Orders flood in as Arden hits the right track

Never mind a raincheck, one firm welcomes the floods for the chance to sell a floor
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The Independent Online

If every cloud has a silver lining, the recent storms look set to bathe Fergus Arden in the shiny stuff. While householders and businesses across Britain are counting the cost of the high winds and floods, the managing director of Rola-Trac is rubbing his hands over his order book.

If every cloud has a silver lining, the recent storms look set to bathe Fergus Arden in the shiny stuff. While householders and businesses across Britain are counting the cost of the high winds and floods, the managing director of Rola-Trac is rubbing his hands over his order book.

"From what the forecasts are saying, it's going to get worse," said Mr Arden of the recent storms. "Which is good for me."

The reason for Mr Arden's happy outlook is that he has developed, and is offering for sale, a product that claims to revolutionise the market for temporary roadways and outside flooring. In a country where outdoor events always seem to be accompanied by wet weather, a key part of the product's appeal is its ability to keep concert-goers and many others from getting wet feet or stuck in thick mud.

"The benefit is that if the weather looks likely to cause problems you can minimise it," he says. "Wet weather is always difficult. You can't hold an event and have people walking around in the mud."

Rola-Trac, which is based in Norwich, has devised two solutions to the underfoot problem. One is a flooring material that is used typically in a marquee to protect the grass or other surface on which the tent has been erected and at the same time keep the occupants dry. The other is Supa-Trac, a portable roadway system that can support more than people and a tent - it's strong enough to take tanks, helicopters or trucks.

The first Rola-Trac product has proved highly successful in the two years since its introduction. The Ministry of Defence, which used it in all the huts its troops occupied in Kosovo, is said to be among the satisfied customers.

The new product is reportedly "going great guns" among events companies and others mindful of how the muddy scenes at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone earlier this year, as well as at other outdoor attractions, could well have been avoided.

Preferring to style himself an innovator rather than an inventor, Mr Arden said he got the idea for the original product from seeing a similar one demonstrated several years ago. "I looked at it and suddenly realised there was something there. But I felt their product wasn't meant for that job, and I thought I could do something better."

The outcome of his observations was a system made out of polypropylene plastic for toughness and which was designed with linked sections.

The "core idea" behind the flooring product was to make installation of flooring in marquees easy. The concept paid off, striking such a chord that already the company has been selling to various countries including the US, Australia, France, Portugal and Spain.

Likewise, the key marketing point of the temporary roadway was its ease of handling - two people can lay 1,000 metres of it in a day without any specialist tools, training or qualifications. And the fact that it is the first product of its kind that users can buy rather than rent, gives it added appeal to a range of customers, from the armed forces to motor-racing teams.

In fact, the demand for the portable track has been so great that the company is now planning to introduce a version for retailers - one that can be sold to householders for use in their gardens or perhaps during camping trips.

Thanks largely to the MoD contract, the company has achieved sales of £1.2m in its first year. And it is hoping to do a bit better than that in the current year - without the benefit of a single big contract.

It is not a bad effort for a business that, in Mr Arden's words, is from "the back end of nowhere", and which employs just four people because it subcontracts the manufacturing. And, as Mr Arden points out himself, it is run by a man who left school at the age of 16 without O-levels.

Now 38, Mr Arden had a succession of jobs before this present success. He worked in a warehouse, and then was a drain cleaner before setting up on his own as a motor mechanic. It was in this role that he began the "tinkering" that led to Rola-Trac. Convinced that today too much emphasis is placed on technology, he says many innovations can arise from simply applying "what you know from one area to another". He added: "I'm a very curious person. I'm interested in a number of different things. The world is a very interesting place. I try things and see what happens."

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