Chemlink Specialities has grown steadily over the last 24 years and remains a major player in the speciality sector. Business Development Director Joanne Roberts looks back.
Chemlink Specialities was founded back in 1994 by Peter Minister, known to everyone as Pete. He wanted to start his own business and his idea was to put the ‘speciality’ into chemical distribution. At the time, there were plenty of distributors in the market who were strong on commodity chemicals – which was his own background – but Pete thought that he could offer something different as a niche player in the speciality part of the market. The company is active across both fields, offering commodity surfactants to its customers as part of its service, but it is still largely focused on specialities.
Pete called up an ex-colleague, Mark Kenny, who had moved into an entirely different industry in an entirely different country – he was working with a mountain bike team in Italy – and convinced him to jump right back into chemicals with Pete and his vision for the business. The company began trading on Monday 3 October 1994 and on Thursday 6, it had its first order from a customer that still buys from it to this day. Within the first year the team secured an investor and several major deals, and quickly out-grew their two-person office in Carrington, moving to nearby Urmston in Greater Manchester.
Pete and Mark were soon joined by the third employee, Mike Goode. Mike was very well known in the chemical industry and had extensive knowledge of the surfactants market. His contribution helped to further accelerate the growth of Chemlink and form the business that it is today. Mike was a much loved and respected member of the company family. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012.
A colourful character, Pete had a joint degree in Economics and Comedy, which, as it would turn out, would be a great asset to his company going forward. He was technically sound and a highly professional businessman but loved fun and ran his business in a way that ensured that the growing team felt part of the Chemlink family. Regular team-building and family events enabled employees to feel like they were part of a team, not simply showing up to a job every day. There have been, for example, summer barbecues where a real-life helter-skelter or a giant bouncy castle were commonplace.
Pete wanted to set up a distribution company that not only gave great customer service and product delivery but could also provide technical and formulation expertise to give customers exactly what they were looking for. As the team grew over the years, Chemlink moved into a much larger office which had a small lab incorporated within it, in 1997.
At this stage, the dream of offering formulation testing became a reality and the technical team was born with the addition of Norman Lowe to the firm. This offered Chemlink a new capability as a solution provider, creating unique formulations. The company has also grown to be an expert in preservation and preservative systems.
As Chemlink expanded, Pete and the team would notice market niches which were ripe for development. As a result, four new companies were created down the years, with the common theme of offering technical expertise and innovation to their customers. All were built from scratch rather than being acquired. While they operate as separate companies and are not part of a legal entity, they share technical expertise with each other in the development of products and services to their respective markets.
The first, launched in 1998 and now based at the Normanton Industrial Estate in Yorkshire, was Solupak. It offers concentrated cleaning chemicals contained in water-soluble sachets as an environmentally friendly solution for the cleaning market. Twenty years on, Solupak is a leading supplier in this field and holds several patents for its products. These are supplied mainly to the household and industrial cleaning, building and construction, dental, agriculture and horticulture industries worldwide. The team of technical, R&D and customer service representatives can either develop a fit-for purpose product or offer a fast turnaround on any of Solupak’s speciality cleaning solutions.
Founded in 1999 and based at Manchester’s Trafford Park, J1 Technologies provides specialist bespoke chemical raw materials and formulations through application testing and research for an individual customer need. It was one of the first chemical companies in the UK to receive a permit from the Environment Agency under Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC) to
manufacture surfactants. One of J1’s key focus areas is to continue to manufacture products to a high standard while having a minimal environmental impact. Products are made to ISO 9001 standard and range from small trial batches to bulk batches. Lab capacities include product testing, bespoke formulation and formulation improvements, while bulk product can also be made and stored at the site.
Addi-Tec, which was established in 2005, specialises in surface additives for a wide variety of markets and sells speciality chemicals for applications in paints and coatings, PVC film and sheet, moulded articles, footwear, apparel, coated fabrics, PVC profiles, automotive and wall coverings. The business is also located in Urmston. Using its worldwide contacts, Addi-Tec can often source chemicals or develop solutions for its customers. The range of products includes antimicrobials, dyes and pigments, UV absorbers, optical brighteners, textile additives, additives for the formulation markets, and process additives for the plastic, PVC and paint industries.
Most recently in 2017, CORE Additive Technologies was established, based on Thornton Science Park, Chester taking its name from the fact that it supplies additives and services for the construction, oil, road and environmental industries. CORE manufactures bespoke cleaning and decontamination products, as well as offering technical assistance and project management. In addition, it distributes additives into the bitumen market across Europe.
The lab staff at Chemlink are skilled at developing unique formulations in response to market needs. One such formulation is Paint Pro 9, a simple to use, yet highly effective detailing spray and polish. It utilises the latest silane technology, to deliver a deep, durable shine. Other benefits include a high degree of water beading, anti-static and anti-scratch properties. Paint Pro 9 can be used on all interior and exterior surfaces, including glass. It is easy to produce via a low-energy process that does not require heat and has proved very popular for the car care and household sectors. Chemlink also has a range that allows formulators to make cold process high sun protection factor products that are stable, have no rain-out on wet skin and pass the ASTMS tests for waterproofing
In the competitive chemical ingredients market, Chemlink’s expertise and flexibility of service has ensured that it is differentiated by the support that it gives to their customers.
