MJ Allen’s Ashford Story
MJ Allen is a business born in Ashford. Founded in 1958 by Mike Allen, a pattern maker newly arrived from the London overspill, the business has grown into a thriving organisation with an annual turnover in excess of £30 million.
Today, Mike’s sons, Tim, Jonathan and Michael Allen successfully run the business, which has an enviable engineering and manufacturing reputation – give this business a drawing and they can make it.
Their expertise is in engineering patterns, aluminium, iron and bronze castings, fabrications and machining, sheet metal working machinery and architectural and structural metalworking.
Ashford is the HQ for the company, which trades both domestically in the UK and internationally throughout wider Europe. The firm has a sales base near Rotterdam and a manufacturing plant for automotive parts in Alfreton, Derbyshire. Being well connected to the roads and rail networks is seen as a business asset.
Managing Director, Tim Allen says: “We moved to the Cobbs Wood Estate in 1964, and we have been able to grow and innovate from here. And the connectivity has been a real advantage from a sales and logistics perspective. When you are trading nationally and internationally, being able to access your customers quickly and directly creates a competitive edge.”
The Ashford site is home to over 110 staff, including those who work in the foundry and the machine shop. Tim is fiercely proud of the workforce and of being able to access them locally.
“Foundry skills are hard to find in today’s marketplace, yet we have been able to encourage a nepotistic employment policy, often employing two generations. The machine shop has been easier to staff and we have developed a strong relationship with the local college for engineering vacancies.”
When it comes to innovation, MJ Allen is no stranger to the concept of inventiveness. One of the leading products manufactured at the Ashford site is an all-wheel drive transmission that enables Ford Transits to go off-road and 2016 saw the launch of their AWD gearbox.
Demand from sectors such as utility and emergency services led the firm to approach Ford directly as Tim explains:
“Employing a Kent engineering designer, we developed the concept of the gearbox and took it to Ford. They liked it and whilst they didn’t fund it, they give us technical support and the backing if the patent, which we share, is infringed.”
Top this off with the specialist architectural castings and metalworking business aimed predominantly at the London marketplace, it’s not hard to see why growing the business in Ashford has been the right decision for Tim and his brothers:
“We are only 37 minutes from London by train, which could not be better for getting our labour force into the capital. If we need to ship anything further afield, we have Eurotunnel Le Shuttle freight services just down the road in Folkestone.”
The group was included in the Fasttrack International Track 200 listing for export growth and the KM Kent MegaGrowth 50 for turnover for 2015 and is stronger than ever as the past six years have seen a successful apprenticeship scheme for the group.
As Tim Allen says:
“Ashford is waking up. At one time the population grew a little too quickly for the amenities, but it’s catching up and it’s a place of opportunity.”