Charting a Course from Rowing Boats to International Towing; Mark Meade's Family Firm Started in a Small Way in the 1960s. Now It Is One of Anglesey's Stars, He Explains to David Jones
Byline: David Jones
TODAY it is one of the biggest waterfront businesses on Anglesey but the Holyhead Group of Companies doesn't mind admitting it started out in a very small way.
What was a rowing boat hire business run from a shed has developed and diversified since 1962 into a multi-faceted business building vessels, refitting boats for customers such as the RNLI, supplying towing and other marine services and providing a shipping agency for ports across North West Wales.
Over the past 15 years, the group has seen turnover double and more expansion of the business is on the cards with plans for further investment in the Newry Beach boatyard adjacent to Holyhead's coastguard station.
Group managing director Mark Meade agrees that the marine industry is intrinsically an uncertain one, with longish gaps between investment in vessels and facilities and subsequent return on capital. But he is confident the group knows its market and is set fair for further growth.
``In this industry, you never know what is going to happen next, because you are making long-term decisions about buying and selling boats based on your gut feeling of the way the industry is going,'' he says.
``All divisions with the group - including marine services, towing and the shipping agency - are profitable. Each of the companies has to make a profit. The yard is not so cash intensive, although we would like to invest to update the facilities there.
``We want to install a climate-controlled painting shed because people like the RNLI are trying to make their paints more environmentally-friendly by having less solvent in them. That makes those paints more difficult to apply. The company has sought possible grant aid support from the Welsh Development Agency or the Welsh Assembly towards the cost of that work.
``We are restricted in terms of land - a coastguard station on one side and a public beach on the other. But we feel we have some way to go before we maximise the use of what we have got.
``We also need more shed space to enable us to expand. We would like to put overhead cranes in to increase productivity.''
Meade adds: ``The yard is labour-intensive. It is all about people, and for a place like Holyhead, employment is vital. We would expect to increase the number of jobs here as a result of the proposed investment programme. Employment across the group is in excess of 100, and over a period of time we will be looking for an additional 10 or 12 people.''
Meade says it has been an excellent trading year for the towing company which has bought four boats and sold one. One of the boats acquired is Holyhead Towing Company's workboat Afon Cefni which is being used by contractors RJ McLeod to complete work on a multimillion pound ferry terminal on the Isle of Eigg, 10 miles off the west coast of Scotland.
Other major contracts this year have included support work for Alfred McAlpine on a pipeline construction project in Dublin Bay, dredging work in the Orkneys and the provision of tugs to manoeuvre barges bearing rock armour from Norway onto UK beaches. The group has 12 boats in all, sophisticated vessels designed for specialist jobs.
The group, solely owned by the Meade family, saw turnover increase from pounds 2.69m in 1987/ 88 to around pounds 5.35m in 2001/2002.
It's all a far cry from the early days of the business, founded four decades ago by Meade's father, John, who died earlier this year. Meade senior, a former headmaster at St Mary's School, Bangor, was an entrepreneur at heart. He had tried his hand at a few ventures before striking up what was to prove a productive partnership with a friend who was an engineer. The two men bought out a rowing boat business operated from a site on the fringes of Holyhead harbour and within a few years were repairing and refitting pleasure craft. …