We have invested in a team of experts who can give advice on regulatory issues but can also assist formulators with the challenges that the changes in regulations can create. This, coupled with the comprehensive range of ingredients and flexibility in service, has made Chemlink a strong competitor in the speciality ingredients market.
Sadly, Peter Minister passed away in 2016, but his passion and dedication to his company live on in the family and in the team members who worked with him over the years, some of whom have been with the company since day one. The head office building in Urmston was re-named ‘Peter Minister House’ in his memory in early 2018, when the business expanded to take over the entire building.
Pete’s son, Jack Minister, took over the role of Managing Director after working within the sales team for a number of years. Growth has not slowed in recent years, with new sales, marketing and business development professionals joining the already strong team of sales, logistical, technical and administrative staff. Most recently, the company brought in Andrew Ellwood and Sundip Joshi as Sales Managers and myself as Business Development Director. All three of us have extensive experience in the chemicals and distribution business. This has been the recent focus of investment, reflecting the need for succession planning as some of the staff have been in the industry for many years are approaching retirement.
Despite our small size, we are confident of being able to continue competing as a niche player in this market. Having worked with larger companies over the last 20 years, my own view is that this has a lot to do with our flat structure and company culture. Chemlink is very adaptive to change and very innovative. There is a very short chain of command and decisions can be made almost instantaneously. Employees are empowered to come up with their own ideas and solutions, and this creates innovation in all areas of the company.
Business is good and we are enjoying a strong year, despite all the gloomy forecasts and uncertainties around Brexit. Most of our business is within the UK and Ireland. With the current political uncertainty and speed of change within the global markets we are continuing to innovate and support customers. The company is of a size to be flexible and responsive to these changes and to continue to be a speciality distributor with technical service and expertise at its core.
Part of Chemlink’s website is dedicated to a blog about specific products and capabilities it wishes to highlight. These are very diverse, with the latest two in early 2018 being a high performance descaler and a naturally sourced skincare product. Chemlink now offers a series of descalers from Vitech International as an alternative to mineral or organic acids. While still useful, these acids can damage surfaces or give off dangerous fumes, as well as bringing extra health and safety risks to those working with them. There is also an industry drive away from acids for general consumer use, due to safety concerns.
As with many of its products, Chemlink can supply these as received or use them to create custom formulations to suit specific product requirements. All of them are phosphate-free, VOC-exempt, biodegradable and non-irritating to skin. They are also REACH-exempt in the EU, because they are classified as ionic mixtures.
The most effective descaler in the Vitech range is BJS-I, which is designed for use in homecare and car care formulations and finds other applications in industrial descalers, concrete floor cleaners, pool and spa cleaners, concrete equipment cleaners and food industry cleaners. Classified as a mild skin irritant, BJS-I is non-fuming and non-corrosive, making it much more user-friendly than traditional hydrochloric acid for dissolving limescale.
Chemlink also offers four other Vitech descalers:
- ALB, a non-corrosive formulation to brighten aluminium surfaces, rather than whiten them, like traditional hydrofluoric acid. It is also used in cleaning tiles, vehicle wheels and heating, ventilation and air conditioning fins, among other things
- APW, ALB’s sister product and also the winner of a US EPA award for pollution prevention. It has similar descaling abilities and is also particularly suited to removing rust and iron salts, such as brake and wheel dust, in multiple applications
- M5, a non-fuming, non-corrosive and biodegradable product that can outperform most organic acids while having no solubility limits. It is mainly used in bathroom and tile cleaners, retail descalers, limescale removal and cleaning applications in the food and beverage industries, and in pools and spas
- A85, a non-corrosive, non-fuming acidic organic salt mixture, which can replace mineral acids in traditional formulations as a safer alternative to hydrochloric acid. It can also be formulated into aluminium cleaners to brighten the surface
Another addition to the range about which Chemlink has blogged this year is Leniphenol, a polyphenolic complex derived from Forest Stewardship Council-certified pine bark and lignin, drawing on the ability of these secondary metabolites to protect the skin from pollution, UV rays, irritant products and ageing. This is a completely natural ingredient with outstanding lenitive and anti-irritating properties, making it suitable for all skin types.
Leniphenol comes in liquid form and can be used at 0.1-0.3% in skincare formulations of all kinds, especially those whose aim it is to reduce the effects of ageing. It has a brown pigment and a characteristic pine scent. The pH is a neutral 7-8 making it a gentle and suitable product for many skincare formulations. Key attributes are:
- UV skin protection
- Anti-itching, with a dose-dependent effect
- Protecting skin from air pollution
- Anti-redness and anti-inflammatory
Contact: Joanne Roberts Business Development Director Chemlink Specialities Tel: +44 (0)161 6292129 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: www.chemlink.co.uk