No splash – A large variety of shower enclosure designs are available and most required plastic profiles to achieve a watertight solution, even if a door is not used. Here Gary Crawford demonstrates how effectively the profiles work at the Aquamark showroom in Wetton in Cape Town. Most of Aquamark’s products are exported

Aquamark transitions from design to full-on production

AQUAMARK Holdings of Cape Town has over the past two decades transitioned from being a design studio to full-on production.

MD Gary Crawford started out as a designer working on the development of a variety of products with production being contracted out but, almost by coincidence, he’s gravitated towards design of products for shower enclosures. Quite a startling variety of profiles are used in shower applications, in both plastic and aluminium, both of which Aquamark now manufactures and supplies.

Aquamark had been set up in 1995 (Gary joined in ‘96) and at first resisted the urge to start production, but circumstance played an unexpected role: some of the business’s partners left and there were changes as well among the contract moulders running its products.

Eventually, in 2019, it took the plunge and started with four profile extrusion lines at premises in Wetton in Cape Town. Growth was achieved through production of soft, rigid and co-ex profiles. For designers graduating to moulding, the decision as to whether one has the ability to manage a production-scale operation is the litmus test: in Crawford’s case, it almost came as a surprise to the man that the transition went relatively smoothly.

Exports have become an important part of the company’s output, with about 60% of its profile products being exported. The responsibility of supplying high quality products to international brand customers where there is zero tolerance for quality failures has meant that Aquamark has had to implement and maintain high quality standards. Gradually Gary and his team built up their abilities to meet these requirements.

In the next step, Aquamark was virtually obligated to expand production when OKE, a German group, decided to exit the South African market. One of OKE’s core businesses in South Africa had been the production of plastic profiles, mainly for the automotive sector. It had been running the Aquamark profiles as a sideline after it purchased one of the former contract extruding and moulding businesses which had supplied Aquamark. Subsequent to OKE’s departure, Aquamark bought or collected its extrusion dies from the other contract manufacturers and centralised production at the Wetton plant.

During this period Aquamark had marketed its products in the United Kingdom through an agent, but the retirement of the person involved presented another change. Coincidence again played a role more recently when Aquamark was purchased by SanSwiss group (SanSwiss is owned by Ronal group, a business better known for its production of alloy wheel rims). SanSwiss is a manufacturer of ‘elegant and transparent’ shower enclosures for the Europe market, which led to its interest in Aquamark, with a long-term view to break into the African market.

Crawford is almost in surprise that the process has unfolded this way, but Aquamark is meeting its customers’ needs and has expanded its service. Most recently it also bought a toolroom (you guessed it, also from one of the contract moulders), which has given it additional control over the factors which its production relies on.