As the Managing Director of the A. Proctor Group, Keira Proctor carries on a centuries-old family tradition. With records dating back to the 1600s, this Blairgowrie-based family business originally manufactured textiles and supplied flax to Scotland’s mills.
Since she took over from her father in 2012, Keira has grown the innovative fabrication company from a £12m business serving a predominantly UK base, to a £35m internationally renowned group of companies with clients and projects on every continent.
She is quick to attest that her success has been made possible by the foresight and foundations laid down by the generations before her, and by the continued hard work and innovation of her 130-strong team.
Today, the company is a worldwide market leader in the building and construction sector. Providing products ranging from their patented specialist membranes and thermal insulation to acoustic flooring solutions and ground gas protection, the A. Proctor Group is continuously moving forward, researching, and developing solutions for both traditional and new market sectors.
A. Proctor Group is known for its pioneering products within the global construction industry. How do you ensure you remain at the forefront of innovation?
For us, innovation and sustainability go hand in hand. Our team is constantly striving to develop products that provide solutions for our existing customers and the industry as a whole – being innovative is what we do best.
I think to do this effectively, you need a holistic, long-term approach that looks at the big picture; it’s not possible to effect real change with cheap, quick fixes and so you must be prepared to listen to everyone – to clients, to the market, to the experts in your team – and to look ahead for trends.
And you must wait until things are right. We don’t rush anything. Our reputation as a frontrunner has been built on trust and loyalty, and this is because we invest heavily in research and development, looking ahead to the challenges to come.
We have nurtured an innovative, dynamic culture over decades, and we consistently work to our own high standards, often exceeding those of the marketplace. In fact, the British Standard for air permeable roof membrane performance was set to reach that of our Roofshield product.
We also hold regular idea generation days with everyone in the business. It doesn’t matter if you work in the office or in product development, if you’ve been with us for 10 years or are a new start, your thoughts are valuable and will be heard.
As well as the recent impact of Covid-19, your industry is ever-changing. What are the most significant challenges facing construction today and how does a relatively small business stay ahead of the curve?
Interestingly, I think it’s our size that keeps us at the cutting edge of innovation. Most of our competitors are much larger businesses than we are but this has given us an advantage.
I feel fortunate to be in a hands-on position where I can make decisions that we can move on immediately. Whether that’s about taking us into new geographical markets, expanding our product into new sectors, or leading the way on research into new products, the A. Proctor Group is unburdened by layers of red tape and the need for approval.
It also means we don’t need to pretend we’re something we’re not. We can continue to build on our long-term strategy of being technically excellent, allowing us to reinforce the trust that has been placed in us without worrying about cutting corners to save a few pounds – our sales are built on the value our products add, not the m2 price. What is important to the customers we supply is the overall benefit to the building performance.
What are the leading products within your portfolio and why?
Roofshield is one of our long-established products and remains one of the best sellers. It is the industry-proven, tried and trusted class-leading breathable membrane with loyal and ever-growing support of architects and contractors alike.
We launched Wraptite, our self-adhered vapour permeable membrane, in 2016 and this is now our fastest growing product, with demand growing worldwide. It is the only one of its type in the UK, specifically solving problems in high rise and the modular offsite market sectors, where it addresses the need for homes to be airtight whilst allowing them to breathe. Our range of non-combustible membranes has also seen growth in demand over the past five years.
If you look to the tragedy at Grenfell in 2017, the industry has rightly witnessed one of the biggest changes to standards and building regulations in recent years. You can’t stop a fire, but you can mitigate the spread of flames and tests have proven that our range of non-combustible membrane products meets the highest classification required for use in high rise developments.
Alongside the research and development team, our salespeople are hugely important to the success of our products. Everyone in the field is highly technical and this is crucial in building and fostering relationships at all levels. From engineers to architects to installers, we need people to grasp why our products are better, specify responsibly, and ensure they are being always used properly.
How has Covid-19 and lockdown affected your business?
Because we had a number of new products in the pipeline that we could continue working on, we were in a better position than some. After a huge drop in sales turnover in April 2020, I was required to move quickly to utilise the furlough scheme, allowing us breathing space while we considered our options. Luckily, we began to recover month on month, and all our staff were back working by September 2020.
We decided to use the time to develop stronger links with our customer base and the industry as a whole. We had been making advances in several areas of Research and Development and saw an opportunity to showcase our message to a captive audience.
Our sales and marketing team launched an industry educational webinar that ran every second Friday. Featuring different team members, leading experts and guests, such was the popularity of this that we’ve continued with it post lockdown.
“We have nurtured an innovative, dynamic culture over decades”
We now have over 70,000 views of our webinars and our captive audience continues to grow month on month. We have tangible results from these online webinars, including projects in Europe, the Middle East and a collection of new customers and relationships which have helped support our growth. I am so proud of the team pulling together and working on these during turbulent times, and they almost acted as an anchor and focal point for us all during lockdown.
Of course, like everyone, the impact on our team was significant. With everyone working from home we had to approach things in a new way. That’s why we decided to really step up in the ways we support the mental and emotional wellbeing of our team. We have brought in motivational speakers, international coaches, weekly yoga and so much more.
It has helped us move out of the silo that is so easy to fall into when working from home and has brought us together when we needed it most.
You’ve mentioned your team throughout the interview. How do they fit into your strategy?
Our people are undoubtedly our greatest strength. Twenty-five percent of our net profit per annum is distributed amongst our 130-strong team because I know that without them, we wouldn’t be here. I have so much respect for the heritage of our company, and I know that the strides we have made in the past 10 years are so much bigger than me.
We are an international company, with team members on every continent, and yet we are also a family business with a rich history and a culture that places us in the heart of our community in Blairgowrie.
I was born and brought up in Perthshire and that local connection is important to me. Forty percent of our workforce went to the local high school, and we are mindful of our responsibilities to the local economy and families who rely on that.