A web designer for the car industry has become Kent's fastest-growing company by international turnover in the MegaGrowth 50.
A little over a decade ago, GForces employed 14 people and had just begun exploring the potential of developing websites specifically for the motor trade.
Today, it is the fastest-growing exporter in Kent, with more than 240 staff, a web development team of 30 in Poland, and clients like Land Rover, Jaguar, Mazda and Vauxhall.
GForces directors, from left, Kevin Robins, Giles Smith, Tim Smith, Neil Smith, Simon Upton
“It’s been a long-term strategy but it’s worked,” said Tim Smith, one of a trio of brothers on the board of the business.
“It is still organic growth. We have never had any funding and we don’t have any debt. That’s a rare state of affairs.”
The company has grown thanks to its unique software, called NetDirector, which helps manufacturers and dealers sell cars on the web.
“We build a lot of websites which have a lot of technology in the back end,” said Tim.
“Selling cars is a lot more complex than selling clothing. A car has not only 100 variable fitted options but there are also various funding mechanisms, be it finance through the dealer, PCP or buying a lease.”
Their software was first adopted by car dealership groups in the UK, before it started to be adopted by motor manufacturers and now retailers in international markets.
"The aspiration for the business was always to be international but we needed to really create a product that was capable of being deployed into multiple markets..." - Tim Smith, GForces
The company has established partners in France, the Netherlands, South Africa and Australia who sell its products with their own services.
“We call it the GForces partner programme,” said Tim. “Although it is only 18 months old, we have enjoyed very significant growth thanks to those businesses.”
New potential markets include Germany, China and North America, with bosses heading to the States in December with the hope of securing some big clients.
Tim said: “The aspiration for the business was always to be international but we needed to really create a product that was capable of being deployed into multiple markets. It’s all possible by having a stable piece of technology.”
GForces was founded in 1999 by Giles Smith, Tim’s brother, initially offering general web services from his father’s barn in Sandling, near Maidstone.
Kent's fastest-growing private companies revealed in the MegaGrowth 50 2017
From about 2005 the company began focusing on the automotive market, around the time that Tim joined.
It moved to its present base in Bearsted, near Maidstone, at about the same time and has offices in London, the Midlands, Dubai and Belgium.
Its board of five directors also includes third brother Neil, its technology director. A fourth brother, Jamie, also works in the business.
“Right now, it’s a case of scaling the business out,” said Tim.
“Can we supply those markets and partners we have with a more efficient route to a sale than they were able to in the past?”
LC Designs, Maidstone
This business was established in 1922, and since then three generations of the same family have grown the London Clock Company to what it has become today. The brand’s emphasis has always been on superior design and quality craftsmanship. The online retailer strives to make each of its premium clocks complement its customer’s interior design. There is a collection of “functional and beautifully designed clocks”. Every clock is designed in-house in its Kent studio.
Priority Freight managing director Neal Williams
Priority Freight, Dover
This freight forwarding company provides transport services for numerous “market-leading international companies”. The business serves a range of different industry sectors arranging rapid, reliable and cost-effective logistics, often in emergency scenarios for clients. It was founded in 1996 and has been delivering projects to time ever since. In 2015 alone the company managed to complete more than 100,000 successful shipments. The business has grown financially as well. Pre-tax profits increased 47% to £2.1 million in 2015.
Jacksons Fencing near Ashford has been in business since 1947
Jacksons Fencing, Ashford
This family-run gate and fence retailer has been going since 1947. It stocks wooden and metal fencing materials, as well as decking and garden sheds. The business has built up a team with more than 300 years of collective experience. International sales have been buoyed by strong demand in Russia and establishing operations in Dubai. Pre-tax profits increased by 80% to £2.4 million in the year to the end of September 2016.
West Design Products, Folkestone
Established in 1888, this family-owned-and-run company is a manufacturer, distributor, wholesaler and importer of art and craft materials, toys, education and stationery products. It employs more than 130 people and works with more than 20,000 products. Clients include WH Smith, Hobbycraft, The Range, Tesco, Harrods, Sainsbury’s, Toymaster and Amazon. Pre-tax profits were up 8% to £665,000 in the year to the end of January 2016.
Sunspot Tours / Mercury Holidays, Sevenoaks
This travel agency offers holidays to the Caribbean, North America, Middle East and Europe. It sends customers on escorted tours, river cruises, rail journeys and package holidays. Established in 1986, it is a member of the Association of British Travel Agents. The company has grown despite difficulties caused by Brexit and terror-related incidents in Europe. Pre-tax profits increased 76% to £5.5 million in the year to the end of November 2016.
Highway Care makes crash barriers
Highway Care Group, Detling
This crash barrier manufacturer is a two-time winner of the MegaGrowth export list. It also made it into the turnover rundown this year. It has developed and introduced a wide range of devices which reduce the risk of crashes to road workers. It makes road safety barriers, crash cushions, emergency crossover gates and safety fencing. Pre-tax profits increased 56% to £4.6 million in 2015. The launch of an Australian subsidiary in January 2016 has helped drive international sales growth.
Fleet Retail Packaging, Rochester
This company has more than 40 years’ experience in the retail packaging trade. The firm prides itself on its in-depth knowledge, commitment to innovation and ability to remain a “dynamic player in the luxury retail sector”. The business specialises in manufacturing, supplying and distributing packaging for a “wide range of luxury products” including fashion, cosmetics, jewellery and watches. The firm has recently supplied luxury brands such as the Orient Express, Mulberry, Jack Wills and Hotel Chocolat.
Fileder Filter Systems, Maidstone
This business supplies filtration and water treatment products. The firm has clients across the UK and Europe. It believes in “building strong relationships, achieved by exceeding expectation”. Pre-tax profits shot up by 153% to £1.5 million in 2016. The business’ warehouse can hold more than £5 million worth of stock in 1,000 pallet spaces and the team processes more than 45,000 bespoke products a year. It keeps customers happy having 97% of morning orders ready for dispatch the same day.
Molten metal being poured into moulds at M J Allen on the Cobbs Wood industrial estate in Ashford
MJ Allen Castings And Machining, Ashford
This metal castings manufacturer was established in 1958. The firm also makes sheet metal machinery, metrology equipment under the Verdict brand and precision punches, dies and accessories. Its Mather & Smith brand looks after architectural iron founding and architectural metalwork. Its castings and machining division has performed well in European and North American markets. Key customers are in the military, medical and large diesel engine markets. It has operating foundries and a welding site alongside its machine shop in Ashford, as well as paint and assembly facilities.
Find out who has been named the fastest-growing private company in Kent for 2017.
Read the full-list of Kent's fastest growing businesses by turnover growth.