring in more ranges based on what customers were asking for, and we set out to find more salespeople. We then needed a sales manager, so Ian offered the role to me, which I obviously accepted. I did this for a number of years when he then promoted me to Sales Director. Over the last 20 years, we have tried so many different ideas, from selling calendars, opening an online business to container storage. However, Bonningtons Plastics has always been the main focus.”

Refreshed product ranges

When the pandemic hit, the company feared it would have to close its doors. Fortunately, it made the most of an unfortunate circumstance and moved the business online, which resulted in prosperous years thereafter. “Although, we worked six days a week, it made us stronger, and it was during this time, Ian wanted to focus on other business opportunities. It’s not been easy I must admit. I’ve often felt a little out of my depth as I left school without any qualifications, so I’ve just had to work hard. Nonetheless, my team has been so supportive, and I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time,” he shares.

Bonningtons Plastics offers a number of ranges for gardening, furniture and bbq, leisure, animal, homewares, and catering markets. “These range from hose pipes to bird feed. Gardening is the key range, so we produce hose pipes, forks, spades, and all types of garden products. This variety has been at the forefront for the last 20 years. Bird care and catering are the next best frontiers.

“We decided last year to stick to our core ranges, because large furniture and summer items just do not work, hence we have spent the last year delisting them. We decided to look at what is missing from our ranges, and this is ongoing. We have introduced a number of new bird care products and gardening products, which have started to sell well. We like to refresh the ranges every four years with new artwork. This helps keep it fresh,” Sergio discusses.

Customer satisfaction

The production of these items has had to depend on a sturdy supply chain, and, given the turbulence of the last two years, Bonningtons Plastics has done well to adapt to the best of its ability, even with the company’s China office, which looks after its overall network. “We import most of our ranges from China. As you know freight prices went up to $15,000 at one point, this

has since come down in the last few months to $1300. We had many delays due to docked ships as a result of insufficient import orders, and sadly this is still the case. Ships are now avoiding UK ports due to strikes and staffing issues. As far as I’m aware, it has taken eight weeks to get a container from China to our back door instead of the usual five weeks, which you can imagine costs us an extra penny.”

Despite these challenges, Sergio shares that the business works closely with all its vendors to make sure it can offer customers the best prices. “This could mean changing packs or sizes. The other obstacles are freight prices, the delay on stock arriving on time, as well as the ban on single-use plastics. However, we have pivoted really well. We plan to pre-order our items based on what we would normally buy for the next six months, which helps us with keeping our prices down as well.

“Sadly, freight costs are out of our control and we will need to wait to see how that pans out. When it comes to compensating delays, we have to be on the ball when ordering. On a more exciting note, we have taken on the need for kinder materials and have introduced wood cutlery, as well as biodegradable plates and tumblers.”

Moving away from the technical side of the business, Bonningtons Plastics is proud of its dedicated and highly skilled business. “All of the staff have been with us for ten years or more, and our office staff and internal salespeople work from home two days a week. This helps with childminding for our team members who have families, and of course saves fuel for those who drive.”

For 2023, the company plans to focus on getting its stock levels down, andDespite international ensuring products are available. This will help put the business on a level playing field for 2024 (as long as freight prices don’t continue to rise). “We are experiencing unprecedented times at the moment; the cost of living is affecting everyone, especially businesses. No one knows what the future holds. All we can do is keep diversifying and moving forward. We will continue to focus on what we are about, which is simply selling great products,” he concludes