HOZELOCK PROSPERS FROM BRITAIN'S DRY SPELL

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Hozelock Group plc, Britain's top garden watering equipment manufacturer, has received a sales boost thanks to an uncharacteristically long spell of dry weather in the region.

The company said it plans to invest heavily to expand injection molding and hose extrusion operations, and to automate assembly during the next four years. Hozelock just reported sales up 5 percent to 22 million ($35.9 million) for the six-month period that ended March 31.

Hozelock concentrates its hose fittings and other molded parts at a plant at Aylesbury, England, where the company is based. It plans to spend about 6 million ($9.78 million) there to add 36 new presses, mostly from Demag. The company already has 59 Arburg and Demag machines, with clamping forces of 25-500 tons.

The equipment will be installed gradually during the next four years and will occupy a new, 31,000-square-foot addition.

The first 12 presses will be in by October, with another eight to 10 machines being added each year until 2000.

At the firm's 3-year-old Birmingham, England, plant, Hozelock recently installed a new, 21/2inch extrusion line, one of two being added by the end of 1998 to cope with increased business, according to Peter Fewell, technical director.

Hozelock already has seven extrusion lines with braiding and knitted finish capacity for PVC hose molding. In addition, the plant operates four Bekum blow molding machines that make pressure bottles for pump-up garden sprayers.

In Birmingham, the firm will invest a total of 4 million ($6.5 million), which also includes new automation equipment.

Because of its seasonal business, Hozelock continues to outsource a small amount of its plastics molding work, but has had to increase capacity to meet growing demand for its products, Fewell said.

Hozelock, which is developing water-saving products such as small irrigation systems, already has invested 27 million ($44 million) during the past three years. Apart from the Birmingham plant, it also has opened an 8 million ($13 million) distribution center nearby.

Despite the strength of the British pound, the company has been increasing its exports, which currently represent 35 percent of total sales. It runs sales offices in France, Holland and Sweden and has strong sales in France and Poland, while exporting as far as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

In Britain, Hozelock claims a powerful 74 percent share of the garden watering equipment market.

While half of its business is in garden watering, Hozelock is also in the aquatics area and just acquired a pond filtration systems producer for 5.8 million ($9.45 million).

It also manufactures spraying equipment, garden lighting and rotary clotheslines.