6 minute read

GTN meets the suppliers – Zest

Behind the scenes at Zest

From the family’s origins suppling supporting poles for mines, Zest is now a leading supplier of wooden fencing, sheds, arbours and garden furniture and runs a garden centre. Steve Morgan, Managing Director, talks us through the history, its ethos, hopes for the future and why he has decided to plant up 30 acres of trees.

Steve Morgan is a whizz at making wooden pallets and is certainly no stranger to using an axe. He’s the fifth generation in his family to work with timber – his great, great, grandfather George Morgan owned seven sawmills in Scotland and Ireland mainly suppling props to support pits. Steve Morgan’s father, Malcolm Morgan (Founder of P&A) was only 11 when his father died and sadly his mother’s best efforts to keep the sawmill company afloat failed. “I think that fear of failure is something that drives me,” says Steve, “if my back’s against the wall – it’s a huge driving force.”

On moving to north Wales, his father continued to work with timber as an export manager with a company making floors for squash courts and then, with another company, Palice and Ashgrove, in Mold, North Wales, as a fencing manager. Eventually in 1985, when that company went bust, Malcolm took it on. As a young lad Steve helped in his father business suppling pallets and chopping wood to sell as fuel for local families

and his mother sold wood burning stoves. Money was tight and nothing could be wasted. This gave him the work ethic he has today which he hopes, along with good quality and service, runs through the team at Zest which has its factory, design centre, distribution warehouse and garden centre in Flintshire. After university and travelling, Steve returned to the family business which also had interests in a sawmill in Scotland and one in Wales. “At that time, we were 70-80% pallets with some fencing, sheds and maybe an archway or picnic bench,” he says. “It was a steep learning curve,” he says. The pallet manager at the time did says. The pallet manager at the time did evereverything on paper, making a new cuttingything on paper, making a new cutting list for each job. “I thought – you can dolist for each job. “I thought – you can do this on a spreadsheet. So I cut out 95%this on a spreadsheet. So I cut out 95% of his work just with a bit of technology,”of his work just with a bit of technology,” explains Steve who said it also greatlyexplains Steve who said it also greatly reduced the amount of wasted timereduced the amount of wasted time and moneand money. In 2000, Malcolmy. In 2000, Malcolm retired. “It wasn’t a veryretired. “It wasn’t a very secure businessecure business at the time”, s at the time”, Below: Inside the new recalls Steve but throughrecalls Steve but through design.shed centre diversification he has turneddiversifi cation he has turned Inset: Steve Morgan the company round.the company round.

Ladder planters efficiently stacked to reduce the amount of empty space in transit.

Today Zest is part of the P&A Group of Companies which includes making pallets – up to 20,000 a week of different sizes for a variety of customers. Zest supplies furniture, grow your own raised beds through to fence panels, sheds and arbours, its products are sold in hundreds of retailers throughout the UK.

Surprisingly the wood chosen by Zest to make furniture and garden products is grown in Poland. “It’s quality timber. It’s slow grown and it planes better and dries better. It has less defects in it and you utilize that alongside the skills and workmanship of the experience manufacturing companies. We use timber from the UK to make the pallets,” says Steve. The relationship with the suppliers in Poland and other Eastern European countries is extremely important to Zest and their experience from generations of planting and caring for trees is valued. “We’re exceptionally loyal to our suppliers and they’re exceptionally loyal to us,” he says explaining that this spring a team of 18 from Zest together with partners from Poland, took part in the Manchester Marathon and two members of staff have recently returned from Poland after taking part in a huge tree planting initiative. Zest has sponsored a large area of land in Poland which includes a nature walk and is now also has 30 acres of land in Wales which it is planning to fill with young trees.

Some people may question the company’s decision to ship product over from Poland but Steve explains everything is designed to reduce the amount of waste and importantly is packaged efficiently so each lorry has the minimum amount empty space. Zest’s design team are continually being challenged to get more

Old photographs of the family’s sawmills.

product in the wagons, use less timber and make products easier for customers to put together and this spring, as a result of a £400,000 investment into product development, it opened a new design centre by revamping a 1950’s building. “If you can improve it, tweak it a little bit, you’ve got to do it because if you don’t somebody else will. So we’re very focused on making sure we’re always improving,” says Steve.

Having The Woodworks Garden Centre nearby to the factory gives Zest useful first-hand access to customers and their thoughts on new products. The Garden Centre started out in the early 2000’s as a factory outlet, developed into a rural garden centre selling a few plants and gifts and now is a destination centre in its own right. With garden centre manager Iwan Gwyn at the helm, who’s supermarket retailing background as been invaluable, the centre is going from strength to strength.

Like every company and business, sustainability is high on the agenda. Repurposing an old building to make the new design.shed centre, reducing waste and planting new trees are key but Zest is also about its people. “It’s important to be successful because people enjoy success

Pallets are still a mainstay of the business.

Inside the warehouse

You are guided by how successful the company is by your balance sheets. But that’s not the most important thing to me. It's more about the people and making a difference .

and they want to work for a successful company and see that they’re actually making a difference. You are guided by how successful the company is by your balance sheets. But that’s not the most important thing to me. It’s more about the people and making a difference.”

The company is growing and although new structures have been put in place to accommodate expansion, an overall relaxed feeling has been maintained and staff are always encouraged to share their ideas regardless of their position in the company. “We can’t continue to do things the way we used to just because of the scale of things,” explains Simon Davison Head of Commercial Development. “So we’ve had to put structure in place to enable a business to grow. But we managed to do that and maintain the ethos of the business. Anyone can speak to Steve. My team can speak to the directors anytime and they don’t have to come through me.”

It’s early days, but Steve is hoping his son and daughter will follow in his footsteps and join the family business but he appreciates they have more rugby playing and travelling to do before they decided. “I’d love them both to come into the business because they have the right attitude. They are very humble and have a great work ethic,” he says.

For the time being Zest continues to strengthen its place in the market with its underlying appreciation of wood as a precious commodity, commitment to service and value and ethos of looking after staff and the environment.