The Donaldson Group has expanded and grown over 162 years and now has the ability to build and fit out an entire house. Designing Timber found out what’s behind the company’s success.
The last two years have been transformational for the Donaldson Group. In 2020, the sixth generation of Donaldson took over the reins: Andrew Donaldson as Group Chief Executive and Michael Donaldson as Executive Chairman. The business has since made a number of acquisitions, including Stewart Milne Timber Systems (now Donaldson Timber Systems) in December 2021. This saw the business enter the timber frame market for the first time.
“As timber experts with an historic commitment to the timber market, we have long-considered venturing into timber frame, but the timing was never quite right,” says Andrew. “Last summer we completed our five-year strategic plan. Never did we imagine that six months later we would be the UK’s largest timber frame manufacturer.”
The family business began in 1860 as a timber merchant in Tayport, Fife, run by James Donaldson and his two sons. Over the last two centuries, the Group has seen two world wars, several recessions and the evolution of the timber industry. Strategic growth and entrepreneurial spirit is a recurring theme, with family values remaining core throughout. “What began as a single timber merchant has grown to become a 1,600+ employee business, with 11 trading subsidiaries and 17 separate brands,” explains Andrew.
Creating a one-stop-shop
The group now has three new divisions and the ability to build and fit out an entire house:
- Donaldson Off-site: Donaldson Timber Systems; Donaldson Timber Engineering; Donaldson Direct; and Rowan Manufacturing
- Interiors: Kitchens International, MGM Kitchens, Smith & Frater, Stonecare, Optima Kitchens, and Buzz Home Office
- Retail & Distribution: MGM Timber, Nu-Style Products, James Donaldson Insulation, Perform Panel, TimberCut4U, and online DIY marketplace, Plane & Simple (itsplaneandsimple.com)
- James Donaldson Timber remains as a separate entity.
“Our strategy is simple,” says Andrew. “The Off-site division is capable of designing, manufacturing and installing the structural element of a timber frame dwelling – so the walls, roof, floors, doors and stairs – and our Interiors division can fit it out with bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen and a home office. The idea is to be able to offer a full one-stop-shop at some stage, although we’ve got a bit of work to do first.”
Time for timber
The Donaldson Group believes rising construction costs, increasing housing demand and the significant skills shortage, coupled with the carbon reduction agenda, provide an opportunity for new innovative building solutions, especially those involving timber and off-site building.
A key focus of this strategy is to increase capacity, particularly within the Offsite division. As part of the SMTS acquisition in 2021, Alex Goodfellow joined the Group as CEO of Donaldson Off-site. Alex says: “We recognise the need to increase capacity and innovate our systems and products to further meet demand, and we’re working on several developments, including new automated robotic lines in the DTS Winey factory to enable closed-panel production, and new systems at DTE.”
“Building in timber contributes to the UK’s commitment to combat climate change,” adds Michael. “Timber as a building material has never been more relevant, and we’re proud to be playing our part in moving the industry forward. Our purpose is to nurture and empower to build positive futures now and for generations to come, through our people, our communities, sustainability, and investments. This ethos will always be core to what we do.”