Historic Thames iron and steel business

3:06 PM Friday September 8, 2017 Paul Charman

An aerial view of Thames-based A&G Price workshops and offices spread across more than 4ha. Photo / Supplied

A&G Price, a 149-year-old Thames iron and steel foundry and finishing business went into liquidation on July 26.

Liquidator Gareth Hoole, a director of the Newmarket accounting and advisory firm Ecovis KGA, says the company was founded by the brothers Alfred and George Price in 1868. Initially servicing the Coromandel goldfields, it became a major part of New Zealand’s iron and steel industry.

During implementation of New Zealand’s rail network, A&G Price Ltd supplied 298 steam and diesel locomotives for NZ Rail, plus numerous shunting and special-purpose locomotives for private industry. More recently the company has served Americas Cup syndicates, Australian railways, Singapore military and many corporate clients.

The liquidators are now seeking to sell the business of A&G Price lock, stock and barrel.

Although about 100 employees were dismissed following the closure, Hoole says most would still be available to work under new ownership.

During its long and proud history, the business serviced a number of industries, including the mining and processing, marine, defence, rail, energy, forestry and logging and export sectors, he says.

“Notwithstanding a declining demand for its products and services as a result of globalisation, A&G Price continued to have an enviable reputation as a premium quality iron and steel foundry.

“That has been evidenced by comments made to the liquidators, to the effect that for an overwhelming majority of its customers, their sincere hope is that the business continues to trade into the future under new ownership.

“The business was unfortunately the victim of legacy issues that weighed down its overhead structure and the costs of restructuring outweighed the short to medium-term benefits.”

However, Hoole says the liquidators are now able to present a prime business opportunity to prospective new owners without those legacy issues.

The company owns a substantial number of items of plant and machinery, from small tools to large machines, as well as office equipment and furniture that would be associated with a manufacturing and commercial enterprise of that magnitude.

A&G Price -Machine-Shop - historic .jpg

This historic photo depicts A&G Price workers when the company primarily serviced Coromandel goldfields. Photo / Supplied

At the commencement of the liquidation, it was made known that the liquidators were seeking expressions of interest from potential purchasers and much interest was generated, but as this went to press no definite buyer had been found.

“While some of the equipment is old, it is all in good working order and has been well maintained over the years; the old pieces complementing the very modern items of plant that are also in use, combining to produce high quality iron and steel castings that go through various finishing stages, resulting in tested and certified end-products of premium quality.

“While the business does not hold many long-term supply contracts most of the customers have a long-standing history with the Thames foundry and it will not be difficult for a new owner to convince them to continue to place their orders with the business, particularly as it is likely that many of the former staff will be available for re-engagement,” says Hoole.

On offer is a vast array of plant and equipment associated with the foundry business, the fettling process, machining, non-destructive testing, fabrication and painting.

Also available is the name A&G Price and a great deal of stored know-how; knowledge that has been accumulated over the 149 years the business existed. Much of this comes in the form of patterns, drawings, methods and technical data.

The liquidators are keen to find a buyer in the short term before the customers need to seek out alternative suppliers.

“The foundry can be fired-up almost immediately and the machine shop has continued to run on a limited scale since the company went into liquidation in order to deliver up partly finished castings to customers who had orders in process.”

Takapuna investors Chris and Jackie Reeve, say they would prefer to see the recently vibrant Thames engineering firm up and prospering once more.

The Reeves’ assistance to the iconic engineering firm has been acknowledged by liquidator Hoole, who says they’ve been “a super landlord to deal with”.

Chris Reeve told me that as a former shearer and farmer, he recognised the huge advantage of having skilled engineers doing useful work, and training the next generation, in the regions.

“Companies such as A&G Price meet the technical challenges that keep infrastructure running smoothly for dairy factories, hydro stations, farmers, manufacturers — you name it,” he says.

“What’s more, this company has employed more than 100 staff — many of whom could return if a new owner entered the picture.

“From my farming days, I’m well aware that you don’t get much milk from a skinny cow,” says Reeve.

“But the opposite is also true — when tenants prosper, landlords prosper. Tenants are the life blood of property investment; if there is any reasonable measure we can take to assist them, we take it.”

Chris and Jackie Reeve say they could easily develop or dispose of the huge property now occupied by A&G Price.

“But we hope for better things — if there’s somebody out there with the wherewithal, expertise and track record to take it on — they’ll get every assistance from us.”