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Academic and industry knowledge transfer

Manchester paints business HMG is continuing to reap the benefits of a recent knowledge transfer partnership.

John Falder has lived and breathed HMG Paints all his life. Although today he is MD of the Manchester business co-founded by his grandfather, he just as fondly recalls his childhood days when his dad took him down to the factory on a Saturday morning and he helped out filling tubes of glue and sticking labels.

Fast forward 60 years and it’s a business that is as full of as many opportunities and challenges as it faced back then. “Frankly there are limitless opportunities for a company like us because our customers are people that make things. The world of coatings is massive, everything that is made has a surface coating in it or around it.”

To prove the point he says you only have to look around you, in your pockets, or even in the mirror. “Whether it’s carpets, wall tiles, hair gel or make-up, they all have coatings. Even your mobile phone has a shield coating to stop it buzzing every time it is next to a computer screen. When people think of coatings they only think of decorative coatings, not functional coatings.”


Given the vast array of potential markets Falder says HMG is about “evolution, not revolution”. “Don’t get me wrong, we are a very entrepreneurial and innovative company, and our growth is based on good growth. But arguably our biggest challenge is around focus and research because markets are moving, evolving and changing so fast.”

Responding to this challenge was precisely the driver for a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) that the company initiated with Alliance MBS which looked at systemisation and organisation across the business. “It was all about helping us focus on where we should be concentrating the majority of our efforts,” he adds. “The world is changing very fast. When I joined this business there was a scarcity of information in the world, today there are immense and overwhelming levels. So how do we ensure we target the right areas? The danger for us is that our focus is too narrow when actually we need to be embracing new markets. It is about nimbleness, adaptability, and ensuring our staff have multiple skills.”


The KTP focused on helping the business rewrite its product development process, and as a test example it applied this new process to the development of one of its new Monothane products, a paint used on steel and plastics. Explains Falder: “What the KTP did was ensure that everything was joined-up in terms of the product and product launch, and where we could go to market with it. It has since become one of our top ten best-selling products and sales continue to rise.

“More generally, rewriting the product development process ensured that any product that came out before launch was ready to go and was ready to target exactly the market we wanted to target. It was all about making the company more joined-up, streamlined and efficient.”


With around 1,600 products serving almost the same number of markets, he adds that a major challenge is that products often only serve very niche areas. “Sometimes you can have a product that we think is brilliant, but it can be very difficult to get it moving in the market. So in that situation you look at taking the product to existing customers and seeing if you can tailor it to existing markets and customers.”

Reflecting on the KTP, he says it helped the company become a “better business”, especially by identifying internal weaknesses. “You cannot be experts at everything and the KTP helped us become more joined-up and systematic. It was not a case of one single transformational, magic bullet. The KTP was more about embedding and ingraining knowledge, and improving our processes, to make us more efficient. It created a level of focus on the general direction that we should be following.”