In the Press
SPECIAL REPORT: Denbigh ceramics company makes global splash with groundbreaking swimming pool murals
by Martin Williams, DPW West. Dec 19 2012
BROTHERS Nick and Shon Powell made a splash in one of the world’s most unusual niche industries…. the design and manufacture of ceramic swimming pool murals. From their headquarters in Denbigh, where they employ 77 artists, sellers and administrative staff, the Powells – including mum Jean, who founded Craig Bragdy Design with late husband Rhys – have been producing groundbreaking pieces for customers across the globe for decades.
The company started out as a little ceramics firm in the 1950s and has grown to become the leader in its field.
Nick and Shon grew up with it; their parents did not throw them in at the deep end, they moulded into the role and have huge plans for the future, including growth in both the workforce, research and development and the cutting edge designs which won them clients from Saudi Arabia to the United States.
Managing director Nick revealed every single element is manufactured by hand.
“It’s a high value product and we employ a lot of people per square metre for that reason,” he said.
“It is a unique business and we’re very proud of that. Nobody else out there is doing what we do.
“The process of getting approval can take weeks or months, it all depends on the client. It depends how set in their ways they are and the image they have in mind.”
Quenching the thirst of millionaire buyers happy to dive in and pay “hundreds of thousands” of pounds for Craig Bragdy’s handiwork is a fine art.
But the siblings have managed it, catering for celebrity clients (they won’t divulge who) and some of the world’s richest men and women.
“They do have some elaborate ideas but that’s great, it keeps things interesting,” said Nick.
“They might say ‘let’s put a shark in the pool’ so we need to react and get it redesigned. Most of the time we’ll do the installation as well as the design – we’ll do it from start to finish.”
And as he admits, they’ve come a long way from making murals for pubs and restaurants in North Wales.
“It was about 20 years ago we had our first big swimming pool order from Abu Dhabi,” said Nick.
“We found it to be a fantastic material that works so well underwater. And if you call this art, which some people do, you can appreciate it that way too.”
He added: “We found a niche market for very high end, wealthy clients who want to have fun with their money and have plenty of it. They run free with ideas and patterns and leave their thumbprint on it. We come back and incorporate it into a design – that’s what we do, before it goes to manufacture.”
One of the most striking Craig Bragdy products in past years was a shell-shaped pool decoration commissioned by an American buyer and shipped-out to Chicago.
“Chicago, Russia, Florida, the Middle East, they’re being sent to all corners of the world,” said Nick.
“We’re at the point now where 80-90% of our work is in swimming pools and the vast majority are being sold overseas.
“That will probably remain the case, but this year we have gone through a real transition and change period, looking at new production techniques.”
These techniques will see Craig Bragdy develop a fresh range of products, including a decorative bathroom panel.
This move will create jobs and could rid the firm of its occasional “feast or famine” dilemma.
“We will need new staff to work on this and help us develop it, so we can then make a whole series of the panels,” said Nick.
“That is something we will be looking to push in 2013 and beyond.”
“We are starting to market it and have manufactured 20 panels for showrooms in Russia and Kazakhstan and across Europe.
“We will then target America in January or February so we should start getting orders in. By next year we’ll have more of an idea how big a part of our operation this could become. It could employ between four and 10 people, just this side of the business.”
He added: “Sometimes you will get a big swimming pool in so there is a bit of feast and famine with the workforce.
“With this product we could ensure that does not happen.
“We would manufacture them for stock, which we can’t do with swimming pools – that would resolve the issue.”
On touring myriad buildings where each piece of the puzzle is laboriously and elegantly placed and drawn by hand, you can not fail to be impressed by the firm’s creative stance.
Two things strike me; the first is the Powell family’s dedication to their surroundings and staff. The second is integrity. They make things, from start to finish. Always have and always will.
“This business was, like most, a progressive thing,” said Nick.
“We got the first swimming pool order and then it was another six months before we got another. It was 10-15 years before that percentage of activity on swimming pools went from 10% to 90%.
“In the beginning there were three or four of us, and now we’re approaching 80. The business and workforce have steadily grown together.”
He added: “There was no line in the sand where we had a eureka moment and discovered our product, it’s been over a long period of time and involved a lot of hard work from everyone here.
“We’ve got new sales and marketing people on board and have our eyes set on other countries. We just have to maintain the workforce now to secure and sustain what we have.”
And all of this from North Wales?
“We will always be based in Denbigh,” said Nick.
“Over the years people have asked me why we don’t set up a factory in China, or Dubai or Sri Lanka but we have no intention of doing so.
“We were born and bred in Denbigh. Our family is here, we’re happy here and I don’t want to live in Timbuktu!
“We’ve got great staff. Some have been here for 30 years and some started last week but they’re all part of the team and all part of this company’s future.”