Phoenix from the flames: CoolKit’s rise from the ashes

Posted on 21 Mar 2024 by The Manufacturer

Eight months ago, CoolKit, the UK’s leading temperature-controlled van conversion specialist, suffered a disastrous blaze at its site in Burnley, Lancashire. However, like a Phoenix from the flames, the company is now reporting record sales and has increased production staff by 50%.

Within months of taking over the reins as managing director of CoolKit, Daniel Miller literally experienced a baptism of fire. Only a short time after his appointment, the former finance director watched as the main manufacturing premises went up in flames on July 6, last year. The catastrophic fire not only destroyed the factory building but 33 new vehicles under the process of conversion.

Fortunately, a smooth and practised evacuation resulted in all employees exiting without injury. The fire service was on-site inside 15 minutes and within hours had the situation under control.

The immediate threat was extinguished, however, statistics show that up to 80% of UK businesses that suffer major incidents never fully recover – and a large percentage of those fail within 18 months. The blaze could have spelled the end, however, for CoolKit, July 6 marked a new beginning.

The rescue strategy instigated by Daniel and his management team was embraced by all 100 employees and the collective approach saved the business.

The CoolKit Recovery Plan is a blueprint for manufacturing businesses and demonstrates that an immediate proactive response is the vital component to succeeding. The business has not simply limped back into existence; it has bounced back bigger and better in an amazingly short period.

Despite the fire, last year’s record sales orders of just over £20m have increased to over £30m this year, and the shopfloor employee numbers have increased 50% from 60 to 90 to address the bulging order book.

Destruction inside the CoolKit factory following the blaze last July

Daniel said: “Our experience underscored the importance of strictly adhering to compliance and safety measures prior to an unforeseen incident; employing efficient crisis communication strategies both internally and externally following an incident; and ensuring the business has full insurance cover.”

CoolKit’s achievement in managing the aftermath of the fire has showcased the company’s capacity to adapt and grow amidst adversity and has prompted a significant increase in operational efficiency.

Customers have also shown confidence in the business – underlined by winning a pivotal contract with a national supermarket chain for the conversion of around 200 vehicles.

Communication and transparency has been undoubtedly the key to recovery. Daniel said: “One of the first things we did was contact our PR people. We wanted to manage the communications through our own channels and make sure that what was being said was considered and accurate. We wanted to make sure we were on top of the message.

“Maintaining transparency throughout and communicating regular updates to our colleagues both directly in meetings or by cascading information down through line managers demonstrated a willingness to keep everyone informed during a very uncertain time.”

The management team worked over the initial weekend and created a crisis management board where it listed the key actions that needed to be taken and identified who should be doing what.

Daniel explained: “We had a different person responsible for dealing with all key tasks such as communicating with the fire brigade, the customers, the suppliers, the insurers and other stakeholders. We were doing hourly checks and making sure everyone was kept informed.”

The week following the fire a small number of the workforce was called in to carry out work in a second smaller unit. Others were organising tasks like making sure the computer systems were operating and making the unit more functional to its new needs.

All employees remained on the payroll and this supportive stance of keeping the team together ensured the business was able to return to full production within months once new premises were found.

A vitally important appointment was that of a loss assessor. While CoolKit was inundated with offers it didn’t rush into making a decision but took the recommendation from another business that had suffered a disastrous incident. The choice was key to a successful collaboration and outcome with the insurers.

Daniel added: “We devised a 30, 60 and 90 day plan towards returning to full production and all new updates were communicated regularly to staff.

“Initially, we had members of the team who were not able to do their normal jobs so they helped with things like decorating offices and laying flooring in the second unit. This kind of support showed what a huge team effort went into the rescue procedure.

It’s all systems go at CoolKit’s new site in Blackburn

“It was clear from the outset that we would have to seek new premises and by mid August we were able to identify a building only eight miles away in Blackburn that was perfect for our needs. Fortunately, it was much larger and enabled a more efficient operation.

“A month later we had moved in and by the first week of October we were back into what we would call full production. Now, just another few months on, we are back to converting more than 100 vans a month which is inline with our record month just before the fire.”

CoolKit’s Recovery Strategy

  • Always follow compliance and safety regulations
  • Regularly review and update the businesses continuity plans
  • Ensure insurance cover is comprehensive and includes a business interruption policy
  • Try to run systems electronically and ensure that systems are backed up regularly
  • Practice fire drills and evacuations
  • Prepare a crisis management plan and adapt it to the situation at hand
  • Adopt clear individual action plans for members of the management team and review progress regularly
  • From the outset communicate regularly with all stakeholders including staff, customers and suppliers to inform and maintain confidence in the business
  • Appoint a trusted and experienced insurance loss assessor
  • Continually monitor the situation and react accordingly and focus on key objectives
  • Create a 30, 60 and 90 day strategy for moving forward

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