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Decades of growth back a business looking to the future

Sackers has an international reputation built on very local roots. The UK recycler’s ceo David Dodds talks to Recycling international about the early days, innovation and plans for the future.

UK scrap metal specialist Sackers has innovated and expanded during nearly 100 years in the business to become an international player. The family firm, still firmly based in the Ipswich area of East Anglia where it all started, now has a £60 million (EUR 70 million) turnover with global markets including India, the Far East and Europe.

Ceo David Dodds has seen this transformation first-hand. He joined the family firm in 1978, later joining the board alongside father Tony and two brothers, Adrian and Ewan. Sackers’ success comes from a careful growth strategy built on investing in new plant and techniques. And it’s a strategy that has been executed well, a key reason why David Dodds made Recycling International’s Top 100, listed at #32.

A scrap education

Sackers was established in Ipswich in 1923 and had a small yard in the middle of a housing estate. Now it boasts a scrap metal site in nearby Claydon, Ipswich, and a general commercial waste collection in neighbouring Needham Market. Expansion and enhancements of both sites continue to this day.

‘Sackers used to be a very local business,’ Dodds recalls. ‘We supplied four or five local foundries, including at least two non-ferrous ones, so we had markets for everything we produced. There was no need or desire to look outside Suffolk, our local county.’

When he started with the family business, Dodds initially saw it as more of a job than a career. ‘I worked in the yard then; I was a crane driver, cut steel with oxyacetylene cutters, worked on the weighbridge and in the transport department. At the end of the day, after the yard work, I sat in the office to map out the schedule for our lorries the next day. There’s nothing in the scrapyard I haven’t done. That was my education in the scrap business.’

International eye

‘I started going to trade shows, and I was hearing, “We’re doing business in India”, and, “We’re doing business in SE Asia”, so I thought, “Right, we wouldn’t mind a bit of that, but I have no idea what it looks like or what you are talking about. But I’m going to find out”.’

He bought Metalworks of the World, a Metal Bulletin directory, and browsed the individual traders and agents, concentrating on India. ‘I was hearing India is the place. The English language helped – China was a no-no on that score.

‘I still have that book here in the office. I used to finish my work in the yard and then come into the office and type up letters. I found the fax number and faxed people over several years. I had no clue what I was doing, not a clue. I hadn’t been exposed to any international business.’

Eventually, he struck gold. The first customer was an agent, MG India. ‘Sridhar, who now owns the business, remains my longest, dearest friend in India and has been for well over 20 years now. I’ve been invited to his wedding and his children’s weddings. He’s now a grandfather, as I am, and it’s a really close relationship. Another is Vishal, who was also at MG and now has his own business. They are the two people I trust the most in India.’

Growth plans

Sackers has recently unveiled a five-year investment plan, including a 40% increase in its licensed tonnage volume. ‘We are backfilling the hardware to be able to process that sort of volume,’ Dodds explains.

‘Our first investment in mid-April was an electronic metal finder from Tomra, based on infra-red technology, that helps to refine downstream shredding and makes us more efficient. Then the next investment will be a pre-shredder to boost our output by 40% per hour.’

Work is in hand to relocate offices on the site, giving easier access for the lorries. Five years ago, Sackers had 60-70 employees. Today, it is nearer 100, and the investment will mean a further ten coming on board, although the focus of the investment plan is more about engineering and technology than headcount.

The company is also planning a route to net-zero by 2040 ‘because the customers will be demanding green steel and green aluminium,’ Dodds says. ‘It’s the right thing to do, and we are already seeing it in bigger tenders,’ he adds, pointing out that BMW and Mercedes have signed long-term deals with their suppliers for more sustainable steel.

See the full TOP 100 list here >>

This article was published in issue #4: Read it here >>

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