Browns 2000 owner and managing director, Peter Brown, puts anyone at ease as soon as you meet him. He is a man from the north-east of England who can laugh with anyone and a man who lives life for what it brings. Then, surprisingly, you realise Peter is a furniture genius who has invented his own way of doing business in this complicated and competitive world.
Peter, with a recipe all of his own, proves that there is still much to invent. But how? Well, it all began when Peter made a trip to Rimini in Italy, home of the SCM Group headquarters, a company he is now very fond of due to the amount of high-tech machinery he has purchased from it over the last few years. And for sure, the company will be fond of him too!
At Browns 2000, an impressive, modern factory covering 220,000 sq ft in Cramlington, there are really few notable machines without one of the SCM Group brand names on them. These include a top of the range SCM L’Invincibile sliding table panel saw, various CMS-Brembana Macchine glass and marble cutting machines, SCM Superset and Topset planer-moulders, a Sergiani press for curved doors and components, DMC sanding equipment, and a Morbidelli HPL routing and edgebanding cell.
There is also an impressive phalanx of 16 SCM Ergon twin-table high specification CNC machining centres integrated with Mahros handling equipment – more than any other company in the world – two Stefani laser edgebanding machines and a Stefani Slim Line edging line.
Peter Brown visited Rimini with SCM UK’s area manager, Ian McCarthy, as he was considering new investments, including a new Morbidelli Powerflex boring cell. Peter is an important customer, whom SCM’s specialists in Rimini were very pleased to meet, not only for the energy he radiates, but also because he offered a new way of doing business, or at least, a way that the SCM personnel did not know before.
Starting from a significant economic figure – the woodworking and panel business in England is valued at approximately €100m – considering new equipment, a little less than 50% is built by Italian manufacturing companies.
Peter comments: “My adventure began in 1983, in a garage, as it often happens. I was struck by wood, and how I could transform it into various products. It was a real passion. I involved my wife, and together we created the story of Browns 2000. In 30 years, many things have changed. Today we have sales of around €20m per annum, we employ 80 people, including our children, and we specialise in cabinet doors and components for kitchens and bedrooms."
“We do not just process wood and MDF, but, in order to provide a full and fast service to our wide range of customers, we have also learned how to process both marble and glass. We are more independent, we have acquired more expertise to manage the entire processes ourselves. This makes the difference with other companies. We provide complete high-quality solutions, using the best materials and technology currently available on the market. That’s our philosophy!
“Sales and manufacturing somehow coincide within our company,” Peter continues. “Customers who come to us don’t just see products, but also how we build them, what we do, and which tools we utilise. Also, for this reason, we have invested hugely in machinery and equipment, in order to be sure we achieve the final result through flexibility, speed and productivity. If you choose one of our cabinet doors or kitchen sets, you don’t just buy a piece of panel, glass or marble, you buy us and what we are. You buy Browns 2000.
“Those who know the peculiarities of the British market can easily understand the Browns 2000 phenomenon,” says Gabriele De Col, managing director of the SCM Group UK, who, together with Ian McCarthy, is the link between Browns and the Italian wood and panel technology suppliers.
When Peter says customers, he means something like 2000 UK installers. Not a few hundred resellers of a big manufacturer, but thousands of joiners, however inaccurate this definition may be, who collect orders from the final consumer, to manufacture and fit a new kitchen or bedroom or renovate an old one. They don’t produce or they only manufacture made-to-measure carcasses. They choose everything with the final customer, they identify what they need and they purchase exactly what is required for the consumer.
An order is sent and then arrives at Browns 2000 and is immediately sent to the production department and executed within a few hours. It is then delivered directly to the final consumer, where it is then installed. Very often, especially in big cities, installers come from outside, so it is convenient to find the kitchen at its final destination, costs being optimised as well. With this approach, the price variant has a lower impact and profit margins are more interesting.
The value chain is minimised as the drawing is supplied by the installer, goes directly into production where the CNC nesting machines, powerful membrane presses or high speed edgebanding machines help complete the order within the day. Very often, design is carried out in a dedicated area of the company website, where customers can select models, finishes, handles and accessories, set dimensions, choose complementary products, colours and type of drawer or door closure, etc.
Gabriele De Col adds: “The construction heritage in the United Kingdom is often ‘historical’, so it’s almost impossible to implement standard sizes or solutions. Nearly everything is made to measure or tailor-made. Standard production concerns only a few big manufacturers. We are not talking about large volumes, but rather a big service! An unknown model elsewhere, and even in the UK, only the best companies work like that. We are talking about higher quality production, to the extent that laser edgebanding is therefore justified.”
Peter Brown totally believes in Stefani’s laser technology and he has recently invested in the world’s very first Stefani double-sided first and second pass linked combination laser edgebanding line. It was delivered in November 2013 together with the Stefani J-profile Soft-forming single-side edgebander for handle-less doors, another exclusive solution embraced by Browns 2000.
“Laser edgebanding is one of our latest investments,” Peter Brown states. “In the last 15 years we have spent over €70m on new machines, but I was blown away by laser edgebanding by Stefani! It’s a wonderful gluing method, offering fantastic results, especially for high-gloss cabinet doors. We switched from an excellent Slim Line machine, which also ensures high quality edgebanding with a virtually invisible glue line, to a laser machine. The result was so convincing that we immediately purchased a second machine and decided we can accept higher costs if you can work with excellent results at a very high speed."
Peter Brown has selected all his machines based on the very best quality available, and always considering they do not make one thousand identical cabinet doors, but one thousand doors all different from one another.
In the UK, the in-line manufacturing concept is still dominant amongst large manufacturers, but more companies, in view of the economic situation and modified demand structure, realise that having to deal with large stocks or warehouses of semi-finished materials can be a huge and costly problem.
How did Peter Brown choose the SCM Group as his reference technology partner? “The first experience was an edgebanding machine we really liked. In those years, we had business relationships with other Italian suppliers, but the level of satisfaction was not the same as with SCM. The rise of nesting technology, an ideal method for our production patterns, brought us closer to SCM and their Ergon CNC machining centres, assisted greatly by SCM's Ian McCarthy.
“Today, we have 16 Ergons which handle virtually all the components we produce. Five Ergons are equipped with handling units connecting them directly to the DMC sanding line, followed by membrane presses. Having chosen this system, we have grown very quickly and we can now go from drawing to finished product in one day.
“When customers decide to change their kitchen or bedroom, they don’t want to wait. We decided to work to make this possible, and we accelerated into that direction, which is basically the same as the batch one process everyone is now talking about. If you allow this expression, our challenge is producing big volumes of made-to-measure elements for small installers, a sort of contradiction that technology can solve. In addition, each time we see the opportunity to work differently, faster, better and cheaper, we meet our installers, we inform them about our ongoing projects, what we intend to do, and we think together about the best way to implement change. And it works. Totally!"