Craft Chemicals Maker Has a Winning FormulaNeil Hardie
An entrepreneur who wanted to bring more manufacturing back to the UK is behind a successful Angus venture.
Arbroath is home to Stakam, which describes itself as the world’s first craft chemical and polymer company.
Since the firm was set up six years ago, its team as grown to 10 – and managing director Alistair Watson would like to see a big increase in staff numbers in the tears ahead as the enterprise expands.
Alistair studied chemistry at Glasgow University, and then had several different jobs before he founded Stakam.
He said: “I wanted to have more control over my destiny, and to try and apply the learnings from the other organisations I had worked for.
“Plus, I never liked seeing all the manufacturing business move out of the UK – so I wondered if we could bring some of that back and then pass on savings to the customer or give them a really-responsive service.
“The catalyst was picking up a technical consulting contract for one of the largest UK chemical companies and then deciding to do it through a company rather than as an individual – that got Stakam started.”
The firm now has five staff, plus two contractors and three directors.
One of Stakam’s most popular products is runway de-icer for the RAF, with others being specialist oilfield chemicals and polymers for paint and coatings industries.
Alistair explained about the de-icer: “This offer is all about our production throughput. We developed our own unique continuous process which means we can produce more volume per factory are than any of our other competitors.
“This responsiveness allows us to accommodate the demand caused by weather – normally we can only see a few days in advance with certainty – while having less money tied up in fixed assets and stock.”
The MD now has 12-plus regular customers in various global markets.
Typically, clients are large organisations working in oilfield, industrial, technical, water treatment, construction and plant nutrition.
Earlier this year, Stakam announced a “significant” six-figure investment by Saudi Multichem, an independent oilfield chemicals manufacturing company in Saudi Arabia.
The investment and subsequent partnership will result in an increase in jobs and the potential for multi-million pound revenue growth for Stakam.
Alistair said: “We are pleased to be Saudi Multichem’s first partner in the UK and are confident that the partnership will be the first of many international ventures for Stakam.”
He said the Covid pandemic had a variety of effects on his firm – both positive and negative.
Firstly, it pushed Stakam to manufacture emulsion polymers.
Alistair said: “We are the only company in Scotland that can produce emulsion polymers – and one of only two in the UK.
“Without the pandemic, we would not be in that market, and prior to Covid we were manufacturing more simple solution polymers.”
The businessman also said the increase in shipping costs during Covid meant that, on certain products, Stakam could compete on price with Chinese companies.
He said: “That was the first time I had experienced this in my working life.”
But Alistair said the negative impact of the pandemic meant that the company strayed out of its mainstay business.
“We went down a few rabbit holes – for example producing a hand gel.
“We exited this business six months ago to focus our efforts on core and strategic elements.”
So what have been the secrets of Stakam’s success to date?
Alistair added: “A workforce with good attitudes, skill sets and an ability to develop is so important. More creative technology agreements that allow us to compete with the giants, and the right-installed equipment to win work today not tomorrow.
“Also, being far more nimble and responsive in commercial decision-making and supply than our competitors.”