Call us toll free: +1 800 789 50 12
Top notch Multipurpose WordPress Theme!

20 Years In and Still Going Strong

by APS in News Comments: 0 tags: aluminium, news

Gary McNeill, APS

Aluminium & Plastics Systems (APS) is celebrating 20 years in business and during those two decades we’ve survived a global recession and are now meeting the uncertainties of Brexit head on.

 CEO Gary McNeill is one of the founding directors and we sat down with Gary to go over some of the highlights and biggest challenges.


Clearly, the focus for the last 12 months has been adapting to the unprecedented change in customer needs. What that’s meant is providing a product range unlike anything we’ve offered in the past.

“Since the pandemic hit, we’ve sold a lot more home improvement products like aluminium lift and slide doors, decking, PVC showers and flooring; many of which we haven’t sold before,” he said.

Listening to our customers

It’s this kind of adaptability in the market that has allowed APS to navigate its way through a challenging couple of decades in the construction industry.

The key has been keeping up with the latest trends in the industry,” McNeill said.

“New products or new colours become popular at any given time and it’s a matter of recognising those, keeping on top of them and working closely with (or sometimes finding new) suppliers to make sure we have what our customers want.”


Not only is the business pivoting as a result of the pandemic, but Brexit has also brought about further need for change. We’re viewing the changing political landscape as an opportunity to grow.

“We’re currently recruiting senior logistics staff to help us break further into the UK market with our aluminium systems range. With Brexit now too, we need to be more switched on with what we’re doing.

“We have products that are developed for the Irish market and we’ll need to adapt to the different trends in the UK market. That might mean making some tweaks to our existing offering, which is likely to be the focus over the next few years.

“With the planned new staff, we’re trying to improve our efficiency and delivery. That will allow us to focus on UK sales, which is when we’ll kick into gear with further product research and development.”


It’s the process of research and development and the desire to constantly move with the times that has allowed us to stay afloat during such turbulent times.

From day one we’ve stocked a fairly basic range of products and, while a lot of our suppliers do their own research and development of their products, we’ve also done our own and it’s that development as a business that has allowed us to do bigger and bigger projects over the years.”

The beginning

McNeill admits that few of the founding staff could have predicted just how many economic, political and health challenges they would have to endure along the way. However, as events transpired in 2001, they felt the time was right to start something new.

 “Fifteen of us worked for Reynolds Metal Company* which was taken over by global aluminium giant Alcoa – currently the world’s eighth largest producer of aluminium.  During that merger we all thought there were too many aluminium companies in Ireland, and some would surely have to close. So jumped ship before we were pushed.”

“We’d all been working together for 10 years at that time and we had a good customer base. We were a very small company compared to Alcoa and we didn’t think that they would want our existing business or even value it because we were tiny in comparison.

“We felt we had a good business, and it was a good fit for Northern Ireland but that it wasn’t a good fit for a multi-national.”

Our first 12 months in business was to prove a telling sign of things to come.

When we opened APS, Alcoa tried to compete against us for 12 months, which meant trading against some of our old colleagues who used to work with us. They then decided to close the business down after a year and we then got all of their customers.

“Within 12 months, we were doing the same turnover as when we were part of Reynolds and within three years, we were doing substantially more than we ever did in the 10 years previously.


“Then, along came the recession in 2007-08 and being in the building industry obviously hit us hard for two or three years.

“In that time, like everyone in the construction industry, we struggled. Slowly, we have emerged out of that and we’re now at sales levels well above those pre-recession. The business is running as well as it has ever done – that is before COVID came along of course.”

We’d grown to 45 staff leading into the Global Financial Crisis and it would eventually take a serious toll on the business.

“After it hit, we shrank back down to about 30 staff. We were basically in survival mode for two or three years just to find a way to get through.

“We were carrying a lot of stock and we had a lot of business across Ireland that was badly affected by it. We had a lot of bad debt at that stage, so it was a matter of building back up from there.”

Looking ahead

The many lessons learned throughout our journey has the business in a stable position and the view through the window into future is bright.

“While COVID has certainly hampered our progress, our outlook is pretty positive. Not being able to go and visit some new customers has made things difficult but hopefully after June that changes and COVID will largely be behind us.”

* Reynolds Metals Company, which was the second-largest aluminium company in the United States, and the third-largest in the world. Reynolds Metals was acquired by Alcoa in June 2000.

COVID19 Lockdown Diary – Sheena Archer

by APS in News Comments: 0

Sheena back at work post COVID lockdown

Back to Work

On Monday 11th May, I returned to my job in the office.  We’ve been given the green light to reopen the business with a skeleton staff given our status within the construction industry.

It’s a very different atmosphere to the environment I left back in March. Very strict rules are in place to ensure social distancing and currently there are only three of us are working in the open plan sales office, where we would normally have up to 12 staff.

We now have rigid rules in place around customers placing orders for collection and unfortunately, they cannot enter the trade counter. There is a one-way system around the corridors and lots of yellow and black tape, new signage and Perspex between desks.

APS front desk COVID19 precautions

The front desk at APS complete with COVID19 social distancing screen and one way system.

The canteens are now furnished with small ‘tables for one’.

