For a business that started in a garage 30 years ago, Somac Threads hasn’t done too badly. The Chester-based, family-run firm sets the bar for quality threads, great customer service and keeping the tradition of UK thread manufacturing very much alive. DEBBIE EALES reports.
Home to Somac is a sprawling complex of buildings which house the industrial and embroidery threads side of the business, the winding, waxing and lubricating processes.
General manager, Paul Dunderdale, joined Somac last February, after more than 20 years with Remploy. He brings extensive sewing experience (with contracts including the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office) to the table and has a vision for where he wants Somac to be as it enters its fourth decade.
Top of the agenda is building on the undoubted success of the embroidery threads side of the business which has become a one-stop shop for embroiderers’ needs.
“We pride ourselves on the level of service we provide all of our customers,” says Paul. “We offer a next day delivery service with full technical support and no minimum quantities.”
Importantly, Somac is friendly and approachable – and far from being a faceless entity.
Somac supplies the brand-leading products Kingstar Polyester thread on an exclusive basis throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe.
Kingstar Polyester thread comes in a mind-boggling 600 shades while Royal Rayon embroidery thread is offered in 500.
The company has sales managers covering the UK and Europe, all with excellent experience in industrial and embroidery thread requirements in a great variety of industries, including carpets, mattresses, upholstery, bedding, safety harness webbing, footwear, embroidery and many others.
Somac also supplies a range of accessories from backing materials to stitch erasers, scissors, prewound bobbins, under thread and stitch erasers.
“We’re pretty much the best kept secret in the thread world,” says Paul, who is on a mission to catapult Somac into the forefront of printwear embroiderers’ psyche.
As we walk around the production units, Paul tells me that the threads business is split squarely between industrial and embroidery threads.
It’s fair to say that the manufacturing process has changed little over the years. The winding and twisting machines are efficient and running constantly over a two shift system.
“We have an in-house mechanic who’s absolutely worth his weight in gold. The parts aren’t readily available. We fabricate them – we also use local engineers to assist us when needed,” Paul tells me.
“Those old twisting machines may not be brand new but they do a fantastic job and the end process is about waxing, polishing, lubricating and that’s where the science comes in. It’s all about the finishing and where the end product goes.”
Twisting the yarn is a skilled job and many of Somac’s staff have been with the company since the beginning. Paul continues: “These guys know what they’re doing. It’s a very specialist area.”
Walking around the production floor, Paul comments: “What we’re seeing here are winding and twisting machines for polyester and nylons for industries such as the bedding industry, upholstery, carpet and filtration markets. We’re probably the biggest supplier to the bedding industry.”
Another profitable side to the business is the manufacture of linen threads and twisted threads.
“It’s very much a specialist thing that’s for high end bedding and the upholstery business,” explains Paul. “That’s still a very large part of Somac’s set up.”
He believes that in the UK, Somac are unique. “There are not many people winding to this extent,” he continues. “These machines are going 24 hours a day.”
“Some of our product will end up in prestigious stores such as Harrods – so clearly everything has to be right – including the thread.
“We import raw material from quality overseas sources for our linen products, continues Paul. “There used to be a thriving linen business but fewer people are in that market.”
I ask if the cotton crisis had an impact on Somac.
“Like all thread manufacturers, we have to be aware of what’s happening in the market, and where we can, we buy ahead – we buy the raw materials on a three month cycle,” Paul tells me.
When it comes to embroidery thread, customers love the product and love the service, Paul says.
“Some people aren’t interested in doing small orders but we are. We offer that flexibility.
“It’s always a balance between servicing small to medium customers and the larger ones we have. I believe all our customers deserve the best we can offer – that’s what we strive for.”
More recently, Somac signed up as an exclusive distributor of A&E to distribute polycottons, Perma Spun, Perma Core, all the standard sewing threads, plus nylons, which come from America or A&E’s European set-up in Slovenia.
“We have been with them for a year now,” says Paul, “and we couldn’t be happier with the relationship we have with them. The A&E products complement our range very well.”
One area that Somac wants to improve on is online ordering. Says Paul: “We exist to supply threads to whatever businesses we serve, and always look to provide the best route to market that serves those individual needs.
“We’re dipping a toe in things like bonded polyesters for the leisurewear market – things like awnings and sails. You need a specialist thread that is UV resistant and water resistant.
“We’ve started flirting with products like that and the product works. We also do Nomax and Kevlar threads. We strive to find something that catches the imagination.
“Thread isn’t the most exciting product in the world, but when you think about what we do, where would you be without it?”
During my visit, I learned that there are some surprising uses for Somac threads… “Our waxed products are used by morticians – it’s a special waxed thread which is used to sew up bodies. We are the main supplier to an American company which sells it on to morticians,” says Paul.
“That’s the sort of thing that we get involved in because of our experience.”
And technical support is all part of the service. Continues Paul: “If people get into technical difficulties with a thread – we have three external sales representatives, split into territories. They’re available to go into any of our embroidery customers. But to be honest, we rarely get a problem and if there is one, it usually comes down to stitch tension or other machine settings.”
He accepts that embroiderers are sometimes reluctant to change threads once they are set up, but he advises that with a bit of thought, you can do it the right way and end up with a better product.
“We have flexibility and can offer something that gives customers a competitive edge. Get the price point right and once you start ticking those boxes, you have a fighting chance. We’ve got the foundations, we’ve got a good product,” adds Paul.
Much has been achieved in the first 30 years and with Paul as part of the team, the company will be creating a vision for the years ahead.
“We’ve grown organically and we have grown through acquisition,” says Paul. “We intend to build up the embroidery threads side of the business and move the business forward.”
For more information call 01244 680506, email email@example.com or visit www.somac.co.uk
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