WITH an enviable product range, fruitful forays into the homewares market and a successful factory on the other side of the world, this Roman Empire looks set to continue its relentless march forward.

Having rolled with the punches dealt by the recession, the Newton Aycliffe-based shower enclosure firm has seen a resurgence recently as customers move away from unreliable imports in favour of British-made products.

And while a long way from xenophobic - Roman trades in markets across the world - the kudos of a product made in Britain to incredibly high standards is an advantage that Roman has been quick to market.

Established in a small industrial unit in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, 28 years ago by Gerry Osborne, Roman began life as a one man operation.

Gerry remains an integral part of the business in his role as chairman, but has handed the reins to son David who now oversees a workforce of 150 people and a range of products that has seen the company firmly established as the UK’s market leader and enjoy a bourgeoning reputation in foreign markets.

David, who began his stint with Roman when he graduated from university in 1992, said: "When Roman started it had no staff and operated from a small unit just up the road.

"We built shower enclosures and bath screens and established a reputation for quality and service.

"Roman has never stood still and whether it was establishing new ranges, opening the solid surface moulding plant or exploring the Asian market we have always pushed forward."

Indeed, this seems to be the company ethos.

When an influx of cheap Chinese imports flooded the market, Roman introduced its own Haven range, which quickly re-established their place in the market.

When housebuilding halted at the onset of recession, the company diversified and launched Roman at Home, a homewares website that originally provided bathroom accessories, but has grown to include much more.

The Roman Brand expanded in 2009 to incorporate three main brands – Roman, Haven and Roman at Home.

"We learned that we had to constantly invest in new ranges and products and maintain a forward momentum,” said David.

"In the mid-2000s we had about 10 competitors in the UK and now there are probably about 80, but there are only four who make their own products and the rest may claim to be manufacturers, but they’re simply importing products.

"We win out on the level of service we provide, the quality of product, but a genuine USP of ours is that our products are made in the UK."

All Roman products arrive with a Made in Britain stamp, part of a campaign launched in 2011 by Stoves and backed by a host of MPs including Ed Miliband.

The mark clearly defines a product that has been manufactured in the UK, something that has helped Roman distinguish itself from cheap unbranded imports.

David said: "There is a lot of product that comes from China and other countries that are inferior to our own and when you read their guarantees they make statements like 'This guarantee does not cover aluminium or glass', well shower enclosures are made almost exclusively of those two materials.

"We offer lifetime guarantees on all of our products and do all we can to demonstrate quality.

"Our guarantees are simple and we remain dedicated to service excellence.

"We even take a digital photograph of every finished product on all of our lines to demonstrate to customers that our products leave our factory in perfect working order."

Roman’s produces quality shower enclosures, wet room panels, bath screens, shower trays, water delivery systems and a wide range of bathroom accessories.

What sets it apart is the fact it caters for the entire market spectrum, from price conscious through to state of the art exclusively designed luxury bathrooms.

Roman also has its own dedicated Export department to cater for demand from France, Malta, Spain, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Poland, Canada, and United Arab Emirates amongst others and have language skills including French, German, Spanish and Italian.

"We export around 10 per cent of our product annually," said David.

"We have competitors mainly from Italy and Germany, but otherwise all competition comes from the Chinese market.

"One thing we did notice was how much the Made in Britain tag struck a chord in Asia and Commonwealth countries.

"It is seen as a major selling point over there and one that we are capitalising on."

Roman has created subsidiary Roman (Asia) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to service the South East Asian market and in the 12 months since production began the company has seen significant returns.

David said: "Customers tend to be incredibly brand savvy in Asia and the Middle East and with so much building going on out there at the moment we realised there was an opportunity for us.

"The fact that our product is marketed as a UK brand is a big advantage as people see it as a mark of quality.

"We put in a lot of work in these markets and we are really starting to see some positive results coming through.

"This is really positive because there are very few markets that have not been tapped into by the Chinese manufacturers.

"We can go to Guatemala and expect to be the first company in our sector to visit the region and China is already there, but thankfully we have products that stand up to scrutiny."

It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Roman.

The recession, and the devastating impact it had on housebuilders, had a major impact after a significant spell of growth.

"House building just stopped dead and we were one of the firms that felt the impact of that," said David.

"For ten years we had enjoyed nothing but strong double-digit growth, but when the recession hit that ended abruptly.

"Like any other company, it was tough, but we now see customers like Taylor Wimpey, Crest and Linden and others coming back in a big way and that is reflected in our orders."

That is good news for the 150-strong workforce, which is made up of designers, engineers, sales and marketing teams, machinists and export specialists.

Roman is also committed to staff development and recently recruited four apprentices; something David says is growing in popularity.

"We used to offer apprenticeships and bursaries through Darlington College, but we sometimes struggled to attract people," he said.

"Now it’s different, but we’re still very conscious of bringing in the right people, the ones who will settle and enhance our workforce further.

"There was a time when we considered stopping taking apprentices, but I’m pleased we persevered as we have some really good talent coming through and we make sure there is always a career path ahead of them to make sure they’re motivated and continually push themselves."

A member of the North East Chamber of Commerce since it was established in 1985, Roman uses the expertise of the organisation’s International Team for export guidance and documentation.

International Trade Manager, Brian Dakers, said: "Roman is a successful family-owned, progressive company that has not only diversified into new areas of business, but maintained its values as it has grown and expanded into new markets.

"They are proof that the regional manufacturing sector is in good health and ready to take advantage of the many opportunities that will present themselves in the economic recovery.

"I wish them all the best of luck for the future."