Our Cartwright Group chairman joined the family business 60 years ago, but he has no plans to retire any time soon.
Chairman of Cartwright Group, Peter Cartwright has been with the company his father Stanley founder since 1960 and is celebrating 60 years with the family business. Even at the age of 74 he still works five days a week (starting at 7.30am and knocking off at 5pm) and has a keen eye on the very latest trends in the road transport sector.
He was 15 at the time, and still labels himself as Cartwright’s oldest apprentice, but his life would change five years later when his father suffered a serious illness leaving the day-to-day running of the Altrincham-based business to Peter, his brother Alan and his mother Edith.
“We were both vehicle builders my brother and myself,” says Peter of that tumultuous time. “We learnt the skills working with wood and aluminium. I was 20 and my brother was 26, we had my mother and only a handful of workers. You were selling the product, going to see the customer and sell it. You would speak to a customer, build them and if you made a mistake you would have to tell them.
“We worked as a team,” he says of his relationship with his brother. “We talked about problems. He would go out and bring an order in and come back and say we have to do five a week or 10 a week. We used to have the board meeting every night in the pub. The problem is you live and breathe the job. We are celebrating our 70th year in a couple of years. There are not many people who can say that and we’re still independent!”
Throughout the years Peter worked with his brother, but Alan Cartwright died in 2011 and Peter became chairman. He now has both his children working alongside him. His son Mark in his role as Group MD and his daughter Lisa, also a board director, who runs the property side of the business. Having the family involved is clearly important to Peter.
Today Cartwright manufacturers more than £82m worth of trailers from its 39.8 acre site in south Manchester. It employs some 940 people and achieved a turnover of some £147.8m in the year-ending March 2018. It’s come a long way from specialising in timber-frames.
If the 60s were a time of change, not just in the way Cartwright ran itself as a business, but in the way trailer and bodywork manufacturing adopted technological changes such as the advent of fibreglass or the introduction of demountables – the 70s and 80s were when the business faced economic challenges outside of its control.
The mid 70’s brought high inflation and high interest rates, right up to the mid 80’s, which made it very challenging to run a manufacturing business as there would be stock appreciation. “When you look back as a vehicle builder just building bodies is not enough. We used to body Scammel Trailers and they went out of business in the mid 70s. This forced us down the route of making our own Cartwright trailer. You might think that was straightforward but it took us 10 years to get the brand recognised. You get a lot of doors shut in your face, mainly because they look in Glass’s Guide and see where your name is!” says Peter.
Twenty years later Cartwright had its foot in the door at Royal Mail, and counted a booming TNT as one of its customers. Fast forward to today and its business has diversified from pure manufacturing; Cartwright Fleet Services manages more than 12,000 assets, supported by 50 mobile technicians while Cartwright Rentals – which began in the 1980s – has more than 6,500 assets. At 10 sites across the country. There’s also the van conversions division, Cartwright Conversions, which began in 2009 and Cartwright Finance.
“Fleet Services is picking up business in its own right,” says Cartwright “We’ve just picked up an order for Culina. We’ve got the best part of 6,700 on our rental fleet. It opens doors to customers. They can see the product and we have a wide variety of products in the rental fleet, like double deck fridges, urbans, products which help utilisation figures. I basically spend my time watching these figures.”
His label as Cartwright’s oldest apprentice extends into his support for Cartwright’s extensive apprenticeship scheme. It was named as one of Britain’s Top 100 apprentice employers at the national Apprentice Awards in 2016 and Joshua Redfern won Apprentice of the Year at the 2017 Commercial Motor Awards. “We’ve been employing apprentices for 55 years and some of them come and talk to me if they have personal issues,” Peter says. “The success rate of apprentices has got better. We used to have a success of over 50% now it is 70%. It isn’t bad. A lot of kids who come in to work with their hands don’t really know what they are doing. You have to nurture them along a bit. Employees and apprentices come from all over the north-west. We are a major employer. It is a skilled workforce. It is not minimum wage.”
Cartwright says he cannot imagine retiring as Chairman of the company that bares his family name.
“I am 75 in January. There is nothing wrong with my memory. I have a very active brain. There is no point in packing it in to have a pipe and slippers. And I don’t smoke anyways! It has its challenges manufacturing but I have enjoyed it. If somebody said to me would you do it all over again I would say yes.”
Winning Service to Industry at the 2018 Commercial Motor Awards was something of a shock: “I was unprepared. They kept it quiet. My daughter knew that I had been entered and she was sat on the same table as me! It was a surprise to be recognised really, it does make you think where have those years gone?”
On the same night that Peter won Service to Industry, Cartwright also picked up Bodybuilder of the Year 2018 and also won at the M.E.N Business of the Year 2018 Awards, making it a rather special night for the Altrincham based company.