The Independent Business on Sunday's 100: Elonex surges to top again: Roger Trapp looks at achievers in the Middle Market section of our league of fastest-growing companies

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The Independent Online
IT IS widely acknowledged that strong sales growth - while not to be dismissed - is easier to achieve for comparatively young companies than it is for more established organisations. So the performance of the leaders in the Middle Market section of the league of fastest- growing companies, compiled by the Independent on Sunday in collaboration with Price Waterhouse, the accountants, is worthy of special comment.

Particularly impressive is the achievement of Elonex, the north London-based computer company, which has topped this middle market table two years running. The category was introduced last year to mark the sustained achievement of companies that had a turnover of at least pounds 5m in the first year of the five-year period.

Along the same lines, we this year introduced a further change in the overall Independent 100, lifting the qualifying level of turnover in the initial year of a five-year period from pounds 100,000 to pounds 500,000. This meant the listing covered bigger companies than before, but also that some, such as Concurrent Technologies of Colchester, and Hampton Industries of Nantwich, which had appeared in previous years, were no longer eligible - even though they continue to grow strongly.

Elonex's growth rate was about 65 per cent, compared with last year's 81 per cent. As Nigel Crockford, the Price Waterhouse partner responsible for middle-market and growth companies, pointed out: 'This reduction reflects the increasing difficulty of sustaining high percentage rates of growth as companies grow.'

Israel Wetrin, Elonex's founder and managing director, attributes the company's success to its determination to achieve a significant share of the UK market. With that currently standing at about 7 per cent, 'there is still a lot to do,' he said. 'You have to come up with new products. Otherwise you get stagnated.'

At the end of the period covered by the latest rankings, Elonex's sales had reached nearly pounds 78m. But its commitment to continually producing unique products at competitive prices helped it to nearly pounds 100m in the last 12 months, while the current year is expected to see a further 50 per cent gain.

Separate operations are already proving successful in several other countries, including France, Belgium, Switzerland and Mr Wetrin's native Israel. But the company is currently considering a share flotation to help it penetrate other markets, particularly the United States.

Second-placed RCI Europe, which saw its sales grow by nearly 60 per cent, to more than pounds 67m over the period, actually originated across the Atlantic. Computer companies are not as prevalent in the middle-market list as they are in the main listing - details of which were published last week - but the machines are still important factors in the success of many of the organisations there, RCI included.

Set up in the US in 1974 by Christel DeHaan, RCI is a timeshare holiday exchange company. Like many of the success stories since these rankings started, it has thrived by finding a narrow niche market.

Serving both developers of timeshare projects and the people who buy into them, it provides a worldwide network of locations via a massive database of nearly 3,000 properties linked to the mainframe computer at its headquarters in Indianapolis. 'We're very sophisticated in terms of technology,' PR manager, Jane Evans, said.

By being a member of RCI, individuals not only have the opportunity to swap their share of an apartment in, say, Spain for one in Florida, but also have access to the company's travel service.

The organisation - which has its European base at Kettering, Northamptonshire - has grown internationally as the timeshare idea has expanded.

Much less sophisticated is Tolent Holdings, the North- east construction company that took third place.

Started with 'just half a dozen guys' 11 years ago by John Wood, a former contracts manager with Balfour Beatty, the company achieved sales of nearly pounds 60m in the last year of the five-year period and employed nearly 600 people.

Last year, turnover remained almost unchanged. But - though Mr Wood sees 'no point in chasing turnover' - this year will probably see an increase of one-third. Germany, where the company started working in late 1991, is proving particularly strong. The 125 people there are expected to account for about pounds 25m of turnover in the current year.

The company tackles all kinds of construction work. And, in keeping with the trend for businesses to take on service-sector characteristics, Mr Wood attributes its success to the way it deals with customers. 'Anybody can be friends at the beginning of a job, but we're always friends at the end,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)

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