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Growing family business with global reputation celebrates 50th birthday

Makefast Fun Day to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. Picture by Phil Blagg Photography. PB087-2024

WHEN BILL and Brenda Brown launched a start-up engineering business in a converted farm building in Hampshire 50 years ago, they could never have imagined that it would grow to become a global brand employing 120 people making equipment for superyachts.

In 1989, the couple moved their business, Makefast, from Swanwick to a new factory built in Newtown, Mid Wales by the Development Board for Rural Wales. Fellow director David Cozens and a dozen of their 18 employees moved with them.

Half a century later, the business is still going strong with group turnover of £16.5 million and the Makefast brand established worldwide, with satellite offices in America and Italy. In 2022, the company won a Global Export Award from Business Wales.

The business is now continuing its record of consistent, sustainable growth under the direction of Bill and Brenda’s sons, Chris and Michael who are chief executive and director, respectively. Michael’s son Tom makes it a third generation of the family working for the company.

It’s a family business in every sense of the word. In addition to the Brown dynasty, Makefast employs generations of several families and believes that their loyalty has been key to the company’s enduring success.

To celebrate the 50th birthday, employees and their families were treated to a fun day at Newtown Recreation Ground over the Whitsun Bank Holiday. All employees have also been given an extra day’s holiday this year.

Makefast designs and manufactures a range of equipment for the marine and safety industries, including superyachts and luxury boats. Its sister company, Custom Marine Developments (CMD), based in nearby Abermule, specialises in bespoke engineering solutions for clients in the very high end luxury marine market.

A major step forward for Makefast took came when the company began designing and making sunroofs and awnings for the marine industry, opening up the American market where there is great potential to grow sales of the company’s product range.

Together, Makefast and CMD occupy 50,000 square feet of factory and office space and their workforce includes several apprentices, reflecting a passion for developing young talent.

Apprenticeships are very close to Brown family’s heart, which is why Ian Fletcher has been recruited as training director to increase the number of apprentices within the Makefast Group.

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Bill worked with local businesses and Mid Wales Manufacturing Group to establish a Shared Apprenticeship Scheme, which gave young people the experience of working for a number of different companies.

Ian managed that scheme and one of the first shared apprentices was Stuart Bowen, who is now technical director of CMD.

“Makefast is now big enough to provide apprentices with the experience of working in different departments and we also offer the added bonus of overseas travel, which should attract talented and dynamic young people,” said Bill.

He and Brenda are keen to encourage more female employees to work for the group which offers a range of exciting career opportunities. Brenda is a great role model, having worked across the company, from the shopfloor to sales.

“We come from working class backgrounds, have always worked ourselves and have tried to give our employees pay rises above inflation to move away from manufacturing having a low pay reputation,” she explained.

Bill was a design engineer in the family’s engineering business when he and Brenda started Makefast on a shoestring budget in 1974, making buckles for the lifejacket and industrial safety market and fittings for yacht canopies.

The opportunity to move to Mid Wales, discovered at a seminar in Bournemouth, was too good to turn down and they moved into Unit 31 on Mochdre Enterprise Park, still the company’s headquarters today.

“When we came to Newtown in 1989, we couldn’t believe that we were moving into such a fantastic factory and never dreamed that we would fill both the building and the huge car park outside,” added Brenda.

Looking to the future, Bill added: “We are confident in handing over the reins to our sons who have the same philosophy as us. Hopefully, we can continue to guide the business to continue offering good employment and good experiences for all the employees.

“One of Makefast’s strengths is that we can manufacture most things in-house. We make our own tools, machines and electronics, and we want to keep developing that advantage.

“Continuous improvement is important. My mantra is whatever you do, try to do it better next time.”

Sons Chris and Michael are immensely proud of their parents’ achievements and are keen to carry on their legacy. “I think they make a great partnership,” said Chris. “My father has a lot of ideas and my mother helps to make them happen.

“Our business growth has been steady and continuous and the company has always been resilient, weathering many recessions during its lifetime. We want to continue growing as a global business by expanding in America and developing new international markets.

“We try to stay ahead of much larger competitors by innovating, focussing sharply on quality and customer service, developing our people and fostering a great work environment.”

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