Local business reaches summit with slate products
Eight years ago Kevin Thomas had a bright idea. Why not use a laser to engrave photographs into pieces of Welsh slate? Having bought a specialist laser machine he began work in the bedroom of his Neath Valley home.
But Kevin was also working as an engineer at the Toyoda factory at Resolven and admits it was a particularly tough period.
“It was hard going. I was working up to 60 hours a week at my normal job and then trying to get the business off the ground in my spare time. But I could see the potential of what I was doing so when the company announced voluntary redundancies I applied. They did not want me to go but after a discussion they agreed.”
Once he finished work he was able to concentrate on his plans and attend various markets to sell his products. The business developed slowly but he soon realised he needed a shop.
“The range of slate products was increasing so I opened a small stall at Neath Market where I traded for two years until I was able to afford a shop in Angel Street, Neath where I now also sell products from other Welsh producers.”
Moving away from the photographs on slate he developed other ideas using Welsh slate. “I had taken over a small unit on the Crynant Industrial Estate in 2013 where I now employ four people and eventually expanded into scented candles and soaps,” he added.
The quality of his products has been recognised and he now supplies a wide range of tourist shops including those run by Cadw and the National Trust together with other tourist sites including the Slate Museum. “I had a policy from day one that we would only sell Welsh products and at times it has been difficult to source what I want for the shop but I insist on top quality. I feel confident about the future but I will not overreach myself and put the company at risk,” added Kevin.
Some of his products were included in gift bags presented to delegates at the NATO summit in Newport and he has provided items for BAFTA Cymru and a number of hotels.
“I have had considerable support from Neath Port Talbot Council’s Economic Development Team including help with machinery and the new website which has now been launched. I would like a city centre shop in the future and to expand the range of products but we will see what 2016 brings.”
Councillor Ali Thomas OBE, Leader of Neath Port Talbot Council, said:
“This is a great example of how our Economic Development Team can provide support to local entrepreneurs. Helping businesses to succeed and create jobs locally is a key priority for the Council.”