AS he looks forward to the latest significant investment in the hair and beauty company he’s managed for the past 12 years, Neil Bagnall is convinced the business has never been in better condition.

Tricogen Laboratories, with a history dating back 135 years, has not only come through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged stronger than ever.

The biggest manufacturer of cosmetics in the North-East has been built on a philosophy of continuous improvement: annually investing in the best people and equipment.

And this month sees the latest £500,000 investment – a new fully-automated production line with a 10-head filler – coming on stream at the company’s expanding site on Aycliffe Industrial Park.

Businessiq: The Tricogen production lineThe Tricogen production line

“These are exciting times for Tricogen,” says Neil, the company’s highly respected managing director. “We have the right team in place, plus the flexibility and the capacity to meet the needs of the industry in a very quick turnaround time.

“The company is in better shape than ever and, with the new business we can see coming through, we are confident of continued growth next year and beyond.”

The new production line, along with an additional manufacturing vessel, is not just an investment in state-of-the-art equipment, but in people too. It will mean at least another six jobs to add to the existing workforce of 40 full-time staff, who can also be supplemented with temporary agency staff during times of peak production.

Businessiq: Managing Director Neil BagnallManaging Director Neil Bagnall

Tricogen is headed by chief executive Garth Sliufko, whose great grandfather, Elias, came to Darlington from Poland in 1885, and quickly displayed the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that has been passed on through the family.

Further down the line, in 1946, his grandson, Ray, founded Ray and Company (Hairdressers Sundriesmen) in Clark’s Yard, Darlington. That was followed by a manufacturing arm, Raydiant Chemical Company Ltd, producing a range of products for the hairdressing industry.

Garth, Ray’s son, joined the business when he was 22, and added a new level of ambition. It was under his leadership that the Raydiant Chemical Company was rebranded as Tricogen Laboratories, 25 years ago, around the same time it moved to a purpose-built manufacturing facility at Aycliffe.

A neighbouring site was acquired in August 2019, and the next project will be the development of a 30,000 sq ft warehouse, described as “another key investment in the future”.

Neil was brought into the company 12 years ago because of his impressive 30-year track record in the industry, and he takes justifiable pride in the fact that the business has grown every year since.

“We now have the capability to produce all kinds of cosmetic products – anything from 100 kilos to 6,000 kilo batch sizes. Enquiries are coming in every week – sometimes it’s something we can supply off the shelf, other times it’s a bespoke product,” he explains.

Up to five years ago, the company concentrated on the wholesale market, but realised that the only way it could continue to grow was to venture into retail. Consequently, its portfolio of hair and beauty products is now up to the 1,000 mark.

Businessiq: The warehouse at TricogenThe warehouse at Tricogen

“If someone comes to us today and asks for a bespoke product, we can get them samples within a couple of weeks, but the emphasis is still always on quality. We are very open to visits from potential customers so we can show them what we can do.”

The emphasis is also very much on safety during these unprecedented times. Before starting work each day, every employee is scanned by a heat detection camera to check for any rise in temperature as part of strict Covid-19 safety measures.

At the start of lockdown, Tricogen responded swiftly to the surge in demand for hand sanitiser, going from producing five tons a year to 100 tons a month. Six months on, the new production line will ensure that the company can build up stock to always stay ahead of demand, while also creating extra capacity for other products.

The reopening of hairdressing salons, in July, naturally led to a sharp increase in demand for products, and Neil is confident there will be another spike across the company’s full portfolio as the hospitality industry returns to some kind of normality in the coming months.

He has used his industry connections to build a talented senior management team: Operations Director Carl Rhodes, Technical Director, Robert Stead, Andrew Walker, who is in charge of planning and procurement, and Business Development Manager Trudi Hodgson.

“The policy was to invest in the best industry professionals, and we are a small but tight-knit team, able to make decisions very quickly,” says Neil.

He believes the foundation of Tricogen’s consistent growth over the past 12 years has been the freedom the chief executive has given the team to plan projects strategically. That has certainly been one of the reasons Operations Director, Carl Rhodes, has been happy to commute to County Durham from his home in Leeds every day since 2008.

“It’s all about being trusted. I’m given the freedom to paint the picture I want to paint, to build the production environment I want to build, one that I know will make us more successful,” says Carl.

“We also never say no to work. Whatever the customer asks for, we go away and make it happen because we love a challenge.”

Like his MD, Carl is a devoted fan of Leeds United – newly promoted back to the Premier League – and he understands the importance of building team spirit if the company is to stay at the top of its game.

“We never measure ourselves against others, we measure ourselves against who we were – our aim is to be better than we were yesterday,” he declares, with a passion that wouldn’t be out of place in the Elland Road dressing room.

Businessiq: Works chemist Shaun JohnsonWorks chemist Shaun Johnson

Over in the development laboratory, Shaun Johnson, works chemist, is busy developing the latest products to add to the company’s ever-growing portfolio.

As one of the longest-serving employees – having started with Ray and Company 32 years ago – Shaun has seen plenty of changes, and a trajectory that has always been upwards.

“The company has expanded massively over the years, and it’s brilliant to see it still moving forward, even in these difficult times,” he says.

Businessiq: The longest-serving employee Vanessa Heppenstall, with the newest recruit Fabia BegumThe longest-serving employee Vanessa Heppenstall, with the newest recruit Fabia Begum

Vanessa Heppenstall, who looks after accounts and customer service, has been with the business even longer than Shaun, having joined in 1986. And the fact that she works next to the youngest recruit, planning and procurement assistant, Fabia Begum, underlines how the company has fused experience with new talent.

Great people, great products –Tricogen appears to have found a formula for lasting success.