It has been extremely busy, especially on Monday and I get the feeling that many smaller businesses are extremely grateful that we are open again as they struggle to keep the wolf from the door in these unique times.

Next week we hope to see more of our aluminium and PVCU fabricators back at work in NI and in southern Ireland as construction sites are allowed to reopen there also.

Sooner rather than later, I would like to see all my colleagues back at work, even if this means a rota for working from home, which we are all now set up to do so as to maintain numbers for social distancing.

Ashleigh McIlwaine APS after COVID19 lockdown

I would like to be chatting again each day to all our busy customers and business returning to normal.  I would also like us to be discussing plans for a carefree weekend or a night out. Here’s hoping & praying!

I wrote a diary a few weeks back to share my lockdown experience with you all and I often wondered how similar your own experience was. 

Adapting to a new normal

This is the fourth week of lockdown since finishing work on Thursday 26th March, in line with government requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company remains closed indefinitely.

The end of March is always our company’s year-end, which culminates in a stock take. However, this year, stock take was cancelled. Sales targets were close to being realised and employees and directors alike are always interested in how we do overall.

The team at APS are fantastic. From estimating, designing, technical, sales, warehouse, distribution and accounts. We are keen to hear if the hard work all year is likely to allow us to achieve our targets, especially given this financial year ended sooner than we expected.

We closed at a very busy time of the year when business was strong. I hope I’m not being naive when I say that when we return to work, I wish we can all just start from where we left off. I hope that all our customers, suppliers and business partners will also be back at work when we get to the ‘other side’.

Global impact

We’ve all no doubt heard much about the sad news from China and parts of Europe that have been so significantly impacted by this virus. The lockdown has hit hard here in the UK and Ireland, and no doubt the world over, with busy offices brought to a halt.

APS Canteen

Impact on customers

We have a wide customer base in the Republic of Ireland and as we were working to slightly different lockdown rules initially, negotiating the lockdown seemed even more complicated. By Thursday 26th March, it was all sorted as government regulations came more closely into line with those in the south.

Changes at APS

From Monday 23rd March, I was set up to work from home and I was helping to tidy up as many loose ends as possible and complete customer deliveries within a very short time frame – some of these orders were aluminium architectural contracts for hospitals in the Republic of Ireland that were required urgently.

The initial fear I had of being made redundant or monthly salaries running out has dissipated, with the announcement that APS will be availing of the job retention scheme – where staff are furloughed for three months with the government promise of 80% pay.

From too many to none

Occasionally, I check my APS email inbox which would usually have been overflowing with emails. Never-ending emails of customer orders, inquiries, queries and supplier correspondence that I sometimes hoped I’d get a break from has ceased. Now, there’s sadly only spam, telling me that customers are not working either.

Today, a customer whose company is closed, inquired about hinges required to finish a hospital contract in Scotland – only essential work is the stipulation and this is certainly the case in this example. I’ve also noticed this week that Spanish and Italian suppliers have informed me that their governments have allowed their production to go back to work. I also saw this on the news and I only hope that this easing of lockdown isn’t premature and works out for them. Hopefully it is positive news and we will follow soon also.

My days at work are normally very busy with customer interaction non-stop. I really enjoy what I do. Friday mornings are spent working from home on APS digital marketing, another aspect I enjoy, even though then the inbox is swamped by our valued customers in the wake of our weekly marketing email.

Sheena Archer lockdown walk

We are the lucky ones

Being told you can’t go to work and your employer is closed indefinitely is a surreal feeling – one which it appears many of us have experienced in the last month. I know thousands of people are in the same boat and we are the lucky ones, because this should only be temporary.

My free time has been spent supervising home schooling, turning into a Domestic Goddess by cooking, baking and gardening.  My daily walk close by my home is along a steep country road on the outskirts of East Belfast from where I have super views of the city, Stormont etc.  I also look out for an elderly couple who live nearby who have no close family nearby.  I have been helping by bringing their groceries and some home baking around as well as phone calls to have a chat mostly about my gardening exploits as they are expert gardeners.

So grateful

The weather has certainly helped being on furlough. The time is going past quickly with every Clap For Our Heroes Thursday coming around so fast. I’m sure others who live alone or are vulnerable find the time passing much more slowly. Or indeed, those on the frontline and those who have experienced COVID-19 and survived or those less fortunate. Being out of work temporarily is a very small price to pay in the context of what is happening not just around the world but on our very own doorstep.

Lockdown into May

News came last week that the lockdown has been extended into May and I hope that by the end of May, the pandemic will have passed, and we can gradually return to normality, but only so long as it is safe to do so.

Social distancing reminder

Lasting impact

I’m not experienced in the overall running of a business, so I can’t tell what effect missing two to three months turnover might have. I can only assume it will have a considerable impact. I’m sure it is a very worrying time for business owners, something they could never have imagined or included in their planning.

In our case with the construction industry that seemed so buoyant beforehand, I wonder will it spring back into gear just a few months behind schedule?

The economic forecasts that appeared on the news regarding the recession that will ensue are foreboding, something that we all hope is incorrect. Perhaps, like the overwhelming amount of goodness this episode has brought in its wake, some new business opportunities will arise like we have seen so many times in the past.

I hope you’re all keeping safe and well and I hope it’s not too long before we’re back in regular contact again.