Olympic track paved with gold

Posted on 1 Mar 2011 by The Manufacturer

Business minister Mark Prisk found this morning that the London Olympics are offering a golden opportunity for some UK manufacturers.

The Conservative MP was on hand at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills in Westminster for a small exhibition of manufacturers whose products and services are being used at next year’s Olympics.

Mr Prisk told The Manufacturer at the event that there is £6bn worth of contracts in connection with the London Games, 98 per cent of which have been given to UK companies.

“I’m a great believer that we in this country underplay our manufacturing strengths so I want to show people and tell people. The Olympics involves variety of things from small and large companies which demonstrates some of those strengths. You’ve got everything from the steel used in the construction work to the branding to the soft toy makers.”

“The Olympic Park is quite revolutionary both in terms of design and the products they are using. It’s a great showcase of our all round engineering expertise.”

Mr Prisk says there will be good opportunities for exporting some of the products and capabilities that firms build through the Olympics too.

“In the UK we have a host of premium brands which are really valued abroad,” he says. “You only have to look at Jaguar Land rover over the last couple of years and see that they have gone from a very difficult position to a significant increase in sales, production and exports.

That’s because there’s a tremendous brand attached to the UK with an extremely high world cache.”

Going for gold

The exhibitors at the event included merchandise manufacturer Golden Bear Products. The company has been awarded the master licence for all plush plastic products featuring the Games’ official mascot Wenlock, a one eyed creature made out of steel, apparently, which is adorned with Olympic symbolism.
Plush items – mainly soft toys – account for 40 per cent of the entire merchandising mix and, thus, the Telford based company expects to more than quadruple its turnover from £13m to £50m next year, with a stretch forecast of up to £100m from its total Olympics related sales.

The company has previously experience a massive increase in turnover – in the late 90s it was the licensee for the mega sell-out Christmas craze that was the Teletubbies dolls. Then, revenues went up to around £75m per year, before shrinking back to usual levels when the craze died down.

This time, though, the company plans to ensure its growth is sustainable.

Adrian Mayes, Golden Bear business development manager, said: “Sales of licensed toys account for around 35 per cent of the market but they are very expensive. The Olympics will act as a kind of springboard for us. We will reinvest the money we make from the Games to buy more licenses of the latest characters and that way we will continue to grow.”

On a smaller scale, Cambridge based company Touch of Ginger will double its turnover from £1m to £2m as a result of the products it sells at the Games. The company is supplying a range of metal based products such as flat pack 3D steel cyclists which are built up with an allen key and a series of credit card shaped ‘Wallet tools’ which include guitar plectrums, fish and chip forks, cufflinks and combs.

Founder Alison Bateman said she was “just punting” when she first applied to be an official merchandiser but said Lecog was “fantastically helpful” in guiding her through the process.

“We were thrilled to get the license,” she says. “It will really open doors for our business after the Games, with the credibility we’ll get from it. We’ve already had to increase our headcount by three over the last three months in order to cope with the rise in business and we expect we’ll have to take more on before the year is out.”

Ninety per cent of Touch of Ginger’s products are manufactured in the UK. “We just can’t get good enough quality on steel products from manufacturers in China,” says Bateman.

The Royal Mint was also at Business Department, displaying its newly launched range of commemorative 50p coins. There are 29 designs in total – one for every sport – and all are submissions from members of the public.

The company also has a range of more expensive silver and gold coins, starting at £54.95, which make use of new pad printing technology to include bright colours on coins. It has also won the commission to supply the winner’s medals at the Games.

The company expects to sell 100 million units over the Games which will be worth £100m in revenue.

It wasn’t just merchandise on show, though. Astrium – a company associated mostly with the defence industry – has provided its Geo Spatial solutions for the building work and planning involved with the Olympic Games. The technology has previously been utilised by Google Earth and for ordnance surveys and involves aerial photo mapping of landscapes.

But whereas previously this was completed with digital cameras on low flying planes – albeit digital cameras which cost £1m each – the latest version of the technology uses a laser measuring based system to accurately calculate exact measurements of buildings and landscapes. The technology can even show where shadows will fall form a prospective new building.

For the Olympics, it has already been used in the building of the stadium and for surveying the land around it and will now be used to plan things like parade routes around London and the torch handover.

The Olympics event is part of a wider series of UK manufacturing and innovation exhibitions which have already seen a zero carbon motor bike and a composite wing from an Airbus A380 on display at the Business Department.

Next up will be a display of low carbon vehicles that have been manufactured in the UK, running from March 14-25.

Mr Prisk, MP for Hertford and Stortford, was made Minister of State for Business and Enterprise when the Coalition was formed after last year’s general election.