Brett Townsend is from a family who worked for themselves. After graduating, he worked long hours in the automotive industry – which he loved – but seldom experienced the rewards. And he was ambitious; he could see a gap in the market for a seating and interior trim specialist, so he decided to “throw the dice and try and do it myself”.

ATD is now a full-service supplier and manufacturer of seats and interior trim and has diversified into electro-mechanical assemblies and luxury accessories. The SME counts major luxury automotive UK brands as clients – including Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Lotus and Rolls-Royce – as well as bus, coach and rail companies, furniture manufacturers and the military (it made seats for the Jackal army vehicle, which was deployed in Afghanistan). 

It has grown from a “one-man band” to a business that employs 140 people, with premises across the Midlands. The bank’s Gary Stockley, a fellow Coventry resident, was ATD’s Senior Relationship Manager and recognised its potential from the beginning: “ATD’s ability to diversify into multiple sectors has been instrumental to its success, coupled with Brett’s long-term thinking. Under his leadership and structured problem-solving, the business has grown from strength to strength.”

Achieving potential

Brett’s strategy for maintaining growth has included not pigeonholing ATD, consciously stretching the business, and regularly coming up with solutions for brands. “We’re working on an interior innovation for Rolls-Royce, for example, which  nobody’s done before. It brings an awful lot of pressure. But it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate what we can do. And that leads to other businesses coming to us. 

We’ve built up our relationship with Gary over 10 to 12 years, so it was natural to turn to him. He’s always been very supportive, has introduced us to his connections and given us the heads-up on grants.

John Sandford
Director of Finance, Automotive Trim Developments

“We like to be innovative. To take risks in as much as we take on something we don’t necessarily know we can deliver. But we’ll take the view that we’re going to find a way to deliver it. That creates a difference in the marketplace.”

Innovative sectors such as automotive, and the ambitious scale-ups working in them, make a significant contribution to the economy. Supporting them is crucial to UK recovery, and access to finance is a key determinant for growth. 

Jatin Lealh, Corporate Trade Director at NatWest, says: “Working capital is a daily necessity for every business. Early and diligent WC planning is important. We work closely with businesses to understand their order books, market trends and associated WC requirements to deliver a suitable and fit-for-purpose funding package.”

Finance sources

SMEs are accustomed to using a wide range of financing sources. This includes trade credit, leasing and hire purchase, and, within the automotive sector, tooling finance.

ATD’s long relationship with Gary and the bank was instrumental to the success of its latest £7m contract with JLR, which will significantly increase the company’s turnover, boost growth and increase its credibility and profile as a supplier of prestige parts.

Before it won the business to engineer and manufacture a console for Range Rover SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) – an “intricate and high-volume electromechanical job” – Brett and his Finance Director John Sandford knew they would need finance to build bespoke tooling.  

Brett recalls: “We don’t get paid until we have the parts of the assembly approved by the customer, which is typically around six months after we have to pay for the tooling. There was a funding gap of £2m and no way our cash flow could fund all of that.” They turned to their bank.

John says: “We’ve built up our relationship with Gary over 10 to 12 years, so it was natural to turn to him. He’s always been very supportive, has introduced us to his connections and given us the heads-up on grants. Even when we struggled for cash during 2015 – 2016, when we were stretching ourselves a bit too much with growth, Gary was there with suggestions to generate cash flow.”

The business has also been supported by Lombard to purchase equipment and, more recently, solar panels. Reflecting on how banks can specifically support businesses in the automotive sector and what they’re looking for in a business, Jatin says: “The tooling finance proposition is designed to recognise the special needs of suppliers in the automotive supply chain. When assessing an application, a bank will rely on its customers’ ability and track record of fulfilling orders with original equipment manufacturers.”

Believe in yourself

The business has experienced major wins since 2000, expanding to five sites and creating skilled jobs. It’s a long way from the early days when Brett had to force himself to make cold calls to raise awareness of ATD. Now he’s enjoying the ride: “Initially I lacked self-confidence and didn't feel the business had credibility. I’ve found you grow with experience – the business develops its own credibility. People start coming to you because they know what you can do.”

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