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Allen Brothers - dedicated to manufacturing excellence

by Phil Anniss 5 Jun 08:00 UTC
A key element of Allen Brothers marketing strategy is an emphasis on sponsorship of elite sailors © Allen Brothers

We are pleased to introduce the Allen Brothers 20mm and 30mm Dynamic Block ranges on the website and decided to take the opportunity to have an in-depth look at this fascinating UK manufacturer of performance dinghy hardware.

The company was formed in 1956 by Allen Brothers, Tony and Glen. Tony was 21, a trained engineer, but new to sailing when he bought a boat from Jack Holt, the prolific dinghy designer and builder. However, Tony was frustrated with some of the hardware onboard and so he started making his own in the Allen Brothers machine shop. Word quickly spread in the local sailing scene which led to a meeting between Jack Holt and Tony Allen in the late 50's to talk "dinghy hardware". The result was the launch of the Holt Allen Brand.

Holt-Allen partnership

Dinghy sailing saw an explosion in the UK in the 1960's and 70's and with it, Holt Allen became a household name amongst the dinghy fraternity. In classic sailing industry style, the Holt Allen Brand was only ever a handshake deal between Tony and Jack.

As part of the gentleman's agreement, Holt were responsible for marketing and sales, while Allen did all the fitting design, engineering and manufacture. This clean split of responsibilities served both companies well and the Holt Allen brand thrived through the 80's and 90's to become a dominant force in UK dinghy sailing hardware.

During this 40-year period the Allen Brothers facility in Southminster, Essex was 100% focused on the end-to-end manufacturing process. They did not have to worry about any of the "fluffy stuff" (marketing, relationship building etc). Instead they spent their time deepening their skill sets in testing, R&D, prototyping, tool-making, injection moulding, metalworking, stamping, bending etc - all the processes required to ensure the vast majority of parts used in their hardware could be produced in-house, where they could control product quality.

Going it alone

Tony Allen retired around 2005 and handed over the reins to his daughter, Liz Adams. Jack Holt had also retired several years earlier, and it was a natural time for the new management teams of the two companies to re-assess their relationship. Unconstrained by the bond of a 45-year-old handshake, Allen and Holt decided to go their separate ways in 2008.

Holt had spent 45 years as a dedicated sales and marketing organization. One can imagine that they were concerned about an increasingly competitive market with more low-cost manufacturers and wanted to move some manufacturing offshore. Allen on the other hand were totally committed to keeping complete control of their design, engineering and manufacturing quality and decided to take on the challenge of setting up and managing their own sales and distribution.

UK dinghy market

The UK still has a strong reputation for dinghy manufacture with big names like Ovington, Petticrows, RS, Topper and Laser with Allen Brothers now becoming their go-to hardware brand for many production classes. With their design, engineering and prototyping expertise, they have also developed deeper working relationships with these dinghy builders, offering custom fitting design and manufacturing services.

Allen has a particularly strong, long-term relationship with Petticrows and manages the complete fit-out of most of their Dragons plus custom system design. All you 29er and 49er sailors out there may not know that your rudder stocks are all Allen Brothers. The rudder gantry on 49ers is also Allen, as are the spreaders on the 29er.

In the last 15 years Allen have invested heavily in CAD, 3D printing and the automation of their machine shops, to give them the ability to match the high quality/low production volume demands of boat builders, both in catalogue and custom products.

If you are interested in learning how their sailing blocks go from concept to finished product, this is a great video from Allen detailing that process.

Team Allen

A key element of Allen Brothers marketing strategy is an emphasis on sponsorship of elite sailors, particularly at international and Olympic level. Not only does this give them strong word-of-mouth referrals amongst the biggest fleets in the world but, more importantly to Allen, it gives them a key feedback loop into the design and engineering of new products to ensure they stay at the cutting edge of small boat fitting design and manufacture.

Hardware developments

The Allen Brothers catalogue is constantly evolving to match changing materials and technology. There has been a general trend of ropes getting smaller and stronger with overall loads, placed on dinghy hardware, increasing dramatically. The latest explosion of foiling dinghies has seen a sudden increase in vang loads which are now using up to 60:1 purchase systems!

The Allen 30mm XHL High Load Dynamic block was one of the first onto the market to cater for this emerging need in the International Moth class. In an interesting twist, the Moth happens to be the go-to training toy for many of the world's top big boat, grand-prix sailors (e.g. Americas Cup, TP52, mini-maxi etc) and, as a result, Allen are seeing an increasing demand for their blocks in purchase systems on many larger keelboats.

Summary

The heart of Allen Brothers remains, as it was from the very beginning, the design, engineering and manufacture of high quality, small boat fittings. They have a very strong base in the UK market but are gradually increasing their profile and building an international reputation for performance and reliability.

If you have any questions about Allen Brothers products, please contact us at or you can explore the Allen Brothers range with upffront.com

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