A SECTION of the factory floor at Stadium Group stands vacant.

For a plant humming with activity, it’s a rather incongruous sight.

It won’t be like that for long though.

The space, which appears as an unofficial boundary between the firm’s larger machinery and staff at workstations, will soon be serving another purpose.

Charlie Peppiatt, Stadium’s chief executive, dressed in long white coat and safety glasses, calls it growth space.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Stadium, helped by a record order book, is a firm in evolution.

Delving into its history, which dates back more than 100 years, you find Stadium’s roots lie in injection moulding.

Its factory reception area nods to such a past, with a motorcycle helmet pride of place in a glass display cabinet.

Stadium Helmets, reads an old advertising poster, meant built-in quality and safety.

But look at the business today and you are presented with an operation that has seen its past replaced by a progressive future.

It has gone from bike helmets to designing and making vehicle control panels, wireless devices and electronic displays.

For a number of years, injection moulding was Stadium’s route to market.

However, from the 1980s, the Hartlepool-based company switched its attentions elsewhere, electronic manufacturing services in the first instance and then, a few years later, power, thanks to an acquisition.

By 2000, Stadium Plastics had been sold and in 2010 its final plastics business was disposed of, paving the way for Stadium to plough new furrows.

Not long after it bought what is described in industry parlance as an interface business, which provides capacity to produce control panels, and later a wireless operation, focused on delivering goods for areas such as vehicle tracking and security.

A further deal for Stontronics, known for making power supply units, transformers and adaptors, was last month complemented by a deal to take on Cable Power Limited, which Stadium says will allow it to cater for the ever-changing forms of cabling in electric devices.

The additions form part of a wider transformation spearheaded by Mr Peppiatt, which has seen the company shift from a solely electronic manufacturing services firm to a design-led business.

Mr Peppiatt previously told The Northern Echo that work on the latter was already bearing fruit, with its highermargin technology products division now contributing a significant amount towards total annual revenues.

According to its latest financial results, he’s right.

Company revenues went from £42.2m in 2013 to £53.9m in 2015, while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization were up from £3m to £5.4m in the same period.

Customers, said Mr Peppiatt like the fact Stadium can offer a complete package, therefore meaning they are not having to use one operator for design and another for manufacturing.

He also said it gives Stadium greater scope to secure work and win repeat business as it builds its repute as an international company.

Clocks showing the time in Hartlepool and Hong Kong are an immediate give away of such growth.

However, the point is better portrayed by a giant boardroom wall display, which highlights bases in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dongguan.

But within that graphic is a map of the UK, magnified to show Stadium’s British operations.

Within that its Hartlepool site appears as a larger navy blue circle, dwarfing other UK bases.

“We are very proud to be a British plc and the UK is very important to us,” said Mr Peppiatt.

“But we are looking to further expand into other areas, such as North America and Europe.

“We have always been good at building things and we do it very well in Hartlepool.

“We have established Hartlepool as a manufacturing centre of excellence for Europe and a flagship operation.

“The business is built around a hub in Hartlepool.

“We expect the level of activity to increase by more than by 30 per cent in the next year and we will continue to invest in the site.”

That investment has already seen Stadium spend around £2m on its North-East plant in the last two years, and Mr Peppiatt says it expects to spend a further £500,000 in the next couple of years.

The financial commitment is tangible.

Walk the firm’s factory floor and you see new machinery in action, assessing and re-assessing circuit boards for quality checks.

Stadium, said Mr Peppiatt, wasn’t doing anything wrong a few years ago as a manufacturing company, but, by adding design to its repertoire, he said it has given itself a new marketplace effervescence.

Its catalogue includes vehicle fleet tracking and it previously extended a contract with a telematics operator to make black box systems.

The latter are fitted to vehicles to assess driving styles, encouraging motorists to be safer, which can benefit insurance premium levels.

However, Stadium’s reach extends into the healthcare sector, in areas such as scanners and ventilators, while in its plant, stairlift components are in various stages of disassembly to allow improvement work for a client to be carried out.

It also has a foothold in smart home products, which allow people to remotely turn on the oven or adjust the heating while out of the house through a mobile connection.

Mr Peppiatt said: “Stadium was doing a very good job but coming out of the financial crisis the company was operating in a vicious space.

“As good as it was, the organisation was a generalist.

“It needed to be a specialist, you don’t go to generalists for technology.

“When I took over in 2013, I outlined a strategy to make the business a design-led technology group and we have made steady progress and prepared ourselves for the next step forward. We are offering something that is differentiating for customers; we are in control of our destiny, we are designing the products.

“They really like the fact we can build the designs in our factory.

“We will be installing some equipment and Chris Short (managing director for the group’s European manufacturing centre of excellence) is well and truly in seat now and has a strong team around him.

“The core at Hartlepool will stay at around 120 to 130 people, but we are adding to technical and management positions and may flex with temporary staff depending on demand.

“With the order book at new record levels and design and manufacturing centres of excellence in place, we are confident about the outlook for 2017 and beyond.”

However, Mr Peppiatt is honest enough to admit, like many other business bosses, that the ongoing situation with Brexit has had an impact.

But he said as long as Stadium “sticks to its knitting”, it can override any issues that may arise in the coming weeks and months.

He added: “I’m convinced the business will be solid.

“There was an awful lot of disruption in 2016 and not just after Brexit either.

“Leading up to the vote, we saw a significant slowdown in April, May and June because people were being cautious.

“Coming out of the other side, we have seen an impact from the currency perspective.

“But the sky is not going to come down tomorrow.

“We have exciting opportunities and are managing our way through it.”