Topform has come a long way

Steve McCarron from Topform talks to The Hardware Journal about their 45 years of success in the worktop manufacturing sector

Reflecting on the challenges of 2020, Marketing Manager Steve McCarron is proud of their progress through the year.

“Despite 2020 being a tumultuous year for business and society throughout the world, it marked the most successful year in our 45-year history. Returning from the first lockdown, production has been running at capacity to meet demand from across Ireland and Europe.”

History

Topform has come a long way from its initial formation in the original Shannon Free Zone in 1976 as an export company manufacturing laminate worktops. Its presence in Shannon did not last long with the company relocating to its current location in Gort in 1977. Managing Director Paul Glynn completed a management buyout in 1996 which began the modernising of the manufacturing process and pursuit of offering the best
worktops in the world.

Since then, the company has gone through big changes to adapt to the markets and the shifting landscapes through the creation of a long-term strategy and vision.

Covid-19 is obviously a new challenge to a company that went through the oil crisis, three recessions, dot.com crashes, and more. “We were well equipped to deal with the last year.”, says Steve, referencing their record results in 2020, “Key elements to this success were excellent customers, a strong supply chain, strong leadership, and universal buy-in from all staff to achieve our goals.”

TopShape Custom

A major breakthrough in the market occurred in 2008 with the introduction to the product range of the first square edged laminate worktop sold as TopShape. “People love laminate worktops but were tired of bull-nosed profiles. The new square presentation was an instant success. It became the fastest growing new production introduction for us and has now become 85% of the domestic worktop sales.”

TopShape custom piece (Causeway) in finished kitchen.

Steve went on to explain that their range of colours was a major strength in this, which he said they seek out from all around the world, keeping track of the latest and upcoming trends for their customers.

You Design, We Make

Investment by consumers in a new kitchen has never been more popular, and Topform got on top of this search for personalisation and innovation within their custom design facility. “People are looking for new ideas and with our TopShape Custom program, they can have exactly what they want.

If a central island or breakfast bar is sought after, Topform will make the exact shape and size they want. “You Design… We Make” is how we present this popular product which just celebrated its 18,000th piece prior to Christmas 2020.”

Social Media Success

Steve and his team have made great use out of the aesthetics of their products on social media, having recently run a “12 Shapes of Christmas” campaign in December to promote their TopShape Custom programme. Steve explains, “Using our state-of-the-art CNC machines, we manufactured two Christmas tree shape worktops to be placed in a Christmas Grotto in conjunction with a Facebook campaign. Each day we posted a worktop that a customer designed which resembled a symbol associated with the holiday period. Examples such as bauble shapes, a Christmas cracker and even Santa’s sleigh were featured.”

Steve continues: “There was fantastic engagement with the campaign and a recognition of how far we have come since the initial launch of TopShape.”.

Awards and Ambitions

The company’s efforts have come to fruition this year after being nominated for the Small Firms Association Awards. Steve explains what this means to the team: “Having previously been a winner of the Exporter of the Year and the top award National Company of the Year, we are acutely aware of how important that recognition can be.

“To be nominated for manufacturer of the year is the culmination of years of hard work and concerted strategy to be as efficient as we can in our manufacturing processes. The driving focus at the company and at the heard of manufacturing is the adoption of best practice and principle of Lean and other similar philosophies.”

These nominations and wins are not an end to Topform’s ambitions, as they head to their ultimate goal and challenge of winning a Shingo prize (an international award in recognition of organisational and operational excellence) by 2024.

Motivation and Growth

Steve mentioned previously that “universal buy-in from all staff” was one key element of their success in achieving their goals. “Excellence in hiring, inducting, training, motivating and personal development for all staff is rourine leading to staff that feel a part of the family and long-term employment.”

TopShape custom piece in production

“At the heart of manufacturing are good people and how they are motivated”, Steve continues, “A number of employees are in the process of achieving their Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Awards,”, granting those team members a highly specific certification within their role in manufacturing, a testament to their commitment to Topform!

Community Focus

Giving back to the community that has proudly hosted them since the 70s is very important to Topform. “We have a long history of employment in Gort and we are extremely proud of being based here. Seen as a community leader in the area, we believe in investing in the community and the people around us.”, says Steve, “We continuously look to invest in the area and work with community groups, this has been especially important in the last year.”.

During the intial lockdown, the company’s management came up with an idea to improve morale with an inspirational mural by a local artist. The aim of which, Steve explains “was to show a message of hope and to support the people of our community who make that community so great.” The mural says ‘We are still here, not the same as before, but new and
beautiful.’, capturing the mood in the area at the time.

What Does the Future Hold?

Unfortunately, as last year showed us, nobody knows what the future holds but that’s not stopping Topform from making plans to allow them to achieve their goals, and they are already focussed on their plans for this year: “In the coming months, we have two key areas of focus – launch of new décors and our export business.”, says Steve.

“Aiming for a launch in Q1, we will be adding to our range of décors that are incorporating the most recent trends on the international stage that will appeal to the Irish market. This is the culmination of nearly two years of work to select the best laminates to offer to our customer base.”, Steve continues, “It is an exciting time to be launching a new range as our suppliers are making laminate that is getting closer and closer to the actual textures of solid materials”.

Pockets of Opportunity

Amid the ongoing challenges with Brexit and Covid-19, Steve and the Topform team remain optimistic, and continue to seek opportunities. “We are continually looking for pockets of significant opportunity that will be profitable in the long term to allow us to meet and exceed our ambitious targets in a sustainable manner. To achieve success in Europe, we compete on quality so we will continue to pour resources into R&D to develop innovative solutions for the specific segments we believe we can be successful in.”

Steve concluded by reiterating that none of these achievements were a fluke. “Success at Topform does not happen by chance. Plans are detailed and well advanced with our exceptional management team available to steer us through the most difficult years in recent history.”